MTBoSBlaugust Post 6: The one with such a simple smile

I intended to blog tonight. Seriously. But a little nap, #MSMathChat, no plans yet for tomorrow…. oy.

But I thought this was sweet today. It was my first day with just my groups – last week we were combined for In N’ Out fun. So, trying to tread carefully with the 8th graders – balancing the need to honor what has worked for them, while still being me – I asked them to answer 4 questions on post-its (as chronicled many places elsewhere amongst the twitters). One question was, “what will make this class a great learning environment?” Here was one of the responses:

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Love ❤

MTBoSBlaugust Post 5: The one with the four first days

Today was my fourth first day as a teacher. It occurred to me this morning that that’s more than I had as a student (unless you count pre-school, which I don’t). Yep – I only went to 3 schools k-grad. I was never the “new kid.” I was having a hard time. I still don’t feel prepared for the year. I wasn’t upset this morning, but I was definitely nervous. I just felt off.

The first first day was in 2001. Fresh and sparkly out of grad school I was ready to take 5th grade by storm. My classroom was just so cute and the days spent decorating were just so fun. The other 5th grade teacher was in year 2 and my same age. We became best friends pretty much immediately. I’m sure there were crafty things and ice-breakers ready to go. I don’t remember much of what went on on the first day, but I vividly remember going downstairs with my friend to meet the kids who were lined up outside, looking at her, and saying, “ok, but when we get back upstairs what the heck are we supposed to do with them?” I survived.

The second first day came in 2004. I had moved back home to CA from Boston that summer. My attempts at finding a job in Southern CA didn’t work out. I had met with a principal or two when I had been home at Easter, but they had no open positions. I got home from driving cross country in mid-July, turned around and went back to Boston to be in a wedding on July 31st, and then came home to no job and no prospects. I took a job at Sylvan just for something to do (I hated it and kept calling in sick that fall due to the Red Sox playoff run. JK – I didn’t call in sick, but I did tell them to not schedule me. Priorities). Right around the start of the year a vice principal called and asked me to come in. Turns out they had someone who wanted to leave her position as computer/ math teacher at Christmas. Basically my “interview” went like this, “can you show kids how to use word and excel? can you teach pre-algebra? cool. It’s yours if you want it.” Once the teacher knew there was someone to take her place, she happily decided to leave in September instead, so I had my second first day. It was different because I started by working with the outgoing teacher for a week or two so she could show me what I needed to do. It was also a much different first day because I wasn’t there for the kids’ first day!

My third first day came in 2009. I do not remember it at all. But what I do know is that the entire middle school team was new. We all were connected to each other in different ways because of the high school I attended. We were a family from day one. We had met and planned and bonded in the home of our lead teacher. We began from day one as a strong, solid unit. On the first day, the students all met in the church. The faculty was introduced. The new students were introduced. The Kindergarteners came up to the front with their parents and headed off on a new adventure. It was a beautiful way to start each year.

The fourth first day was today. I woke up thinking about the kiddos at my old school. I really started to miss them – especially the 8th graders. I posted on facebook a wish that they had a great year (I’m friends with many of the moms) and that I would soon love my new students as much as I loved the students I left behind. I got to school and didn’t really even know how the day was supposed to begin. I got there later than I’m used to, so some of the students were already there. I felt like the mystery woman. I went into my classroom to get ready. We split the kids into 2 math groups, but I didn’t want to do that on the first day (fun, related story below). So the combined math classes were going to meet in my room. The other teacher who was familiar to the kids would start things off, but then I would do the lessons. I checked out the computer and everything to make sure I was all good and I had a few visits from parents coming in to introduce themselves. As I was chatting with one of them, morning assembly began. We went outside to find the kids lining the corridor. We said prayer and pledge and had announcements. I had about 10 minutes before the class came. I scrolled through twitter notifications and saw people cheering me on and I scrolled through Facebook and saw many first day photos of my former students. It did get me down. I missed them. I missed my friends.

