Changing classes at the end of the semester

Just before the winter recess, I ended my last blog post in December with a cliffhanger. Well, it turns out that I will indeed be switching some classes next semester. I will lose one of my Algebra 1 classes, lose my Math Lab class, and pick up one Algebra 2 class and a second Geometry class.

In all, I will still have three preps (Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry). I will probably need to spend more time preparing for class since planning for Math Lab didn’t take a whole lot of time (though it did involve lots of angst).

I am concerned about the Algebra 1 students that I will be losing. I have been trying my best to faithfully implement the CPM curriculum (as instructed by our principal) and I think I’ve been mildly successful at it. However, I have noticed that my colleagues are covering material at a faster clip. I am concerned that my Algebra 1 students will feel behind if they get reassigned to another teacher.

Manipulative student

One of my Algebra 1 students is very manipulative and acts very mature for her age. Interactions with her are especially draining. I previously wrote about one incident when she told me my hands were dirty and was not allowed to touch her cell phone.

Today she was walking around the room showing photos to her friends. She was not working. When I asked her to start working, she told me: “I’ve been trying to ask you for help this whole time but you’ve been ignoring me.” She said this very loudly in front of everyone in a whiny tone. I almost snapped, but good thing I didn’t. In a firm tone, I said that that was absolutely untrue, that I had been watching her the whole time, and that she never once tried to ask me for help. She still claimed she still needed help and so, after I finished helping another student I went to her desk. She had not even started the work yet. I asked what she needed help with and she said “No, I don’t want your help anymore.” She didn’t do any work the whole period. She uses these kinds of manipulative actions on me regularly, and for some reason they really drain me, much more than the usual kind of defiance or rebellion. Ugh.

Final exams

Final exams are coming up next week, but students don’t seem to feel any urgency. My students will not be ready for the district’s periodic assessment. Oh well… Now I’m really wishing I could get back those three or four weeks lost at the beginning of the school year.

Overheard from a student today: “Oh! Now I finally understand what slope is. I didn’t get it last year but now I get it.”  That made my day.

Interesting article: “Female teachers transmit math anxiety to female students”

Articles doesn’t seem to be released yet, but there is a short write-up on Ars Technica:

“A new study suggests that elementary school may be a breeding ground for this anxiety. The study found that when elementary school teachers, who are primarily female, displayed a high level of anxiety about math, that skittishness was transmitted to their female students. Those students who spent a year with a math-phobic teacher displayed lower math achievement and an increased belief in stereotypes about female mathematical ability.”

I’m anxious to read the actual paper and judge the claims for myself.

Child abuse

Today I made my first report of suspected child abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services. I noticed one of my students had a prominent injury and she was not in school the last few days.

Teachers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse; i.e., they are required by law to report to the police or child protective services whenever there is a suspicion of abuse. During the few times I’ve sat through our district’s video on how to report child abuse, I’ve heard over and over that teachers are not to investigate suspected child abuse cases themselves. Turns out that this isn’t exactly the case–the agent at the DCFS said that I was supposed to ask the student what, where, when why the injury happened before reporting the case to the DCFS. Because I didn’t do this, the school nurse stepped in to ask the student some questions.

The student reported to the nurse that she injured herself. I hope this is the truth. I have not spoken to the student myself since this morning. I’m not sure whether or how to bring up the subject next time I see the student. My inclination is to apologize for bringing up an unpleasant topic and to convey to her that I am concerned for all of my students and that they should feel welcome to talk to us teachers about anything.

UPDATED:  I spoke to the student and she said she understood that I was just looking out for her.


My students love to ask me about marijuana, whether I think it should be legalized, whether I’ve used it before, whether I like it, etc. I usually try to deflect their questions. For example, here’s a conversation from today.

Students: “Mister, do you like MJ?” (laughing)

Me: “Oh, you mean Michael Jackson? Oh yeah, I love his music. He was so talented.”

Students: “No, no we mean marijuana. Do you like smoking pot?”

Me: (while walking away) “Oh yeah, Michael Jackson is great. Especially that video ‘Thriller’.”

Tee hee.

But seriously, pot usage seems rampant at our school. One kid asked to go to the bathroom today. He came back with a distinct odor.

