Saturday, December 29, 2007

Weekend Update

With all my free time over break, I added/updated a couple past posts that I haven't had much time for. This includes some long lost posts from the Cook Islands that I didn't have the pictures for until now. Enjoy.

Hamsters in a Washing Machine (video added)
Any Given Sunday
Coconut King
Dinner with the Locals
I Like the Way You Move
More Raro Shots
Biggest Upset Ever
Fraction Workshops Beyond My Wildest Dreams
Big Game

Friday, December 28, 2007

Gray Christmas

Having not really been in Michigan very much in the past two years or so, there are a couple of characteristics that seemed to have slipped my mind. Thankfully, this break has reminded me.

Snow & Cold
So I didn't really forget that snow and cold existed, but the last time I really spent any time in a hat and gloves was on a glacier, so I'd say I've been a bit removed from the experience. I am not sad that I no longer live in a place where I have to bring fifteen extra articles of clothing (gloves, hat, scarf, etc.) just to leave the house.

I have been home for a week and half now, and have not once seen the sun. It is gray all the time. This could not be more opposite from my move to the Bay Area where it took over a month before I actually saw a cloud.

I've been wondering why my 50-minute commute between Palo Alto and San Francisco every day doesn't seem even half as bad as the half hour one I used to make between Ann Arbor and Novi. Making that old Michigan commute again the other night and almost getting run over as soon as I got on US-23 made it clear: I don't think there are semis on 280. Semis are obnoxious and scary and generally in the way, so a drive without them is inherently superior.

Smoking Indoors
Not to sound all I'm-so-much-better-now-that-I've-moved-to-the-big-city, but seriously? There are still places where they allow smoking in bars and restaurants? I'd definitely forgotten how gross it is to come back from a night out with my clothes and hair reeking like cigarette smoke, and it's definitely not something I was hoping to be reminded of.

But on the upside... I do love coming back to a place where everyone recycles their pop cans and marshmallow fluff is abundant.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Breathe Again

I just turned in the longest paper I've ever written--a 35 case study on one of my students. The case study was the last of my assignments for the quarter, so I can now say that I am officially halfway done with my STEP year.

I feel nauseous.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Big Game

Finally, a football Saturday that felt like a proper football Saturday. Stanford may not rally around football during most of the season, but it's only because they're spending that time preparing for the game against UC-Berkeley. The campus is seized by Big Game Fever in the week leading up to it. I wish that I didn't spend half of my days in San Francisco so I could have actually participated in some of the festivities.

Here, one of the fountains running cardinal red.

Unlike the rest of the season, people actually go to Big Game. This was the first game we had to arrive early for in order to get seats.

The game itself was pretty boring during the first half, to be honest. Once the sun went down, it got a little cold and I almost left.

But I'm glad I didn't leave. In the last quarter, things finally got exciting. It was touch and go for a little bit, wondering if Stanford might actually win. And then they did! This was highly unexpected. As great as the USC game was, it was pretty much a fluke. But what better year to spend my one and only year as a Stanford student?

So of course we had to join in the field rushing. We're such teachers, though, and everyone agreed that we should wait until most of the crowd was already on the field so that nobody would get hurt. It's all fun and games until someone gets trampled.

Down on the field, it was pretty much a lot of screaming and jumping around to the Stanford fight song, which I really love because it has a part where everyone screams "5, 6, 7, 8 Woo!" and jumps in the air.

Look how happy I am.

I will say I think it's pretty stupid that the whole event is just called "Big Game," not even "The Big Game." People say things like, "What time are you going to Big Game?" or "Big Game was so fun!" Really, all the minds at Stanford and Berkeley can't come up with a more creative name? Below, the leaning goal post is proof that Stanford students aren't really as smart as they think they are.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fraction Workshops Beyond My Wildest Dreams

This weekend was the annual California Math Council Northern Regional Conference. Unlike the SCTA Conference, I attended this one with the goal and expectation of actually learning something. I know you're pretty jealous that I got to spend two days surrounded by middle aged white women talking about putting the fun back in math fundamentals, so I thought I'd share a few of the highlights.

Actually, you probably should be jealous because the location of the conference was fantastic. It was at the Asilomar conference center, right on the ocean just outside of Monterey. I really wasn't too upset when I couldn't get into one of the workshop sessions because this is what I got to do instead:

Here's a group shot of the math STEPpies. Not the most flattering picture ever, but I blame it on the gale force wind and blinding sun.

Now to get on to the true nerdiness, here is my favorite picture from the conference. Besides featuring our awesome yellow tote bags and ginormous name tags, it represents our celebrity encounter. Sandie Gilliam is an amazing teacher in Felton, and we watch videos of her all the time in our Curriculum & Instruction class. Being in her workshop was the math teacher equivalent attending a life-ruining workshop from Britney Spears--she knows what she's doing and appears to do it naturally and effortlessly. Of course after the lecture I insisted that we get a group photo with her, and I sheepishly told her how much we idolize her.

