My first day of class! (sort of)

Live from RCHS, it’s Period 4!!

I don’t know what class I’m supposed to teach right now, but it doesn’t matter as I don’t have any students right now. (That is why I am able to write this blog post right now.)

I did have two students come to my Period 3 geometry class. That was exciting. My first students! Since we didn’t have enough students to really start class, I posed some problems to them that we worked on as a group (problems involving cell phone pricing plans, shapes, patterns). They both seemed to have fun and I’m glad that as one was leaving, she said that she was going to like her math class this year. (She showed me her Screen Actors Guild membership card–perhaps she’ll be famous one day.)

Not my first day of classes

Today is the first day of instruction at RCHS, but I didn’t get to meet my classes. Apparently, things were so complicated that the school admin decided to leave an old schedule in place for the first few days of school and wait until they know how many students are enrolled before setting the schedule this weekend. This old schedule did not have me assigned to any classes.

But I didn’t know that when I showed up this morning and found a bunch of other confused teachers and students who didn’t know what classes they have. Many students were shuffled to a homeroom and some were given schedules; many students were sent to offices to have schedules made for them. I spoke to a veteran teacher and math coach and she told me that she has never seen a school as chaotic on the first day of school as this one. One teacher showed up this morning and was told to switch offices. Another teacher was told to go to another school to find a job.

Wow. Never a dull day in public school, I suppose.

But some progress was made today–at least I got to meet some students as I visited various classrooms and wandered the halls. There were clearly some students who didn’t look too pleased to be at school, but most of them did. I met one 12th grader who is taking calculus who told me not to trust any of the students at this school. It’s too soon for me to get jaded, though.

I also managed to get keys. There won’t be much point in going to school Thursday or Friday this week until they know what classes I’ll be teaching so I guess I have a few extra days to goof off.. oh, errr i mean, get other stuff done. I’m still looking forward to Monday.

First day of school

Today was my first day of school. Well, sort of… it was a pupil-free day. Tomorrow will be the first day of instruction.

The day began with staff meetings, professional development, then photos for ID cards and other administrative tasks. The process of starting up at this school has been chaotic; I’m not sure if other schools are this chaotic or if this is just par for schools in our district. Tomorrow is the first day of instruction and I do not know what classes I’ll be teaching. I think I’ll be teaching Algebra I and Geometry, but I don’t know how many classes of each, or if I’ll have other classes. Other teachers also seem to be in the same boat. I also don’t have keys, access cards or class lists. I’m told that it will be a few weeks before students stop shifting around between classes and my class roster will congeal.

But I should also back up and explain that I technically don’t have a job yet either. Ah–the joys of being a professor teaching in a public high school without a credential! This school’s district is a large one, and due to recent budget problems in California, our school district is supposed to find jobs for those teachers who were laid off before they take any teachers from outside the district. People like me, who aren’t credentialed in the usual way, are probably the lowest priority of all to be hired. (Incidentally, California Senate Bill 859, which was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2007, authorizes the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to issue the Visiting Faculty Permits to allow people like me to teach in primary and secondary schools. But, I still not credentialed in the usual way like other teachers.)

RCHS (the pseudonym for my school) has offered me a position, but the school district won’t let them hire me yet. The principal is working on correcting the situation, but there’s no way to know how long it will be until I officially get hired. So, what is going to happen tomorrow? Good question! There will be a substitute teacher in my assigned classes for the foreseeable future. However, since I would really like to establish a connection with my class from the first day so I plan to go to class anyway (without getting paid). This substitute teacher must be in the room at all times as I am not legally allowed to be in the room with students by myself. I’m hoping the conversation with the substitute teacher isn’t awkward tomorrow…(“Hi! I’m the person the want to hire to teach this class, so can you just help me by staying in the room while I teach?”)

Another thing that happened today: During the all-school staff meeting this morning, the principal introduced all the new faculty. She introduced me as Dr. So-and-so, from so-and-so college, who is at the school to help improve math instruction. She meant no harm by it, I’m sure, but I was disappointed to have been outed to the entire school. I really wanted to stay under the radar and not let people know about my unusual situation. And the last thing I want people to think is that I’m some snotty professor who has come to their lowly high school to tell them what to do. Later on, I was having a conversation with another teacher who said to me “Oh, you’re Doctor So-and-so from that college…” (emphasizing the word “doctor” in a weird way as he said it).

Tomorrow will be an adventure. Can’t wait.

Random California High School

Many of you have asked me about the school where I’m teaching. I’m going to try to keep the name of the school private so that my students don’t accidentally find this site and realize I’m talking about them. So, let’s just call this school RCHS (Random California High School).

RCHS is a new school and has wonderfully new facilities. There are actually two schools sharing this campus, and our school has three small learning communities (SLCs), which I understand are all the rage these days. I will be teaching in the business-related SLC.  This SLC has roughly 450 students, and the whole school roughly 2,000. Approximately 85% of the students can be classified as Hispanic or Latino. The school follows the full inclusion model, in which all students, even those with the most severe educational disabilities, are integrated into regular classes with the help of teacher aides and resource personnel.

The school operates on a block schedule: class periods are roughly 80 minutes and not every class meets every day. Students take 8 classes in the usual schedule, so they accumulate 80 credits a year; they need to pass 55 to move on to the next grade level.

I work on the fifth floor of the school, so I think I’ll be getting quite a bit of exercise using the stairs everyday. This school is roughly 15 miles from my home. Over the last few days, it’s taken me about 25 to 30 minutes to get there, so I have a relatively mild commute.

You’re doing what?

Over the past few months as I’ve described my sabbatical plans to colleagues, friends and family, a frequent response has been “You’re doing what?”

Let me explain. I’m a recently tenured college professor of mathematics. I was trained and have a PhD in mathematics. I love my job and can see myself teaching at this school for the rest of my life. My college and its math department are well known, but not for preparing future teachers–it doesn’t have a teacher preparation program.

So why would an academic like me want to teach high school during my sabbatical instead of doing mathematical research or writing a textbook? Well, while I have not had any training in mathematics education, it’s a topic that I think and have thought about a lot. In the last few years, I have also become involved in professional development for secondary (middle and high) school mathematics teachers and have often wished that I could better relate with the things that teachers go through. And, teaching high school was one of the careers that considered when I was younger and I guess part of me still has vague hopes that I can make a difference in students’ lives. So, these are some of the reasons why I am going to teach high school mathematics during the 2009-2010 academic year while I’m on sabbatical.

Some people have said nice things like, “Those kids will be so lucky to have you!” But, I don’t presume that I’ll be any good at teaching high school. Some of the things that I know about teaching mathematics at the college level will apply to teaching high school, some of it won’t. I know that the experience will be very different. I know there will be things that I will have to work on. I know that I will learn a tremendous amount this year.

So, during this upcoming year, I’ll be writing about my experiences teaching high school mathematics. I’m doing it mainly to record my successes, frustrations, thoughts and feelings, but I also welcome your comments and questions.

Thanks for visiting my blog.