The 8th graders were the first to come in. I met them at the door with Uno cards and explained that they should find the whiteboard with the matching number and if they had a wild card they got to choose. The other teacher spoke to them. I asked them how many had been new kids at some point, and only a few raised their hands. I told them that I was the new kid and I was nervous. New kids who aren’t used to me, basically being observed by the other teacher…. ugh. Anyway, I started Robert’s In N’ Out lesson as re-imagined by Hedge and I was off. It was great. The nerves were gone and I was back doing what I was comfortable doing. The kids were obviously engaged because why wouldn’t they be? They were talking about cheeseburgers. Behavior wasn’t awesome, but it was a novelty that they were all together, first day as 8th graders, new weird teacher, etc. When we split them I will get them in line! As Hedge did when she presented to admins, I focused a lot on the SMPs, not as much (yet) on the math. We only got about halfway through, but that’s ok, we’ll finish tomorrow. I’m not sure the kids are convinced they did math, but it’s like those parents who sneak the spinach into the brownies, right? Get them chatting about cheeseburgers and pretty soon they’ve experienced most of the SMPs without even knowing it! Sixth grade and Seventh grade came and it was basically same story, next chapter. One of the 6th grade boys came up and hugged me and said, “thank you. this was so fun and I’m so excited.” Thanks kid, you have no idea how much I needed that. Another 6th grader, as i was handing out the Uno cards, says, “you must be a really fun teacher.” Uno cards… who knew they were so fun. In the different classes a number of kids asked if I knew their parents/cousins/aunts and uncles/ members of teams, etc. I did. The school I am at is heavily populated by families of alums from my high school and my brother’s, so this was not unexpected. I looked at one and said, “you’re a _______ aren’t you?” He said yes and asked how I knew. I told him I went to hs with his mom and he’s a twin of his father. It will be fun to get to know this new generation of  families I know!

A few of the parents from my old school left really sweet messages on Facebook wishing me a great day and telling me how missed I am. One of the moms of a girl who I am particularly close to told me that her daughter didn’t even want to go in my old classroom because I wasn’t there. I need to hear that, but I also know it’s time to start developing that relationship with this new crop. It takes time. I’m used to having a 4 year relationship, which is what I will have again. But getting there is hard.

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When I interviewed for this job, Kathy told me to make a digital portfolio. I did, and one of the things that I had on there was pictures of Robert’s In n’ Out lesson. So on the day of our first faculty meeting, the other teacher came in and we were talking. He says – you have to share that In n’ Out thing with me. I remember that from your interview (which he was a part of) and it looked so great. So me being me, I kind of said, well actually I was thinking maybe that was a good way to start the year. He agreed and I was saved from having to give the poor kiddos a test on the first day of school. The teacher seems interested in these types of problems, so I’m excited to be able to share and work with him. Welcome to the #MTBoS, other teacher 🙂

MTBoSBlaugust Post 4: The one with the Christmas decorations

So it’s the 15th and I’m on post 4. I’ve clearly failed at this Blaugust game. Though Shelli said that if I’m blogging more than I was, it’s a success. So there’s that. One of the prompts she suggested was, “One time in math class….” Connie tweeted yesterday about her pink, sparkly frame she bought and sent me a photo this morning. It made me think of a sign that used to be on my cabinet in my classroom that said, “have a pink-tastic, sparklicious day.” And that brought this memory to my mind.

One time in math class, well not really IN math class, but in my math classroom, I had some merry little elves break in and bring me some holiday spirit. One of the first things that my students mistakenly learned about me is that I don’t really like Christmas. Now, as far as a religious holiday, it’s great. Everything else – I’m just not into it. But that’s not the point of the story.

So even with my dislike of Christmas widely known, my friend Terri asked me every year if I had put up a tree or decorated my house. I always said no and she would be sad for me. She always joked that she would bring her daughter and her daughter’s friends (my students) to decorate my house for me. I told her all the time that it didn’t matter because I lived alone and I didn’t need to make a mess and then have to put it away just for myself. This conversation has happened every year for the 6 I’ve known her!