Maybe one day I can be a math celebrity too and innocent little master's students will post pics of me on their blogs...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Teacher Attire

When we started teaching this summer, a lot of people had to go out and buy new clothes. After coming from undergrad or some other laid back environment, they were used to wearing jeans everyday and didn't have much "professional" attire. I, on the other hand, was not worried about my wardrobe stocked with slacks, button-down shirts and other business casual pieces. Of course I quickly learned that teaching is not your average business casual setting.

I wasn't that surprised that my high heels got the axe after the first week of school. As comfortable as they are (at least on the high heel spectrum of comfort), there's just no comparison to flip flops. The big surprise was my skirts and slacks. Although they look very professional, they lack a key element that I never realized was so crucial to teaching: pockets. In my office jobs, I almost never put anything in my pockets, but now there seem to be millions of things that fall into my hands everyday that have nowhere else to go. There's no time to put some kid's late pass in the recycling, so it goes in my pocket. That cell phone I took? In my pocket. Trash? Markers? Candy? All in my pockets. Now I understand why so many teachers wear jeans. Who can resist five pockets? I almost want to invest in cargo pants.

The pockets are how I really know I'm a teacher. I keep finding stuff in my pants at random times. On Thanksgiving I was wearing a pair of corduroys that I'd worn the previous week and during dinner I pulled out a broken pencil. I think more late passes and notes end up in my recycling at home than at school. The best is when kids forget to get back the items I hold as collateral in exchange for pencils, so I end up with Muni passes, house keys, etc. A few weekends back I was at a party and one of my (teacher) friends reached into his pocket for his wallet and pulled out a handful of paper clips. Clearly we are a dedicated bunch.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Biggest Upset Ever

Having grown up mere blocks from the largest college football stadium in the country, it was impossible for the sport not to have an impact on my life. Fall Saturdays to me mean tailgating, actually watching SportsCenter, and planning my schedule around the traffic patterns.

Imagine my surprise when I got to Stanford and games were pretty much empty. But then I saw how the team plays and... On the upside, in an effort to boost attendance, Stanford gave football tickets free to students this year, so I didn't feel bad leaving a game after, oh, 15 minutes.

Here are a few of my favorite shots from the first few games.

This shot makes the stadium (capacity 50,000) look way more full than it actually was.

Nikki and I love the foam fingers.

The best part of the season was when we ran into one of our professors. (BTW, this picture better represents how "full" the games are).

No, actually the best part of the season was the USC game. I was studying late that night when I got a text message from one of my Umich friends that said "You won!" I had no idea what it meant--I didn't even know Stanford was playing that day. Then another Umich friend called and explained the excitement. Somehow Stanford had managed to beat one of the top ranked teams in the country. Biggest. Upset. Ever.

It almost made up for Michigan's Appalachian State loss earlier this year...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Map It

You know that part in 'Mean Girls' when Janice draws the map of the cafeteria showing where everyone sits? Turns out that social maps are a pretty effective tool for getting kids to look at and describe their environment. Some of the literature we've read in STEP discusses social maps, and Teaching Tolerance has a whole lesson on it. So when I got to take my CT's advisory for a day, I thought it would be a pretty fun activity to do with them.

Despite the classroom management issues that ensued that day (another story, probably not to be told another time), the kids made some pretty interesting maps. I only took pictures of two of them because the third got destroyed during the aforementioned classroom management debacle.

This first map was a collaboration between five students: a Mexican boy, a white boy, a Chinese boy, a Latina girl, and a Filipino girl. I categorized them by race because that's how they did a lot of their own categorization. They even asked me if they were being racist by labeling groups this way. Of course this was where I inserted a teacher move and turned the question back on them. Is it wrong to label a group by something that actually does characterize them?

Some of the labels Group 1 came up with, going clockwise from top left:
-"Mexicans...and other Latinos, etc." (they changed this after I asked if the kids who sat there really are all Mexican)
-"Soccer players"
-"People who think they're cool (Freshmen!)"
-"Volleyball players"
-"Football Players"
-"JROTC Crew"
-"Black (cool people)"
-"Special Ed and Teachers"
-"Mexicans...and other Latinos, etc."

Group 2 was actually just a pair: a Mexican girl and a Mexican boy. Interestingly, they drew other parts of the school and didn't really use racial labels. Instead, a lot of the groups they labeled are actually mostly Mexican and Latino.

Group 2's labels, clockwise from top left:
-"3rd Floor Blue Gangbangers territory"
-"Other Mixes"
-"Soccer People"
-"Drums People"
-"Football Players"
-"Red Gangbangers territory"
-It got cut off in the picture, but along the left side it says "Key: The dots are people walking around"
One thing I found interesting from this map is that the "blue wannabees" area is where a lot of the English language learners (ELLs) hang out and blue is the color associated with the gang that tends to be more recent Latino immigrants. The red gang, on the other hand, is also predominately Latino, but most are American-born.

