Today is the first day of school for Bonita Unified School District. Last week, I puttered around classrooms and chatted up new and returning teachers, aligned SmartBoards, planned out musical cues, and suggested desk placement.
All of which is great, most of which was helpful, and none of which was stressful.
This is year two in my role as Educational Technology Coach, and it’s the first first-day-of-school in my career where I’ve slept soundly last night and not had an anxious, runny poop this morning.
In the classroom, the first week before students arrive is my favorite week of the year. The desks are clean, the rows are straight, nothing smells like sweat or feet or Flamin’ Hot Chee-tohs. Nobody’s gotten detention or dumped or an A-minus when they really wanted an A.
In a classroom without students, only potential exists.
Every teacher–the weekend before school begins–is an idealist. The class, before filling with bodies, is full of hope.
For seven years, I prepped my room in a frenzy, often putting in 10 or 12-hour days to get it just right.
Unpaid, by the way.
Without fail, some student with no respect for my hard work would tag “Kiki flexxxxin” on one of my posters. My carefully-constructed classroom crumbled to dust within weeks.
But that first week? No tears; only dreams.
Dreams that every student will learn. Dreams that no students will exclaim they hate me as they flip over chairs. Dreams that none will scrawl “asshole” in pencil on my door.
Anyway, that’s not even what I wanted to write about.
The Bottom Ten
During my first year as tech coach, I sought to make disciples at each of my 13 school sites. By building into the Top Ten Percent of tech-hero teachers–those who would still innovate without me–I’d pump motivation through the “sprinklers” at each site who would spread the word about how helpful and approachable I am.
That kind of happened. Many teachers I never met know who I am.
This year, as my office is full of dreams and potential, I’m shooting for the Bottom Ten Percent.
At our kick-off event, the Bonita Educational Technology Adventure (BETA), I gave a workshop for the Tech-Hesitant. It went pretty well, answering questions, tackling real-classroom situations, and addressing the things that are scary.
One of these teachers chatted with me later that week to ask about how to use Google Classroom, but then lock student work after it’s done until the test.
After attempting to dissuade her, I promised to ask Twitter about it. As I expected, none were interested in even trying to find an old-school solution.
While my business card says, “EdTech Coach,” I’m actually more interested in learning. And not just for students.
During my workshop, I pushed back when I heard Tech-hesitant teachers use phrases like these:
“It’s probably easy for you, you’re so young.”
“Well, I’m not a digital native, so…”
“There’s just not enough time to learn ______.”
When someone drops one of these dismissive excuses to continue hiding from challenge, I have a dozen responses, but the one I chose for the BETA event was this:
“When I go to the weight room, I see people in there that are enormous. They have shoulder muscles and neck muscles and … their muscles have muscles. They’re huge.
I can tell that they’ve been to the gym before. They didn’t get those muscles without spending time specifically working on them.
Technology is no different. Years ago, I was clumsy with technology, didn’t type well, and had difficulty navigating the internet. But I kept spending time in the gym, and my tech muscles grew.
You–the tech-hesitant teachers–you can also grow your tech muscle. Just keep putting in the time, even when you’re feeling weak.”
~Matt “Finger-Muscles” Vaudrey
P.S. I’m content to refer to this group as “The Bottom Ten” for several reasons:
1.) They’ve admitted their low status to me, “I’m probably the least techy person at my school.”
2.) Those that cling tightly to what’s comfortable are those who can transform their classroom the most with fresh ideas.
3.) Seventy of them attended my workshop, that’s the bottom fifteen percent of our district, and they were willing to self-identify.
4.) Growth can happen anywhere. If they believe that they were in the Bottom Ten and could become the Top Fifty, they’ll be interested in improving.
After dinner, taking a swim in the Atlantic, stopping by the Carnegie debrief dinner, and strolling on the beach with some of the staff, I returned to the bar on a Thursday night after giving the keynote address that morning a few weeks ago.
Around the table are some folk I’d met at the conference earlier that day. One of them had asked for some of my time, so I was glad to catch him in a social setting.
After several minutes of me listening and nodding, the group finally asked me some hard questions.
Questions that nobody in my current circle is asking me and questions that I won’t likely answer how they expect. Questions that made me pause and write them down in a Google Doc titled “Questions to ask myself later.” Questions like:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
You just spoke to a room of 150, how will you get to a room of 500? A thousand?
Do you want a drink? We have a tab open.
Vision and Math
My initial responses headed down the usual, paved path of most of the country’s educators:
“In five years, I’d like to be in progress on an Administrative Credential. I could go for an Assistant Principal job, but probably not a Principal. Of course, I’d be happy to return to the classroom. I really love teaching; in fact, I may return to the classroom and retire from there.”