When the girls were in 8th grade (my 3rd year with them), they and their moms hatched a plan to break me out of the bah humbugs. I came in one morning to find my blinds closed. This was odd because I never closed them. I opened my door to find a winter wonderland. There were Christmas lights strewn across one wall and the Christmas station was playing tunes. Tinsel and sparkle were on anything that made sense (and frankly some that didn’t). There was garland around the flagpole and ornaments hanging from my podium with the aforementioned sign wishing me a pinktastic, sparklicious day. There were purple glittery snowflakes everywhere the tape would stick. Across the window was white tinsel with an angel hanging in the middle. On the counter there was a beautiful silver tree with pink garland and ornaments and a pink tree skirt. And finally there was a big poster on the wall that said, “Merry Christmas, Ms. McCormick. Love your 8th grade elfettes.” The tears were basically immediate as I dropped my bag and tried to take it all in. Eight of my little 8th grade darlings were behind the “break-in.” (Three of their moms were on staff at the school, so “breaking in” was a piece of cake). This was without a doubt the sweetest thing that anyone had ever done for me. I couldn’t believe that they had gone through all that trouble just for me.

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When we came back to school, I tried to leave up as much as possible. Snowflakes weren’t Christmasy – they were wintery. They stayed. The lights didn’t have to be for Christmas – they were celebration lights. The silver tinsel – well that stayed because it was sparkly. And the sign stayed up on the wall for at least 2 more full years. Other students would often ask why I had a “Merry Christmas” sign on the wall in June. I told them that it was because it was a memory of the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me, and it made me happy just to see it each day.

In the years that followed, after my dear girls had gone off to high school, Terri’s daughter Maddie would always come to set up my tree for me, since she was around with her mom a lot of mornings. Having my special tree in my room each year reminded me of that day and of those girls and of how much they changed my life in the 3 years that I had them and the 3 years that have gone on since. Some of these girls started their senior year this past week and some of them start on Monday. It’s insane to me that the little 6th graders I met in my first year there are so grown up and accomplishing amazing things. I remain very close to a few of them and it’s going to be so fun (and so sad) to watch them navigate their senior year and whatever comes next. But I will always have that special memory of a beautiful silver tree and the way that it made me believe I was in the right place, doing the right thing.

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MTBoSBlaugust Post 3: The one with my old classroom

I loved my old classroom. Like, really, really loved it. I always meant to do a blog post about it, but never got around to it. Shocked? Anyway, I want to post the pictures. I guess it’s kind of a memorial. I hope I will love my new classroom just as much!

(Btw – it’s taken me about an hour just to get these photos in the post. Don’t mind the terrible order, mmm kay?)

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I hoped my cute signs in the window would inspire kids walking through the hall!

Front of the room with lots of poster love. You may see some familiars!

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Better view of the front. Thanks everyone I’ve stolen from.

My bulletin board with my TMC wordle to inspire me every day. (who wants to make me one for this year??). This was taken in Sept – it didn’t stay that empty!

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I had to make my own Desmos magnet out of a sticker… Just saying, guys…

I’ve always been famous for my classroom library. All the books… (and this was probably less than a quarter of my whole collection).

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View from the window and view from the door.

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Regarding the tree… just don’t ask.

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Loved my Mindset board… thanks Sarah 🙂

And now… a blank canvas….

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Wish me luck…

MTBoSBlaugust Post 2: The one with 12 teachers

Did you know I love Tom Brady? Because I do. Today’s his birthday so I wanted to make a list in his honor. Because he’s 38 today and I cannot make that long of a list, I present a list of 12 people (in no particular order) who have been outstanding teachers in some way in my life.