Unfortunately, I don't really leave the third floor of the school much and I definitely don't get a chance to walk around during lunch (I'm always in my room), so I wish I had more commentary as to how this would compare to a map that I might draw. Something I did notice, however, is that when I asked the kids to label themselves on the map (sorry, I blurred out their names), nobody put themselves with a group. One boy got placed by his classmates at one of the Mexican/Latino tables from Group 1's map, but I don't think he had much say in that decision. I was surprised by his placement, because he's on the soccer team and I almost always see him with his teammates, so I wonder why he wasn't at the soccer team's table.

I'd like to hold on to these maps and have the students do it again at the end of the year. Obviously there will be some differences, but I'm curious to see what those differences will reflect.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On SCTA's Dime

Stanford more or less required us to join the Student California Teachers Association because of the insurance they provide that covers incidents in the classroom. Who knew that I might get other benefits out of it? Last month I got an email about an SCTA conference in Newport Beach. Although there wasn't really any info as to what the conference would be about, I couldn't ignore the cost: the $25 registration fee would cover airfare to the O.C. and lodging at the Newport Beach Hyatt. So obviously I sen in my $25 check immediately.

The conference last weekend was everything I expected, but more posh. The Hyatt was incredible, with the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in, and a flat screen TV in our room for me to catch the Michigan State game (go blue!). The food was fantastic (fresh mango salad? Yes, please) and the swag was above average (who wouldn't want an SCTA tote bag?).

On Saturday night I met up with some friends who live in SoCal. We feasted on an amazing seafood dinner on the water, and then walked around the pier and the beach for the rest of the evening. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

Of course I learned a lot at the conference too. I learned about how useful the union is, how important it is that I get involved in the union, and about all the great things that the union does. Then they handed out some union propaganda and--no joke--the keynote speaker read a poem entitled "Are You an Active Member, or Do You Just Belong?" My friend Sarah and I spent most of our time passing notes about inappropriate questions we could ask during the diversity panel and whether Alfie Kohn and/or Gloria Ladson-Billings would approve of what the presenters were saying. One thing I actually learned is that I'm turning into a serious Stanford elitist.

Phone Home

For my classroom management class, one of our assignments was to make positive phone calls home to two of our students. I'm not sure why, but talking to parents/guardians makes me nervous. I guess it's a combination of not really knowing what to say paired with feeling young/inexperienced. I mean, what am I going to tell the parent of a teenager? Even more nerve-wracking, when I told my CT about this assignment, she took it to a whole new level. "Let's call everyone's parents," she decided. I took one class (my future class) and she took the other.

While they definitely weren't all positive phone calls (it's not very helpful to call the parent of a kid who's failing and leave that fact out of the conversation), I actually kind of enjoyed the experience. Every parent/guardian was extremely nice, and more importantly, was very grateful for the call. Which makes sense, of course--why wouldn't caretakers want to know how their students are doing? There was definitely a range of reactions, though. Some parents simply thanked me an quickly got off the phone, while others talked on and on and on. The mother of one student who comes to class about once a week talked to me for a good 15 minutes about her son's fear/hatred of math, worries about being at Mission, and lots more. However, I'm not sure if she actually got my message that her son does fine when he actually comes to class, but 20% attendance makes math hard for anyone.

My favorite part was actually the next day when I started off class by telling the kids how much I'd enjoyed talking to their parents. They all pretty much freaked out. "Why did you call? What did you say? Don't call my house!" It's so interesting (but not surprising) that both the parents and students assumed that my phone calls meant that the student was in trouble, and it was especially satisfying to be able to tell (some of) them that I was just calling home to share good news and talk about how great the student is. So simple, yet so powerful.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Very STEPpie Halloween

As if my whole life isn't consumed quite enough by Stanford and teaching, somehow my entire Halloween ended up being completely STEP-tastic. It was like all I could think about was STEP, STEP, and more STEP. Which, sadly, is pretty reflective of my actual thoughts.

It started with my non-school Halloween costume. The only thing I could think of that would be funny, creative, and easy was to dress up like our Director of Clinical Work, Ruth Ann. It won't be that funny for anyone who doesn't know her, but she's a ridiculously coordinated and classy dresser. When I found an Ann Taylor pantsuit at Goodwill, the deal was sealed.

And to give you an idea of what our director looks like, here's a picture with me, Ruth Ann, another STEPpie and a STEP staff member--all dressed up as Ruth Ann.

Obviously, to make it a proper Halloween, I had to engage in the tradition of pumpkin carving. We even went so far as to go pumpkin picking, but it turned out that the "pumpkin patch" was actually some pumpkin vines with large pumpkins (clearly from other plants) strewn about so you could feel like you were picking pumpkins without actually doing it.

It also turned out that the pumpkins at the patch were ridiculously expensive, so we went to Safeway instead.

I bet you can't tell from my design what I am totally consumed with all the time.

Here are some group shots of our pumpkins. I have to say, we're a pretty creative group.

And now, the costume I know you're all waiting for: my school costume. I did have a lot of trouble figuring out something good AND math-related. I'm an algebra tile (the x tile to be exact)!

I got a much better reaction than I expected. There was definitely a lot of eye-rolling from the kids, and a lot of questions about "What's your real costume?" I asked why they assumed I wouldn't wear this out with my friends. One kid thought I'd bought my costume. I asked what Halloween stores he goes to where they sell algebra tile costumes.