The director-type on the end shakes her head and pounds her drink on the table. “Bullshit. You’re eyeing the classroom because it’s easy and you know you’d be awesome at it. Think bigger. What are some goals that scare the shit out of you? Get outside your comfort zone.”
Boy, she pulls no punches.
Am I scared of big goals?
I don’t think so.
The classroom is a comfortable place for me, but that’s where student relationships are the closest. Relationships are far more important to me than math.
After attempting to communicate this, it becomes clear that they aren’t buying it.
Next to me, a guy says, “You may have impacted… fifty teachers in the room? Let’s say fifty. Each of those teachers have, what… 150 students? Think of that impact; think of how many students you’ve impacted today.” He raises his eyebrows.
From the end of the table, one of them says, “What would you do if you could impact a million students?”
“Look at it this way,” I clarify. “You say I may have impacted 50 teachers today to change something. That’s probably… at the most, a 5% impact on fifty teachers times 150 students. If I impact 40 teachers in my district at, say, 80%, that’s likely still a greater net impact than if I am a full-time speaker.”
We debated for a while longer until I noticed my flight was due to leave in 7 hours. I decide to leave on a high note.
“Okay. The dream that scares the shit out of me; I’d like to start a Teaching School in the same vein as a Teaching Hospital, like a lab where pre-service teachers could observe, learn, and practice alongside veteran teachers in cohorts. Glass walls in the back of all classrooms and it’d be paired with a nearby university, just like a Teaching Hospital. The teacher candidates get tons of classroom experience and observation hours. Plus, it draws teachers and students to the school, who are certain that it’s a great place to be.”
The director-type on the end raises her eyebrows. “Fuck. I would love that.”
I strolled back to my fancy hotel room, my head spinning with new questions and new ideas for my own career, wondering if I could steal director-type to run this kind of school.
There’s a lot to think about.
I realize that there’s an easy way to compare the impact of various careers.
It’s clear that there’s no contest. Even after adjusting the numbers to be crappy curriculum vs. mediocre coach, it’s tough to argue against a curriculum writer impacting the most students.
Still not enough to make me pursue that route, though. While “student impact” is a strong enough statement for a business card or a grant proposal, I’m not convinced that it’s specific enough goal for me.
Students slowly building their risk-taking muscles.
Friends having tough conversations that will strengthen a relationship.
Teachers plucking up courage to try new strategies.
Spouses learning more about what makes each other tick.
A group of pre-service teachers figuring out their own classroom management style and defining a classroom culture.
I love these things because I love personal growth.
And it can be done with only one person; I don’t need a million.
~Matt “Teacher of Teachers… of Teachers” Vaudrey
P.S. A few of these “lab schools” already exist. Some other dreamers and I are buying bricks to build one in Southern California.
Last week, I spoke to 170 teachers in Florida about Reaching the Unreachables.
I really wanna talk about it.
(Video coming soon)
Hitching an Uber to the airport while carrying a suitbag still feels very Metropolitan. I hope it always does.
It was a boost to my ego to have people recognize me from the bulletin while we sampled the open bar and seafood appetizers.
In jeans and sandals, I look like a 19-year-old undergrad hoping to pick up a few pointers at an ed-conference.1 Despite that, everyone I met was delightful, and they let me show pictures of my kids.
6:20 AM Eastern: Wake before the alarm to get dressed and have a quick bite before heading downstairs to meet with the sound guys. I have two hours before my keynote address and I want everything to go well. Also, I’ve been adjusting my sleep schedule to Eastern time all week, so my body doesn’t feel like it’s 3:20 Pacific.
7:45 AM: Everything is looking good, so I have time to fill a plate with fantastic breakfast.
7:50 AM: Nobody’s touched the fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. What a shame. I’ll remedy that.
8:00 AM: Three time-zones west of me, my wife wakes before her alarm. She tunes in to the live webcast and texts me that she’s watching. I’m comforted by the thought.
8:30 AM: After a brief introduction, we’re off and running. A Lady-Gaga mic is taped to the hair on the back of my neck and I’m pacing back and forth like a chain-smoking fiction writer. My palms are sweaty and I note that my phone (from which, I’m running the slideshow and reading speaker notes) has a subtle shake.
In my head, the room was smaller and more intimate. In reality, they’re crammed eight to a table in a room the size of my dream home. Centuries of teaching experience stare back at me and I stutter a bit.
But I quickly hit a stride and am impressed by the room of nearly 200 presenting their undivided attention.