  1. Mrs. May was my 8th grade teacher. Because of her I have always wanted to be an 8th grade teacher. I mean, I teach 8th grade, but not homeroom. Mrs. May always had me do the “teachery things” that now that I have to, I can’t stand doing. I kept records (not grades or anything) for her, did seating charts, helped correct papers, etc. She always knew I would be a teacher. It took me longer to figure out!
  2. Mrs. Prieve was my 3rd grade teacher. I just remember that we had so much fun in her class. She was only there that one year. I’m not sure what we learned – all I can remember is doing a space shuttle project with my friend Meghan.
  3. Mrs. Barboza was the vice principal of my high school. She was the best! We both loved dance and theater so we always connected really well. She was the person who wrote most of my college recs because she always saw the best in me. As a senior I would often be in her office chatting during break in the morning. Eventually she would look at me and say, should you be in class? Then she’d write me a note, and off I would go. I worked in the office of my HS during my college summers and I worked with her a lot. Scheduling was her responsibility. We had a weird schedule. I proofed schedules for her and she said no one could ever do it as well as me 🙂
  4. Mrs. Thomas was the admissions director at my HS. I wasn’t supposed to go the school I went to. There were 2 all girls’ HS in town and I was ALWAYS going to go to the “other” one. In 8th grade I decided that I should at least go to the Open House at the school that would become mine. I fell in love. I felt wanted in the community. At the other school, not so much. It was a pivotal decision in my life (hey – maybe that’s a post for another day!), and I think Mrs. Thomas played a huge part in it. As a student, I was always part of the recruitment team, which she supervised. When I graduated, there was a note on the back of her door that said, “future office of Casey, 20??). Sadly, my HS closed down about 7 years ago. The fact that no more girls get the experience I had is something I still have a hard time with.
  5. Mrs. Greene was a huge part of high school for me. I was her TA for dance, and she was my teacher for dance, drama, choir, and theology. On our senior silent retreat she was also my spiritual director. Here’s the thing though – she terrified me! Don’t get me wrong, I also loved her. The level of respect I had – shoot, still have – for her was like no one else! One of the things I remember most was that junior year I tried out for the musical at the guys’ high school. I didn’t make it (she was the vocal director). She pulled me aside after and gave me feedback. She said, join choir next year and you will make it. I did and I did. Being in choir was the hardest class I took – not because my other classes were easy, but because I wanted nothing more than to make her proud. When auditions came along, sure enough, I made it and had one of the most memorable experiences of my wonderful HS years. She works in the same “district” as I do now, so I still get to see her from time to time. She’s awesome.
  6. Professor Kenney at Boston College was my professor for 2 years straight. My second major, a school of education major, was basically math education (though it had a fancier name). There were about 12 of us in my year in that major. Five of us were super close friends – “the math clique.” I guess that could be considered my first PLN! Anyway, Prof. Kenny guided this tiny group of us through 4 classes. Our whole soph and junior years were spent exploring teaching math with her. I struggled in these classes and constantly had to ask my friend Meg for help. But they were the best classes for so many reasons.
  7. Dan Ponsetto was a chaplain at BC and worked in campus ministry. He was in charge of the mass I went to in the basement of St. Ignatius Church where my friends and I would gather for the college mass on Sunday nights. He was a great guy. When senior year rolled around he was teaching a class called “praying our stories.” With him at the helm, and finally being done with my ed classes and student teaching, I was able to take a class out of the norm. This was the best class. It was basically Dan and about 18 of my friends. He had never taught before, so we were navigating it together. He basically let us make up our own assignments and reflect in ways that were meaningful to us. Our final was a BBQ. It was rad.
  8. Tracy Nelson was an aide at my former school when I first started there. She loves math, so even when she was off the clock she would just hang out in my room and talk math with me and the class. Throughout the last 6 years she has been a strong influence, sounding board, and one of my biggest cheerleaders. She helps me with perspective. Her belief in me and what I do in my classroom is probably a big reason I have made it this long!
  9. Antoinette Perez was the vice principal and 8th grade teacher at my previous school for the first 3 years I was there. We started the same year and the whole middle school was new that year. Although I’d been teaching already for 8 years at the time, I felt like it was my first year all over again – mainly because I was teaching something different. She was the best mentor I could ever have asked for and she continues to be a strong influence and great friend in my life.
  10. Debbie Hurtado is a teacher at a nearby school. We have never taught together, but we have worked together a ton. We were first introduced when a friend of mine left the school I was at and went to the school where Debbie worked. The three of us started collaborating together and then the original connecting friend sort of fell out of the picture. Debbie and I have similar interests, so it became natural for us to collaborate and attend PD together when we can find it! We worked to start a book club together last year, and our “prep” meetings basically became therapy sessions for me during a rough year. I probably wouldn’t have made it through the year without her!
  11. Julie Reulbach’s blog was really the one that I think first started me on reading math blogs. She was the first teacher I followed on twitter. So I’m just gonna “blame” everything else on her. Although we “lost” her from MS, the records in her blog are enough to inspire and keep us MS teachers going. And thanks to Julie, I discovered….
  12. #MTBoS – enough said.