My favourite comment? While I was talking to one group, a kid who I had my back to (the red side) asked "Ms. L., why are you so negative?" Later (when I was yelling at him in the hall, of course), I told him something and he asked "Are you positive?" Of course my answer was yes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Right now our math class is working with algebra tiles, fun little manipulatives that help with concepts like combining like terms, solving equations, and the distributive property. They're basically a set of squares and rectangles of different lengths. There are "ones" tiles that we use to measure everything else, but some lengths don't measure easily. So we call one unknown length "x" and the other unknown length "y." Each tile is named by its area, so the x tile, for example, has length x and width 1, while the x-squared tile has length and width x. I've never seen anything like them in algebra, and I really like the way they offer a tangible way of looking at variables.

The tiles hve different colors on each side. The pink/blue/green side (depending on the shape) denotes a positive number, while the red side denotes a negative. So for example, an x tile with the blue side up and a y tile with the red side up represents the expression x-y. However, when we draw pictures of the tiles on worksheets, assignments, etc. we can't use the actual colors, so the algebra tile people just use shaded/black or unshaded/white pictures to denote positive and negative. Guess which is positive and which is negative?

If you're like most people, you guessed that unshaded/white is positive and shaded/black is negative. But the algebra tile people flipped the script and declared that shaded/black tiles would denote positive numbers while the white/unshaded ones would be the negatives. I have to admit that this really confused me at first. The same was true for our kids. They complained about how difficult it was to interpret the pictures. "Why isn't white positive and black negative?" they wanted to know.

"Why wouldn't black be positive?" we asked. "Black is always negative," one student told me. How fascinating that in a classroom where there are at most three white students, the entire class would resist blackness representing something positive. My difficulty getting used to this system definitely made me reconsider my own internalization of racist attitudes, not to mention what this must mean for the identity development of all my students. I appreciate the thought that went into creating the algebra tiles and their notation--what an interesting and surprising way and place to challenge kids' ideas of race.

Unconvinced that this has anything to do with race? For more examples of the ways we equate blackness with negatives and whiteness with positives, check out pages 52-54 of Dean Keith Simonton's "Greatness: Who Makes History."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


When the school year started, my CT told me that we were guaranteed no more than 24 kids. Because we teach freshmen, they wanted to provide small learning environments where the kids could get used to being in high school and really get some personal attention (not that this shouldn't be happening in ALL classes, but unfortunately that's just not an option). So we moved out all the extra tables and only prepared for 24 at the most.

Then came the first day. 24 kids showed up. Then more, then more, and then some more. We had to call down for extra chairs in the middle of class. Each day for the next few weeks we had new kids walking in with a schedule that had my CT's name at the top. We added two more tables. By the end of the first month, we had 32 in one class and 33 in another. The problem was that the district had predicted a certain enrollment, but way more actually enrolled. So until the 10-day count took place to show just how crazy things were, we were working with a budget that covered teachers for about 800 teachers when really the enrollment was more like 950. You do the math (and then thank your math teachers).

Of course ours wasn't the only class that was overcrowded, so the administration went on a search to hire a new math teacher and a new English teacher. Finally, 8 weeks into the school year, they started today. Last week we spent agonizing which kids we were going to switch out of our classes, and then agonizing some more about how to tell them. The poor kids--can you imagine having to start over with a brand new teacher so far into the school year? And emotionally it was difficult to give up all these kids who I really like, and know that they're going to resent us for it. It's not like you can tell a kid that you've moved them out of your class and expect them to not have hurt feelings.

But all the pain paid off almost instantly. Today we were back to six tables and only about 20 of them showed up. Our first period class was silent during the warm-up for the first time ever. The whole-class discussions actually involved the whole class, and we spent more time actually talking about math than telling kids to pay attention. I can't wait for the rest of the year.

And there are really questions about what to fix in public education? Of course reducing class size won't fix it all, but if my class can transform literally overnight, can you imagine what kinds of changes we'd see if every class in every school was under 25?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


In the past year or so, I began imposing on myself the rule that when possible, I would not buy foods that were not produced nearby. In New Zealand, that meant foods from Australia and NZ; now it means mostly from the USA's West Coast and maybe Mexico or Canada. Basically, I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint (international shipping waste and all that) and also eat foods that I know are fresher because they haven't traveled as far. Of course there are downsides like no winter strawberries having to scour Napa for savignon blanc that even slightly resembles the deliciousness of Nelson Marlborough vinyards, but overall it's working pretty well. In winter I eat oranges and I just bought a bottle of California wine this weekend that's touted to "make the New Zealanders shake in their kiwi fields."

But then I was at the market this weekend and there they were...

Golden kiwifruit, for the uninitiated, is like regular kiwifruit, but with superpowers. They've got the same flavour and sweetness as the traditional green kind, but are less acidic, so you can eat bucketloads without your tongue going raw. Plus, they have softer flesh so they're easier to eat with a spoon. I had never seen the golden ones until moving to NZ, and had never heard of them being sold in the US.