Nobody is texting, nobody is murmuring in the back or eating more breakfast. They actually… they actually want to hear my message.
That surprising fact steels my nerve and I slow down, speaking in a slow, even tone that belies the speed with which I’ve rehearsed. It helps that I know only half the time is me speaking, and the rest is “stand and talk” reflection for the room.
[[NOTE: I’ve been promised access to the footage, which is fantastic. I’ll add my slides and post it here when I have it.]]
10:00 AM: Right on the downbeat of my 90 minutes, I close with the words of my mentor, Dr. Kimasi Browne, and give a room full of teachers this charge:
All success is the product of thousands of failures, none of which matter after the success.
Go forth and change the culture of your math classroom to make math meaningful.
A round of pleasant applause and I’m done.
10:11 AM: Several handshakes later, at least three attendees admit to paying closer attention to my delivery than my content. As P.D. Specialists–they point out–they recognize that teachers are a tough crowd and they picked up a few things from me.
10:30 AM: The attendees trickle off into the first workshop. I hide in the lobby to make sure all my materials are ready for second and third period, where I am to give workshops. The note-taking doc has six pages; some people even googled images to go along with my content. Sweet.
12:00 PM: Lunch with Rich and April, who both independently asked about an online math community. Luckily, that community organized itself into a system, so it took very little time to show them the hashtag, the directory, and the landing page for TMC. They also watched as I crowd-sourced the finding of a crowd-sourced movement. Very meta.
After a teacher attempted to explain the method she used to choose one fraction of pie over another, she murmured, “I don’t know, that’s just how the trick works.”
In a room full of math teachers, that’s like saying, “I think Star Wars was just okay.” or “Birkenstocks are so uncomfortable.”
What followed was a great discussion about teaching students at every level the why behind the tricks, so that they carry meaningful math skills with them, rather than a tool box full of metal they don’t know how to use.
Cathleen, I did the best I could to keep our colleagues civil, and it appears you learned your lesson. For more on how tricks are harming our math students, read this.
2:45 PM I’m suddenly and acutely aware that I’m about to do a Google Drive workshop to a room that has a variety of devices and ability levels. That dude in the corner is making a Google account right now.
On an iPad.
At work, I do this workshop in the computer lab. Forty identical computers, all with Google Chrome.
We move at a glacial pace through my Google 101 workshop, leaving nobody behind and I accidentally use some foul language as I describe the use of GAFE in the classroom. Not my best work, but the attendees were pleased, so a great day ends with a C-plus workshop.
5:20 PM: Sara and Lisa meet me in the lobby to find some local dinner. The Village Eatery, a few blocks away, serves a sublime, mood-altering chicken sandwich as we discuss the integration of technology into their classrooms. It was a fantastic meal with fantastic comrades; I’d be thrilled to work with either of them.
7:04 PM: The entire staff of Carnegie is chatting and dining as I walk by, on the phone with my lovely wife. I weasel a chair between Janet and Cassie and pepper them with questions.
Putting my Prejudice Aside
We have regular discussions on Twitter, Voxer, on blogs, and at conferences about The Dark Side of teaching.
The scorn we visit upon non-teachers who talk about education is paltry compared for the ire we reserve for teachers who leave the classroom.
For better or worse, there’s a hierarchy in the field of Education. It looks like this:
At every conference I’ve ever attended, there’s at least one Educational Company in the exhibit hall with a plucky, well-groomed twenty-something asking me if I’m interested in reaching more students.
Of course I am. I’m giving up my Saturday to attend a conference.
And yet, here in Fort Lauderdale, I’m surrounded by Carnegie staff and they’re all… knowledgeable. And friendly. And competent. And they like students. And love teaching.
I was baffled.
These two ex-teachers bookending me on the patio weren’t the first Carnegie employees to impress me, and now I’m curious about the textbook they produced.
(Which I’ve never seen. That surprised a few people, considering I’m speaking at their national annual conference. It shows me that we agree on some stuff.)
Leaving the Field
Later that night, somebody pointed out that many charismatic ex-teachers make a living doing keynote speeches for educational conferences, and are you interested in doing that?
Despite a fantastic day, meeting new people, and getting questions that challenged and intrigued me (more on that next week), that profession strays too far away from the classroom for me.
I’m not so much worried about how my Ed Cred appears to others, it’s how credible I feel.
So I’ll probably never go work for Carnegie.
No hard feelings.