MTBoSBlaugust Post 1: The one with the nerves

I can’t sleep.

It’s nearly midnight and will be probably long after by the time I finish writing this. The twitters have gone to sleep for the evening so it’s just me, NCIS LA re-runs, and my nerves.

I spent much of the weekend trying to organize all the crap that lived in my old classroom, much of which will find a new home in a new classroom starting tomorrow. I wanted to fill trash can after trash can of stuff that I just don’t need. Unfortunately, this did not happen (I mean, who doesn’t need two shoeboxes full of post-its and paper clips?). I was able to empty a bunch of binders of their papers, so there’s that (oh look – this girl just graduated from high school – probably don’t need her 8th grade test anymore). I’m totally a hoarder when it comes to school supplies- it’s all good. I lost count of the number of unopened packs of flair pens I came across.

I think my desire to just throw stuff away was to try to get rid of some baggage and not have it come into my new room. Alas… It took 4 1/2 SUV car loads to bring everything from my old classroom to my garage. My car is packed with the first load to bring to the new classroom tomorrow. I am trying to not acknowledge how overwhelmed I am, but I am.

At my old school we did not have to remove things from the walls over the summer. This means that basically all I had to do to close up for summer was lock the cabinets, throw some plastic tablecloths over the bookshelves, and call it a summer. I did switch things out when needed, of course. But, this also means that I haven’t had to organize or decorate a room in 6 years and the thought of it is freaking me out. Don’t get me wrong – I like decorating and finding a place for everything. My perfectionist nature, however, makes it very daunting.

Before TMC I was able to see my classroom. I knew the school had had a “make-over” just a few years ago. I was thrilled to see I have tables and lots of storage. However, there was also a summer school class in the room at the time, so my view was quick. I know that my classroom becomes as much of a home to me as my actual home, so I just want to be sure i get it right.

At TMC we had a flex session about starting over in a new school. I didn’t really contribute to the conversation, because I don’t normally speak up in group discussions. The questions I have seemed silly compared to the serious ones being raised. For now, in the hopes that getting them out of my mind and on to “paper” will allow me to go to sleep, here are the questions weighing on me (ridiculous as they are) before I start moving in tomorrow:

  • Can I put decorations in the window?
  • What should I use to hang decorations on the walls?
  • Am I allowed to hang stuff on the cabinets?
  • Is there a laminator available?
  • What sort of supplies will the students be bringing?
  • Are there any class supplies they will bring?
  • What if I need supplies?
  • Will the school give me a boatload of black Expo markers?
  • Am I allowed to ask the parents for donations of black Expo markers?
  • Where’s the bathroom for teachers?
  • Will I have a teacher bestie at school?
  • What are the other math teacher’s expectations about me?
  • Will the other math teacher want to collaborate with me?
  • Will people come say hi when they see me in my room?
  • Will there even be anyone else there to meet tomorrow?
  • Will the kids like me?
  • Will the parents like me?
  • Will I know any of the families? (I’m assuming the answer to this one is yes, since this school was a feeder to my high school)

I don’t intend to get much done, really. I need to turn in paperwork, get my key, and some other things like that. My very good friend who has worked, subbed, etc. at the school for years has offered to come help me. Hopefully on Tuesday she will do that and she will help a lot with my nerves since she knows the ropes!

I’ll try to remember to take some “before” pics of the room.

I’m still not sure I’m going to fall asleep anytime soon….ugh.