Maybe I don’t hate this job as much…

I started off this week feeling very anxious about starting school. I ended the week on a much better note. I saw some students motivated to learn and some learning happening, which encouraged me. I feel like I’m developing deeper rapport with students and gaining their respect. Also, once I get back into the daily rhythm of teaching I think I’ll feel even better.

The students are my university are exceptionally bright and talented. To a certain extent, my potential impact on their lives is probably lower than here at this high school. As long as us professors don’t screw up too badly, these university students are smart enough that they are going to learn and go on to make something wonderful of their lives regardless of what we do for them. At this high school, many students are making important decisions that could significantly affect the rest of their lives. High school teachers have the potential to make a tremendous difference in the life of each of their students.

I’m still cautious about my hopes for students, however. People have asked me whether I have seen the movies like “Stand and Deliver.” Their implicit question is whether I see myself as a miracle maker like in those movies. That’d be too much pressure. I would just like to make it through this year having learned important things and helped some students learn math.

Number sense

One of the things that I notice about my students is that they often lack number sense, by which I mean an intuition for numbers and arithmetic operations.

For example, an Algebra 1 student came by after school today to ask for some help. (That in itself was great and made me happy.) At one point, this student was struggling with how to find the solution to “-8+y=2”. We tried lots of different approaches: using the blank-out method where you replace y with a box, using the number line, etc. The student was throwing out guesses, but she wasn’t guessing wildly even though her guesses were way off–she really was trying to guess the correct answer. Here’s what I mean.

The picture above shows all of the guesses that she made. She would give a guess for “y” then I would write out what happens when we add her guess to -8 so we could see if it equaled 2 or not. I purposely wrote all of the guesses in numerical order, not in the order that she guessed. That allowed her to clearly see all the guesses she had made and I was hoping the visual pattern of the numbers would help her see the answer. Two things surprised me: (1) that it took her so many guesses before she got the right answer, and (2) the guesses that she produced were seemingly random: she would guess “y=5” then “y=-8” then “y=-2″ then y=0”. However she didn’t seem to be guessing wildly because she was trying quite hard to get it right and it was clear to her that I wasn’t going to just give her the answer (which is what students are trying to coax out of you when they are guessing wildly).

Certainly we could have just jumped to the algebraic method of adding “+8” to both sides of the equation to solve for y, but it seemed a much more valuable thing to help her develop more number sense, in particular, the intuition that negative numbers are less than positive numbers and that adding a lesser number means you’ll get a lesser answer.


Today was a good day overall. Went for a walk outside with Geometry class (because they were starting to get ornery) and I happened to see some nice shadows cast on the ground by some trees so I snapped some photos and when we got back to class I pointed out the nice similar triangles in the photo (foreshadowing of what we will do in class next week).

Most of my Algebra 1 students are beginning to show mastery of some key skills and concepts. I feel like we are making slow, steady progress.

New students in classes

Two new students got added to my classes today. One in Geometry, one in Algebra 1. Part of me starts to feel inconvenienced by having to get these students up to speed, but then I just imagine what it must feel like for them.

One of the two students told me she hates math and is only back at school because a judge ordered her to go back to school.

In other news, it seems that students are becoming more used to my seat arrangement system. I have an Excel spreadsheet that randomly generates seating charts and we use that to shuffle seats every three weeks. I explain that not everyone is going to be happy with the seating arrangement but that we do this because I think it’s important for students to learn how to work well with each other. The level of complaining that I get from students seems to be decreasing. Today we only had about one minute of complaining from my Algebra 1 class. I’m learning to be content with micro bits of progress.

Student in wrong class

One of my students told me yesterday that she thinks she is in the wrong class. She’s a ninth grader, says she passed Algebra 1 but she’s in my Algebra 1 class now. I’m sad that she managed to slip through the cracks until this point. I vaguely remember her telling me that she already passed Algebra 1 and I told her to speak to the school counselor, but that was months ago and I forgot to follow up on that comment.

I’ve arranged an appointment between this student and the school counselor tomorrow morning. If she is able to switch to Geometry, I will require her to stay after school for extra help until she catches up with the class. Will post an update later on what happens.

UPDATE: Either the student was genuinely confused or she was lying. The counselor looked up her grades and she failed Algebra 1 last year in 8th grade. <sigh>