I picked one up, praying that it would miraculously say "California" on the sticker, but no, there was the "New Zealand" label. What to do? Indulge myself at the expense of the ozone layer, or stick to Washington red delicious apples as my snack fruit for the week? Admit a failure of willpower, or declare triumph over my temptations? I chose the latter, and there is now a pile of furry little brown gems sitting in my fruit bowl, disappearing one by one.

In order to avoid further on-the-spot moral compromises, I decided to come up with a list of exceptions to my rule, so I know that next time I see them at the supermarket, I'll suck it up, buy them, and not drive my car as much for the week.
-Tim Tams
-Kapiti Ice Cream (preferably golden kiwifruit and pavlova flavoured)
-Griffin's Malt Biscuits (for making lolly cake)
-Toffee Pops

Hey Godzone dwellers: I can think of a really good way how I could get all these things ethically imported (except the kumara maybe) AND get a chance to see you at the same time...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Absent Minded

When my CT told me at the beginning of the year that part of her grading system included points that kids couldn't make up if they were absent, I was kind of stunned. What if they're sick? I asked. What if it's an excused absence? Her response was "Too bad." I quickly understood her reasoning. Our kids are unbelievably truant, and a lot of those are excused absences from the parents. We had one student miss class all of last week being sick. We have other students who have to take care of siblings. Some kids miss for doctor's appointments and court dates. Others go to the Wellness Center practically everyday. And that doesn't even include the kids who are skipping class. Even though I was nervous about being unfair to the kids who have legitimate reasons (which a lot of the above reasons are), it ends up that if you're only missing class once a marking period, it's not going to hurt your grade. In the end, it comes down to the simple reality that kids can't learn when they're not in class.

Here are some other reasons I didn't think about to explain just how important it is that they come to school. Note the mention of Mission in the 10th paragraph!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Today I taught the entire 100 minute class period by myself. I know, it doesn't seem like much, especially considering it's what real teachers do every day. But for me it was a big step. It did not go so well in the first class I taught, but I corrected my more serious mistakes for the second class and I felt much better about it. On the one hand, this is a sign that I can learn from mistakes (which I will continue to make a lot of). But on the other, it's disappointing to remember that there's always that first class that has to be my guinea pigs.

Another big first that happened today: the first time a kid told me "F--- you" to my face. It took six weeks for that to happen? I must be doing something right.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Death as Part of Life

In my first week of school I noticed a seriously disturbing trend. Students wear lanyards with pictures attached. It didn't take long to figure out that these are pictures of a friend or loved one who has passed away. I also noticed another trend of funeral programs stuck in the front covers of binders and being passed around. What's particularly disturbing is that most of the tributes I've seen are pictures of young people.

Today two students (at separate times) mentioned that they'd had bad weekends because a relative had been shot. In one case, the shooting was fatal; in the other, the student's relative is in the hospital with a 50% chance of survival. Both students declined the suggestion that they go talk with a counselor in the school's Wellness Center. Both said they'd rather be in class to have something to take their mind off of it. ...Certainly makes me reframe my concept of school as a safe space.

There are so many dimensions to all of this that make my mind reel. Of course there's the actual situation that two people were shot and one killed. The shootings themselves are horrifying, as is the frequency with which I see new funeral programs and picture lanyards. How are so many people dying like this? But the students' reactions--or seeming lack of reaction--is what's really scaring me. Death, particularly death of young people, should not be such a prevalent part of anyone's life. It's unacceptable that gun violence (or any violence, for that matter) has become so commonplace.

It definitely makes me rethink my priorities (and theirs) when I'm chastising them for talking too much or not turning in homework. Algebra is hardly a matter of life and death; what some of them are dealing with when they leave school definitely is. I am continuously amazed by how much my content area doesn't have to do with being a teacher.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Get Out

I know that classroom management is one of my weaker areas, so when I requested a teaching placement where I'd be able to work on this, Stanford responded in kind. Enforcing negative consequences is neither fun nor easy, and nobody really leaves the situation happy. Theorists will probably tell me I'm doing the wrong kind of classroom management, but there's a certain point where I don't know what else to do. Yes, I'm working on all the proactive prevention, the reasoning, the transparency, etc. but what happens when that fails?

Yesterday a student was texting in class. School policy, which we strictly enforce, is that if your cell phone is out the teacher will take it and give it to one of the deans. Then you can find the dean at the end of the day to get your phone back. When I told this kid to give me his phone, he said no. Most kids don't resist, but I was prepared. "You can give me your phone, or you can go to the dean's office and give her your phone directly. If you go to the dean's office, you'll get in more trouble; if you give me your phone, you can stay in class and we'll be fine. Either way, you lose your phone." At first he said no again, but after I repeated my spiel he finally handed it over.

