Non-teaching related stress compounding new teacher stress Grrr!

I mentioned briefly in a previous post that I had to have emergency surgery in the beginning of September.  I was out of work for 6 days and I’m still on the mend.  Those 6 days happened during the 3rd and 4th weeks of school.  Needless to say, that was crappy timing.  Just when my kids and I were getting into the swing of things, I had to leave.  It definitely felt like starting the year for the first time when I returned.

I have been trying to tweak my classroom management because it clearly isn’t working.  All three of my classes have NUMEROUS class clowns and perpetual talkers.  It’s a never ending battle to say the least.  I am changing seats tomorrow in all my classes (this will be the 3rd time already) and going to try a point behavior system for each student.  I’ll discuss more of that later.  I feel like my kids that want to learn are getting severely stunted due to all the disruptions caused by my misbehaving kids.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many talks I’ve had with all of my classes about how unacceptable and disrespectful their behavior is to myself and their fellow classmates.  Over the weekend, I refreshed myself and revamped my spirit towards this whole teaching thing.  I was feeling pretty good.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I get a frantic phone call from my mom saying they had to rush my stepfather to the hospital.  Turns out he had a brain aneurysm and they are now giving him a 20% survival rate.  My mom is a mess and we’re just playing the waiting game until they can determine the amount of damage that was done.  How in the world do I concentrate on getting my classroom back in order when that’s all I can think about?  But I can’t wait until this ordeal is settled before I get my classroom is in order because I am sure to lose my mind by the end of the week.

Any advice you wonderful teachers have on dealing with personal stress when trying to teach would be greatly appreciated.  As would any advice on how to deal with nearly entire classroom full of talkers.  I’m feeling like throwing in the towel. 😦


Hallelujah! Finding two-step function rules from tables

Maybe this method that I discovered from an exhaustive internet search is well-known to most, but maybe it’s not.  So, I decided to post it just in case.  That and, quite frankly, I am so freaking excited about it and my husband will have NO idea what I’m talking about if I decide to spew it all over him!

When I was in school a billion years ago, many things were taught as “guess-and-check.”  For instance, factoring quadratics. (I learned an awesome no-fail method for that last fall from my cooperating teacher during my internship- I’ll post that sometime soon.)  I don’t know about any of you, but I HATE guess-and-check.  Besides, how do you even TEACH guess-and-check?


What prompted my diehard search for an easier way of finding function rules?  My kiddos.  I was out of work last week due to an emergency surgery (yeah, 4th week of my first year teaching is a fabulous time to have your gall bladder removed!), so my sub covered the lesson involving finding function rules given a table.  She’s completely competent (she’s my ESE teacher for one of my classes and she’s certified in math), so I don’t think it was a lack of instruction on the concept.  She probably taught them the same exact way I would have: guess-and-check until you’re good enough to just “see” the rule.  Well, the majority of my poor kids don’t get it- at all!  So, today I was frustrated due to the gazillion questions during their end-of-unit test.  Clearly, if they are all asking questions about the same test item something needs to be done.

Cue in research.

I found this explanation in a math forum.  I’m so happy I did.  It’s not the prettiest or clearest of explanations, so I’ll try to make it a bit prettier here.

Take, for instance, the below table.


Input, x

Output, y












The first thing you do is take 2 sets of numbers (ordered pairs):

(1,7) and (4,19) ; any 2 sets will work

Next, find the difference in x-values and y-values:

x-values: 4-1 =3

y-values: 19-7 =12

Notice that the difference in y’s is 4 times the difference in x’s:

3 * 4 = 12

Therefore, 4 is your multiplier for the rule.

So, we know that 4x plus or minus something = y.

From here, it’s easy to tell what we have to add or subtract to get y.

4(1) = 4


Thus, y= 4x + 3!


Again, this may be somewhat common knowledge in the math community at this point.   However, I figured if I was clueless to this method then maybe (hopefully!) someone else is, too.  At least, that is what I am going to tell myself to fall asleep tonight!

I cannot wait to show this to my kids tomorrow!!!

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Homework Conundrum Solution

OK, so I am SO done with collecting/grading for completeness homework and I’ve only finished the second week.  After some “soul-searching” and cues from some model veteran teachers, I spent a good part of my long weekend developing an easier-on-my-sanity approach to homework, classwork and rewards.  I stole compiled various ideas from teachers and developed something that I hope think I can live with.

