Don’t Look Back

There’s pretty much two kinds of people in this world:

Bravado vs. sadness. Learning opportunities, or more evidence that the world is unfair. You pick.

“OMG, look at us! We were babies!” Yeah. Yeah we were. Hell, I had hair. Photo cred: Roger C. Ott.

This week we celebrated 25 years of marriage. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything on the planet. But, would I change some things if I could?

Honestly, I’ve messed up plenty of times. And learned something from the pain every time. I’d rather not hurt. Or have the people I love hurt. But I’m thankful for the chance to learn, and grow as a person, and grow closer to my loved ones. So: “My Way”? Or “A Lot Of Things Different”?

We’re at the time of year when buyers remorse is setting in for some of my Algebra II students. They are recognizing that they’ve blown off the last math course they need to graduate, and (170 days in) it’s too late to fix.

The options are summer school, credit recovery, or alternative school.

It’s not fun. When everyone is counting days to summer vacation and you are looking ahead to a 6:30 wakeup call and a bus ride across town and a teacher going on and on and on and on about math.

Image result for eye roll gif

And it’s not a fair trade. 180 hours of social time, versus doing the work that needs to get done to move the ball forward, and get a step closer to walking across a stage with a diploma in hand. I think, given the chance, they’d have made some different choices.

I can tell they are feeling pain, because their frustration is directed at me these days. What I know after doing this for a while: 17-year-olds are great at “IDGNF” bravado, but they suck at hiding true feelings.

Which all has me thinking: What “Teacher Habits” do I have that I would change? I make a list for myself at the end of every school year, as I’m making copies and filing grade printouts and filling up my recycling bin: what worked and what didn’t? What could I do different next year? After 15 years there are some areas that I’m pretty set in my ways. But the greatest benefit of being a connected teacher is: there’s always someone with a different way (and maybe, a better way) out there. Is this the year to flip the script?

I’ve got a change coming next year. I have a straight schedule of math. No PLTW. Which is a little odd, since my district’s efforts to re-launch PLTW is pretty much how I ended up here, but hey, Teaching Motto since Day One is: “Roll With It”. They tell me what to teach, and who to teach, and where, and I take care of the rest.

Two of my sections will be an Algebra Lab for incoming freshmen who hate math and hate school and probably will hate me. (I know, they haven’t met me, but give them time). My department chair approached me with the proposal: a supplemental class to shore up their Algebra I class. No homework. All project-based. DOK 3. Grade is based on in-class participation.

She knows me so well. It took about two seconds to say yes.

I’ve been training for this my whole life. And I know where to turn for ideas:

*cough* #MTBoS *coughcough*

It’s gonna be a year to do a lot of things different. And to do it my way.

Satchel Paige said “Don’t look back. You never know who might be gaining on you.” But honestly, sometimes a look back is the best thing you can do to put yourself on the right pathway in the future.

Plus, every now and then, the view is fantastic.

Dont Look Back
Sunset over the old Ivy Tech building in Valpo. Now an artist colony and micro-business incubator.



Fundamentally Different

Nearing the end of my second year in the building, construction marches on. Work on classroom spaces is scheduled to be done by the start of school in August. That will be a long-awaited return to normalcy for our students and staff. But the outdoor phase? Yeah, that’s gonna take a minute. Construction on a new pool has started. The footprint of the new space plus the construction staging area has obliterated 200 parking spots and closed one of two entrances to the lot.

With predictable results.

In the mornings, teachers are stressed, rushing to get into class. Students, meanwhile, dawdle. We’ve carved out a grace period for them to roll in late due to traffic. 17-year-old me would take that. Wouldn’t you? Afternoons, it’s the opposite. While teachers exhale and knock out some grading and planning before heading home, kids are taking their stuff with them to 7th hour and racing out the doors at the last bell to beat the rush, lest they sit in traffic for 25 minutes after school just to get out of the lot.

Clearly, our needs are different.

My students were in a mood to share the other day. This parking issue is the latest struggle in a challenging year. The perfect end to 2018.

So I let them vent. As sometimes happens, the conversation strayed a bit. And I learned some things. Two students were discussing the expectations on an assignment from their English teacher, an assignment that calls for actual critical thinking and reasoning, rather that rote memorization and regurgitation. And one said, “she acts as if we all want to be here and we care about what we’re doing in class.”


In another class, I made a parent contact for an engineering student who is way behind in his work, hoping he could try to get caught up in these next couple weeks. When I talked with him about it the next day, he tried to shift responsibility to me, saying it’s because I don’t “force” them to do their in-class assignments. I told him I couldn’t make him do anything… and he said, “other teachers do.” Good. Then he should be able to do it for me.

Oh man.

I don’t know how to fix that kind of disconnect between what teachers want and what students want. And believe me, as a long-time teacher of multiple-time Algebra repeat students, I’ve tried.

Maybe it’s not fixable. Maybe it’s just manageable. And maybe that requires both sides to give in a little bit.

So after they got everything parking-related off their chest, I had one other quick thing: I had to admit a mistake I made on the flipped notes video for a section. A mistake I made because I was in a hurry to finish the vid in my allotted 15 minutes and skipped over reading the instructions for the problems. (Duh….)

It helps to be human.

So, we worked the problems out together to fix their notes. Once they had that firmed up, now let’s try the practice set.

And it was one of the best 50 minutes I’ve had with that class all year. My kids left feeling pretty confident in their ability to write a rule for the nth term of a sequence.

Who knows, maybe that was a fluke. Just a day they all decided to grace me with their attention and effort. Or maybe they graced me with their attention and effort because they felt like I gave them mine. I mean, I feel like they’re getting 100% of me every day. But what if they don’t see it that way?

Indiana’s primary election day is Tuesday. I’ll be working the same precinct I worked in 2016. Coincidentally, this popped up in my Facebook memories the other day:

They Care If They're Heard


Just want to be heard, huh? Maybe adults and students aren’t that different after all.