I put the phone in my pocket. I didn't want to put in in the desk where it could get taken, and I didn't have a key for the locked cabinet, so my back pocket was the easiest. Phone Boy was fine, although not really doing his work (as usual). About a half hour later, I was leaning over to help someone, when suddenly Phone Boy got up and snatched the phone out of my pocket. Are you kidding me? Then he tried to bargain with me: "If I get to keep the phone, I'll do my work." Of course this whole time the rest of the class (which was already off the wall) was freaking out because half of them didn't see the phone and thought that he had just grabbed my butt. And on top of that, my CT was out in the hall dealing with two other kids who had been out of control. I called security to escort him down to the dean's office.

Today I taught an entire class period by myself. A student we'll call Disruptive Kid, one of the kids who my CT was dealing with in the hall yesterday, was being so great. Until we had a large group discussion. The kid cannot stop talking, which is fine when they're working in groups, but not when we're together as a whole class. I tried repeatedly to ask and tell him, nicely and not-so-nicely, to be quiet. He was so distracting and just set off the rest of the class. I didn't know what else to do, so I sent him into the hall. When we talked afterward, he knew why he'd been sent out, and he apologized earnestly. But he also admitted that he can't stop talking and he gets bored so he just talks. We'll be working on that some more.

I hate the way it feels to discipline kids, even when it's something as simple as taking away points from them. Part of it is because I like them so much. Phone Boy and Disruptive Kid are really fun, funny, nice kids in a lot of ways, but they're also extremely reactive. Disruptive Kid, who's over 6 feet tall, asks me pretty much every day if I "want some of this." It's hard to balance--with all the kids--making sure they know how much I like and care about them, while also being firm and consistent about my expectations for them. I kicked Phone Boy out because he broke the rules (so many rules, in fact) and was completely disrespectful to me. Disruptive Kid was not only being disrespectful to me and his classmates, but he was getting in the way of other people's learning. I hate that with some kids most of my interactions are negative. I'm sick of telling them to sit up, shut up, listen up, shape up without getting a chance to talk to them. I know, I know, I'm doing a lot of things wrong, and I've already missed my chance to start off the way I should have, and all that other stuff, but I'm also learning what my possibilities are. Luckily my CT seems to have found the balance. She definitely kicks kids out of the room, but also knows how to figure out what's really going on with them. Until I learn more from her, my classes, and other teachers, at least the kids will have one teacher in the room who they like.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Planning Ahead

Halloween is my second favourite holiday, and I couldn't be more excited about this year. To begin with, I missed it last year, so I need to compensate. Secondly, I will get to dress up for school, which is awesome. I've decided that for my school costume I want to be something math-related. I know it's super-dorky, but I am a math teacher after all. If I can't embrace the dorkiness (in an attempt to normalize it, of course), then this career path is not going to turn out well for me.

But what to wear? I am completely stumped as to what would make a good costume. I don't want to dress up like a famous mathematician because (1) even if I tell people, they still won't know who I am and (2) that's not fun. I also want to avoid just writing a lot of numbers on a shirt and being pi/the fibonacci sequence/whatever, because that's not so much a costume as it is a t-shirt with numbers on it.

Suggestions, please!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How We're Smart in Math

Last week we did one of the best activities I've ever heard of in a math class. We gave all the students a bright yellow paper to stick in the front of their math binders that lists 26 different abilities that are involved in doing math--one for each letter of the alphabet, from Analyzing to Zipping through mental calculations. Then each student selected one of the abilities (or anything else they thought of and wrote out the sentence "I'm good at ____."

It broke my heart to see how many just sat there staring at their blank paper. We're taught to value modesty, so it's already difficult to praise yourself in any situation. And it's even more difficult when you don't think you have any skills. As we encouraged them, so many told us, "I'm not good at any of these things."

Finally everyone wrote something down, and that's when we really pushed them. They all had to put their names on their papers and then come up to the board one by one, read their statements, and tape their papers to the board. We did it "popcorn" style, so they just went at random until everyone had gone. Of course, they all freaked out. Can you imagine getting up in front of a group of people you'd only known for a week--and who you'd be working with for at least a year--and telling them what you're good at? Can you imagine doing it as an awkward 14 year old?

But they all did it, and it was beautiful. I loved it as we got down to the last few students and the rest encouraged them. I loved seeing how many different things people felt they were good at. I loved the kids who put multiple strengths. I loved the ones who came up with strengths not on the list we gave out. I loved seeing the kids who were speaking in front of the class for the first time, and that their first words were about how they're good at math.

Now we have all their papers taped up on a poster titled "We're SMART at math because..." Looking at the poster actually calms me down when a kid is driving me crazy. It reminds me that as obnoxious/lazy/disruptive/rude as s/he is at the moment, in the end s/he does care. How to get them to express that care in a productive way is, of course, what I'm still trying to figure out. But at least I can approach it by building on the math strengths I already know they have.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

On Their Toes

I was helping one of my students, D., with her math homework, asking her questions about the problems we were working on. Her friend K. who was sitting across the table, started feeding D. answers in Spanish. At first I ignored it, mostly because K. was giving her the wrong answers. Then K. realized she'd been reading the worksheet wrong and said, "Oh! Veinticuatro!" I smiled at her and said, "Yeah, I was wondering why you were saying 42." K. and D. both turned bright red. "You know Spanish?! How do you know Spanish?!" They were shocked. I told them that, no, I'm not fluent, but that they'll be surprised to find out what I do know.