So, here it goes.

I will remind you (or let you know if you didn’t peruse previous posts) that I am teaching 3 sections of Intensive Math for Algebra using the Agile Mind curriculum.  I would personally not assign as much homework as is required through this curriculum though.  I have been warned on numerous occasions by another teacher teaching this that I am NOT TO DEVIATE from anything.  You can add activities, but you are not suppose to alter assignments, content, etc.  This has its pros and cons for a brand-spanking-new teacher, but I’ll elaborate on those some other time.

My two-week-old homework system:

Students are given 10 minutes during class to (hopefully) compare and discuss solutions with their partners to the previous night’s homework, as built into the curriculum.  When they are finished, they are to make sure my personal (and district) required information is included on their homework: Name, Period #, Level of Understanding (1-4 scale), logical attempt to problems, answers in full sentences (district requirement).  They were warned that they would receive an Incomplete if any of those things were missing (I honestly didn’t return incomplete for certain things, but always for name (duh!  How do I know who did this?), complete sentences and for lack of logical attempt on MOST problems.)  OK, so are you picturing my mound of homework, current, overdue and incomplete, toppling over on my desk?  Or how about the HOURS I’ve spent looking through each and every one of these, some two or more times?  Yeah, definitely not working for me.

Ideas I compiled:

From the other teacher using this curriculum:

She is using weekly punch cards/ scratch off cards that she created prior to school starting.  While students are doing their Opener (or Bell Work or Warm Up, etc.), she walks around to check their homework and initials the day’s “punch” if they completed it.  At the end of the week, they can scratch and utilize the prize if they received 5 out of 5 “punches.”  She gave me a list of her rewards which included: homework pass, 5 minute hall pass, extra bathroom pass (she limits the number of times they can use the restroom during a quarter), double your highest grade, etc.

From my fantabulous cooperating teacher last fall:

She uses weekly check sheets to keep track of homework, classwork and make-up work completion.  She uses a 1-5 point scale to determine completion on all of the above.  Each day has its own row for classwork/ make-up work and then another one for homework.  When she is checking for homework she also has them show her their notes from the day before.  At the end of the week (she might have done it on the day of a unit test, I don’t recall right now), she collects the check sheets and grades them.

My final outcome:

Creating the scratch off cards seemed like a daunting task for me to take on right now, but her ideas sparked the fire under my behind to do something about my homework situation.  Instead of scratch off cards, I created reward cards to be put in a jar, box, something for kids to choose a homework reward at the end of the week.  I used most of her ideas, nixed a few, and added my own.  These are the ones I’ve gotten so far:

  • Free homework pass (they love these, don’t they?)
  • Hall pass (get out for 5 minutes when needed)
  • Double your highest weekly grade
  • Drop your lowest quarterly grade
  • Cheat sheet on a quiz/test
  • Pick your partner for the day (I have assigned seats, I know many will love this one.)
  • Sit in rolling chair for a day (they fight over my extra teacher chair)
  • Choice of candy from me
  • Eat food in class pass

I’m planning on asking them what kinds of rewards they would like, too- maybe.  I figured these would be good ones to start with and I can always adjust as the year goes by.

Below is the check sheet I created.  I am planning to grade the classwork and homework separately because my PLC decided they should be separate.  Notice on the bottom it states that if the student receives either a 4 or 5 on every homework they can pick a prize (the ones listed above).  I am hoping this gets more students to complete their homework PRIOR to class.  I plan on walking around the classroom during their Opener to check their homework and classwork.  I also like how the make-up work is listed on the check sheet, too.  This will help me keep kids who are absent accountable for what they missed.  Some of the classwork they would not be able to complete without being in class, but a good deal of it they can.  To deal with late homework, I will cross off the 4 and 5 on the check sheet and initial it, so that when they show me their completed homework at some other time, they can only get at most a 3 on it.

Did you notice the “Party Points” on the bottom of the check sheet?  On my whiteboard, I have had “Party Points- coming soon!” since the first day of school.  They have been eagerly awaiting for me to launch this (I haven’t divulge much information).  Below is the description for Party Points that I am planning on going over with each class tomorrow.

I tried to gear Party Points towards behavior, not academics, but I did throw in the “A” points.  I am also hoping they don’t feel like the big prizes are unattainable.  I want to stress the importance of working hard for rewards with them (sense of entitlement, anyone?).

So, there you have it.  Please feel free to offer suggestions to help make this better- I am all ears!

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If only…

My Hemmingway-esque first day speech was all set and I thought I was ready for the vainglorious teenagers to push through my classroom door.  And then I felt the first of several many meltdowns come about.

How in the world do you get through the first week of school without having at least one ten meltdowns?   I know NEXT year will be better because I won’t have to figure out the school, start my classroom from scratch (management, layout and design), figure out a brand new curriculum, AND get to know my students.

Unfortunately, my college semester last fall didn’t start until several weeks AFTER the school for my student teaching placement started.  We were encouraged to go to the school to help our cooperating teacher set up and begin the school year, but I was taking two summer courses and working and, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered.  I wish I realized then that this was SO important!  At least I would’ve had some sort of idea as to what to expect when setting up my own classroom for the first time.

I mean, in all my training and in all my textbooks they talked about how crucial the first day and first week of school are in setting up the tone and expectations in your classroom- I get that.  I did need to tweak several things by the end of the first week: posting explicit instructions for some of my procedures and rearranging desks (unfortunately, groups of four did NOT work, so I’ll try pairs next week).

I must say I also wasn’t prepared for the gazillion emails containing uber-important information from administration, with very little information as to what actually needed to be done.  The emails were definitely written for the veteran teachers, not the ones who were new to the school.  I wish I had more school-specific training, so that I wasn’t freaking out that every little thing that needed to get done had to get done IMMEDIATELY.  Don’t get me wrong, the administration at my school seems great; the Principal and Assistant Principal are very avuncular, and the other Assistant Principal seems very nice (I haven’t had too much interaction with her yet).  I know they are incredibly busy trying to get the school year off to a great start, just as the rest of us are.

I also wish someone would have told me that I would feel like I was a crazy person for awhile.  I think my husband thinks I’m insane, although he is very supportive just as he had been while I was in school full-time.  I also feel my students think I’m peculiar; I can’t tell you how many times they looked at me as if I just asked them to take the square root of okra.

Nevertheless, I HAVE to push through.  I keep telling myself that things will start being routine and I’ll be able to handle all of the insanity sooner or later.  Any advice all of you inspiring veteran teachers have for me is more than welcome and I promise my next post will be full of inspiration, as well.


At 7:05am Monday morning 25ish 9th graders will grace me with their presence and will forever be known as “My First Class Ever.”  The nightmares haven’t started—yet.  You know the ones: students tying up the teacher and dancing on desks.  But I’m sure they’ll make their way into my subconscious over the weekend.

My goal for the first week of school?  Survival.

Last Friday I was informed I was teaching Informal Geometry and nearly died.  I hate Geometry would prefer not to teach Geometry.  I finally wrapped my head around the whole thing and then, BAM!  Monday morning they switched me to Agile Mind Algebra.  OK, so Algebra is wonderful, but what is this Agile Mind business?

I wasn’t formally introduced to Agile Mind until today during training.  I was thinking I was going to be handcuffed to my computer all weekend exploring the Agile Mind site.  (The whole curriculum is online- no textbooks!)  Not so much.  They’re performing maintenance on the site this weekend.  (Cue in panic attack.)

Luckily, I was able to print out a lot of stuff today and had the opportunity to navigate the site.  I would have still liked more time, but, really, what can I do.  I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of person (aka I’m anal), so I’m still anxious about trying to teach this brand new (to me and the district) curriculum on Monday.

To top things off, my classroom is still not completely set up.  I’m thinking I will do the essentials over the next few days and then just make changes as the school year progresses.  I really just don’t like this unprepared feeling.  Ask my husband- I think he’s ready to kill me.  (At least he has already made the determination that he will not be seeing much of me this weekend.)

Toys in Math Class?!

I was student teaching in an Intensive Algebra I class and was trying to think of a hands-on activity to reinforce the concept of the unions and intersections of sets.  It dawned on me that ANYTHING could make up a set, so I wandered into my favorite place- the dollar store!  I found some cool little toys; little green army men, bouncy balls, googly eyes, red and black checkers.  I decided to add paper clips just to get another item thrown into the mix.  I separated all of the items and put them into plastic baggies.  I made enough baggies for each group of students.