Hehe, being a teacher is fun.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Following an amazing Cedar Point trip at the beginning of the summer, there was talk of a reunion/reenactment/rematch between some of my Michigan friends. But we had to do it bigger than Sandusky, so the only logical next step was Los Angeles.

Unfortunately my tight STEP schedule meant that I couldn't stay for the full week that most people were coming for, but I flew down on Friday afternoon. Immediately we made a trip to the famous Grove mall (as featured on shows like The Hills). Following that was a drive down to the OC where we stayed the night with some friends who live down there.

Saturday morning started off pretty rough with the news of the Michigan football game. The game starting at noon in Ann Arbor meant that it was 9am in California, so our breakfast plans were thwarted by some of the guys demanding we find a bar so we could watch the game. The Big 10 bar we found was unfortunately packed with Michigan State and OSU fans, so while the guys suffered the pain and embarrassment, I walked around Newport Beach with some of the girls. On the upside, it's been almost two years since I was in a Michigan football environment of any sort (I don't count watching the Rose Bowl by myself on my Auckland couch last year), so it was good to have that back again, even if it did end so horribly.

The only got better, though, with a trip to Hollywood to be hardcore tourists.

If you look really closely in the back of this picture, you can see the Hollywood sign.

That night we went clubbing in Hollywood and although there were no celebrity sightings, I felt pretty special when my friend's party promoter cousin got us in to a club for free and we got to use the VIP line.

As planned, we relived our Cedar Point trip on Sunday with an excursion to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Unfortunately, the California heat wave that had been frying the Bay Area was significantly worse in SoCal. Trekking around an amusement part in 100+ degree weather is not an ideal combination. However, we made the most of it by drinking gallons of water and buying the flash passes that let you bypass the long lines. The rollercoasters were amazing--dare I say that some of them topped Cedar Point? In particular, I have to say that my new favorite rollercoaster is X, a coaster with seats that spin 360 degrees as you're going along the track. Another new favorite is Tatsu, a coaster that positions you on your stomach as if you were flying flying.

Perhaps the best, and most unexpected part of the day was the discovery of a carnival game where everyone who plays gets a superhero cape. Obviously we spent the rest of the day stopping every five minutes to take awesome pictures.

By Monday all I could do was attempt to recover, and as soon as I got on the airplane I promptly passed out and woke up when I felt the wheels hit the ground at SFO.

A truly amazing weekend, to say the least. Definitely a much needed respite from teaching, Stanford, and the Bay Area. More than anything, it was just a good reminder of what it feels like to be around people I know and people I have a history with. So much of the last year and a half has been spent meeting new people and making really great new friendships, but there's nothing like remembering why I love my old friends so much.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Week 1

Overall, my first week of school has been amazing. However, I'm assuming that you might be interested in more detail than that, so here are some miscellaneous things I've noticed since Monday.

On the upside...
-My students are so cute! They're these sweet little freshmen who are so shy and scared, yet also so excited and eager to be at Mission
-My students have really taken to the norms we've set up for the classroom. It's not to say that they're always following them, but they're highly cognizant of them.
-My students don't seem to hate me. They smile at me and say hi to me when they see me in the halls. So far, I don't think I've ruined anyone's life. I'll continue to work on that.
-I continue to be in awe of my CT and in awe of how well STEP did in pairing me up with her. She is an incredible teacher and very much has the style I hope to take on.
-I'm learning a LOT. About everything from easy tips for quieting down a room to how schools function administratively. I am starting to think that I will actually be prepared to have my own classroom at this time next year.
-Kids have been very honest about what they like and dislike in math classes, and fortunately most of the things that they told us helps them learn are things we were already planning.

On the downside...
-We have way too many kids in our classes, and they're not going away. On the first day we literally had to call down to the office in the middle of class to get someone to bring us more chairs.
-We have at least two students who have assaulted a teacher. Yikes. One of the students I don't really know because she's only shown up once (they may have moved her to another class to reduce our numbers). The other is one who I really really like and he seems to like me as well. Although I expect that we won't always agree on things, I feel like I have absolutely no reason to believe that he'd even consider hitting me.
-San Francisco is experiencing a heat wave and only two of the five windows in our room open. It's so hot and stuffy that it pretty much puts all the kids to sleep.
-I have never had so many opportunities to practice my teacher look in such a short span of time (but on the upside again, it seems to be working pretty well)

And really on the downside...
The only thing I dislike about my whole teaching situation so far is that it is SO far away. San Francisco is about 45-60 minutes away, which means that we LEAVE Palo Alto at 6:30am. One of my biggest pet peeves in life is getting up before the sun, so I'm not really pleased with the 5:30am alarm clock and am dreading the winter. At least I'm carpooling, so I get to sleep on the car ride up there half the days of the week. But it's a bad situation when going to bed at 10pm (which obviously doesn't happen) does not guarantee enough sleep.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Night Before

Tomorrow is the first day of school. I can't believe it's here already. I guess I'm feeling exactly how I should be feeling--nervous, excited, eager to meet the kids, expecting that it will be nothing but chaos, ready to be exhausted by the end of the day. I've been up at Mission almost everyday for the past week and a half or so getting ready. I am absolutely in love with it; it's exactly what I was looking for.

The school itself is a beautiful in a lot of ways. It's a historic old building across from Delores Park in the Mission District. As you can see from the picture, there's a very impressive bell tower. Inside there are some lovely courtyards, complete with palm trees. In many ways it feels like the old Cass Tech building. Which means that it's definitely showing its age and the inside is not exactly brand new.

The staff at Mission is much more impressive than the building. The teachers are clearly dedicated, and all (at least that I've met so far) really seem to want to be there because they care about the students. I'm also impressed with the administration and the tone they set for the staff. For example, one of the school-wide goals is creating an anti-racist environment and education for the students. Last week one of the professional development days was a workshop on anti-racist teaching--something I think most schools would be hesitant to address so directly.

Then there's the math department, which I am so proud to be a part of. First of all, they're just fun people. They genuinely enjoy spending time with each other and sharing their teaching strategies, ideas, etc. They make time to observe each other's teaching and really work together to develop curricula that will be best for the students. It's really amazing to see them all work together, and even more amazing that they've welcomed me and the other STEPpies as if we're really part of the department.

Finally, I absolutely love my cooperating teacher (CT). She's everything I was looking for in a CT: she's really into trying new things based on what the students need, she explains her reasoning for everything but also asks my opinion, she has a teaching style (at least as far as I can tell right now) that's pretty much what I hope to model, and also she's just fun to hang out with. I can't wait to see her teaching in action. I've already learned so much in the past week; I think it's going to be a great year.

However... despite all the many things that Mission has to offer, the school is still struggling. Test scores are low, attendance is the worst in the district, enrollment is declining, etc. etc. I am trying not to pre-judge my students, but I also know that these kids are going to challenge me in ways I'm not prepared for. This is not Pioneer High School. But on the other hand, the fact that it's not Pi-Hi is part of what I like best.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

All Work, Some Play

As people may have noticed from my complete inability to respond to emails in the past six weeks, STEP is busy. My days pretty much consist of teaching, going to class, doing homework, and nothing else. But thanks to the mini-break last weekend, I finally got to do some of the touristy stuff I've been hoping for.

Friday was a trip to Pescadero Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay. It's right on Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, and the highway definitely lives up to the hype. No New Zealand, of course, but I am obviously just biased.

One of the things I keep forgetting about NorCal beaches is that they're cold. I think "beach" and I think "lie around in the sun and play in the water," not "huddle under a blanket and stare at the ocean."

Not that this means people don't go in the water, just not me. I briefly braved dipping my toe in, but the cold was physically painful, so one toe was more than enough for me. Obviously my classmates are hardier than I am, which I'm perfectly fine with.

Saturday involved another trip to the coast, this time to Monterey Bay. We went specifically for the famous aquarium, but after seeing what a cute town it is, I definitely want to go back and explore more.

Those black things in the water and on the rocks are wild sea otters!

I could have spent most of my time at the jellyfish exhibit because I think jellyfish are beautiful (when the are behind a pane of glass). I was particularly interested in seeing the deadly box jellyfish that were supposedly out there when I was at on the Great Barrier Reef. I'm glad that at the time I didn't know how tiny they were because I would not have believed our guides who told us that it was no big deal that our feet and hands weren't covered by our wetsuits.

Anyway, these are moon jellyfish. My pictures of the other kinds didn't turn out too well.

There was also a pretty fantastic sea otter exhibit, another animal I could watch all day.

Speaking of things I could watch all day, check out the kelp forest. It's about two stories tall and you can just sit there and watch the kelp sway back and forth. When paired with the soothing music they play, the whole environment is instantly calming. I need to keep this place in mind after particularly stressful teaching experiences.

Also worth seeing, but in a completely different way, was the massive--and massively ugly--sunfish. I found it much creepier than the hammerhead sharks that were in the same tank.

After two successful days of ocean and water, I spent Sunday in the trees. Muir Woods is a beautiful redwood forest just north of San Francisco. As promised, the redwoods were tall, beautiful, and completely impressive.

A redwood fun fact (although I'm probably getting it wrong): redwoods can grow out of other redwoods, so when one falls over, a whole group of new ones will grow out of its roots. That's why you find small circles of redwoods all clustered together but then none other in the immediate area. These are called "fairy rings."

I was fortunate enough to make this trip with my wonderful cousins (you can see their account of the day, which includes some of the less pleasant, more nauseating details). As much as I've loved traveling alone and traveling with friends, nothing can compare to the completely different world you get to experience when traveling with a three-year old. Seriously, could she be any more adorable?

So all in all, a successful weekend; I checked off a number of items on my tourist list for the Bay Area. Next up: Alcatraz, walking the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Great America amusement park, and of course that's just the beginning. Considering that this was pretty much the only break I'll get for the rest of the year when I won't be coming back to Michigan, I'm sure doing all these things will be no problem.