After discussing what the words “union” and “intersection” mean in real life and asking for examples of these things (union of people in marriage, intersection of roads, and several others the students came up with), we applied those definitions to sets.  I then passed out the baggies and Venn diagrams to each group.

 I displayed different sets, asked different questions and had the groups use the toys manipulatives to figure out the unions and intersections.  I will say that using bouncy balls is not recommended!  I guess they are just TOO fun!  The kids loved being able to play with toys in math class and were actually eagerly awaiting the next question to be displayed on the SmartBoard.

I searched the internet for the pictures to put into the SmartBoard.

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If I had a million dollars…

During my final teaching internship, I taught one section of 8th grade Gifted Math/Algebra I.  These guys may have been my favorite class, even if they were the chattiest.  I also noticed they were VERY competitive.

I had to do an introductory exponential growth and decay lesson with them and remembered reading about a problem involving a guy walking into the classroom and offering either one million dollars or starting with one cent and doubling the money every day for 30 days to do a job.

*Cue in google.

I honestly do not remember where I found this problem, so I apologize for not giving credit.  However, this lesson (one that was very inquiry-based) worked out fantastic with this group of students.  (It’s based on the Conceptual Change Model, a model I learned about in my fantastic Math Methods course.)

I started with displaying the scenario on the SmartBoard:

You’re sitting in math class when in walks some rich and flashy guy and he has a job offer for you.  He doesn’t give too many details, hints about the possibility of danger.  He’s going to need you for 30 days, and you’ll have to miss school. (Won’t that just be awful?)  But do you ever sit up at the next thing he says.

You’ll have your choice of two payment options:

One cent that day, two cents on the next day, and double your salary every day thereafter for the thirty days; or

Exactly $1,000,000. (That’s one million dollars!)

I had the students write down which payment option they would prefer and why.  It’s important to only give them a minute to do this, otherwise many students will begin doing calculations.  I wanted them to commit to an answer prior to actually figuring it out mathematically.  They were then told to get into groups and share their thoughts.  One student from each group would then (anonymously) share the predictions.

Now is the time when I wanted them to figure out which payment option would be the most profitable.  I handed each group a partially filled out table and simply told them to figure it out in their groups. 😉

As they worked in their groups, I walked around to check on their progress, make sure they were on task, etc.  This class (as I mentioned earlier) was very competitive, so everyone was feverishly doubling the money in the right hand column.  When I heard complaints about it taking too long, I asked if there was an equation that would help them move things along faster.  When they heard this, all the groups started trying to figure out an equation.

I honestly do not recall how many groups figured out that it was 2^x, but I know it was well more than one group. Time was running away from us, so I didn’t get to have each group come up to explain their process in solving it (boo!). So, we moved on to discuss the results and what the graph of 2^x would look like, what the domain and range were, whether the graph of x^2 would increase faster or slower, etc. We then discussed what -2^x would look like and compared linear, quadratic and exponential functions.

All in all, it turned out to be a great lesson and students really seemed to have grasped the concept of exponential functions.

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So, what in the world am I teaching?!

I was lucky.  I went to a teacher recruitment fair less than a month after graduating and was offered a job during my second interview!  At the time, the principal told me I would be teaching intensive Algebra I- yes!   This was SO up my alley and I immediately began planning (in my head) all the wonderful things I would do in that class before even leaving the building.

Notice I said “at the time”– Well, I went to the high school for a tour a couple of weeks later and it turned out they weren’t sure what I would be teaching.  Drat.

The kids in my district start school on August 20th, so time is a ticking.  I should also mention that I am an incredibly anal organized person and I would have had an entire quarter’s worth of lesson plans done by the time my New Teacher Orientation commenced this coming Thursday.  I have decided not to enter panic-mode, but I am a little anxious about the whole thing.

From my school tour I also learned that they do not have SmartBoards!  I was terribly disheartened and discouraged (and, frankly, freaking out!) until I figured out that I can insert my SmartBoard lessons into Mimio with very little manipulation!  At least all of my pre-service lesson plans weren’t for naught. 🙂

So, now I’m wondering if 2 weeks will be enough time to get my classroom, brain and lessons organized.  I have heard the time just prior to school starting is incredibly stressful- I just hope I’m up for it!

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