~Matt “Keynote to Quicktime to Final Cut with iTunes to Quicktime to Keynote” Vaudrey
1. As a white, straight, middle-class male, I’m not about to complain about the one area where I’m occasionally maligned. It’s not anything close to “oppression”, it’s just a bummer.↩
In early May, Claire and I were talking about non-traditional math lessons to make her department more interesting. She’s already using Visual Patterns with Algebra students and is pleased with the spike in their reasoning skills, but…
“There’s tons of cool stuff on the internet and I don’t know where it is or how to use it.”
After a few prep periods of chatting about math curriculum and Common Core standards, we decide on a three-day Barbie Bungee performance task.
The last time my class did this lesson, we realized that I didn’t adequately set up the reason for this silliness. This time, Mrs. Verti and I worked hard to connect the individual data to the jumps and emphasizing their value to calculate the medium jump and big jump.
After deciding to make bungees the dependent variable, I couldn’t decide if we should have stations inside the classroom or give the platforms to each group to hang outside.
Claire pointed out that we have two wildly different ability levels (Honors Pre-Calculus and Freshman General Algebra), so we can try both methods.
Four Days Out
Claire and I meet on Friday before Memorial Day to discuss any remaining details. She confesses she’s a big nervous; that this is a weird, different way to do math class.
I assure her; weird and different is where I live. And if it bombs, that’ll be on me and not her.
Two Days Out
After three years of hauling around awkwardly-shaped platforms, I realize what’s missing: hinges.
Further, I realize, after I build six new platforms, it’s hardly any work to retro-fit the old ones so they will fold flat into my storage bin.
Plus I had some adorable helpers.
Day One – Data Collection
First period is Pre-Calculus Honors. I meet them at the door and shake their hand, then they grab the study guide off the back table and staple it. Mrs. Verti gives details about the final exam next week and it’s my turn.
“Good morning!” Big smile.
“Grrd Muh-huhhh.” The class moans, unsure of what to do with me.
“My name is Mr. Vaudrey. Everyone say Vaudrey.” Vaudrey.
“Thank you. I’m here today to talk about this.”
Students: Oh, snap! Where are they? Is that a missile silo? That makes me dizzy. Mark, you wanna do that? No!
The smooth jazz fades out and Mrs. Verti pulls the lights back on. “What do you suppose,” I begin, pausing for their full attention. This class doesn’t know me, and the end of May is a pretty awful time to try a demo lesson. For the next three days to go well, I need to flex my teacher muscles early.
“What do you suppose they were talking about as they drove through the Russian wilderness to go jump into a missile silo? Talk to your neighbor; what things are important to the jumpers?”
This was a great spot for a music cue, but they wouldn’t know what to do with it, so I just wander the class and listen. After a minute, I take some student answers.
Vaudrey: What do you suppose they were talking about? Yes, go ahead.
Student 1: How to not die. *smirk*
Vaudrey: What do you mean? Can they control that?
Student 1: Well, yeah. Like, they have to have enough rope to reach across the thing.
Vaudrey: Somebody else, why is that important?
Student 2: If the rope doesn’t reach across, then they just fall into the thing.
Vaudrey: Okay, so we need lots of rope. Lots and lots of rope.
Student 1: Well, not too much.
Vaudrey: Why not too much?
Student 3: Cuz they’ll hit the bottom and die!
Vaudrey: Ah, so just barely enough to reach across the missile silo? That’s the perfect jump?
Student 2: Yeah.
Student 4: No! Cuz then you’re just hanging at the top!
Vaudrey: Tell us more about that.
Student 4: Well… like, you’re stuck on top.
Vaudrey: Isn’t that good? You won’t hit your head.
Student 1: But that’s boring.
Student 1: The whole point is to jump in, not… like…
Vaudrey: Okay, I think I understand. If we use too much rope, it’s not…
Student 5: Safe.
Vaudrey: Not safe, because (thunks desk dramatically) you’ll die. But we want to use enough rope the jump is…
Students 3 and 1: Fun.
Vaudrey: Fun. So we want to have fun, but also be safe.
NOTE: A 50-foot jump is a little fun, an 80-foot jump is more fun because the ground is closer. I should have asked them to define the fun here. Something like, “What’s the most fun jump you could have?”
Vaudrey: Today, we’re going to recreate that jump using…[dramatic pause as I lift the bag of Barbies and slowly pull one out] …dolls.
After making their own groups and building a short bungee, we head outside with our data-sheets, dolls, bungees, and platforms. There was a light drizzle as students hung their platforms on the fence and began gathering data.
After a few minutes, students began to notice the nearby baseball field, with its much-taller fence.
Then we returned to class to discuss (in groups) how many bungees we’d need for tomorrow, when we’d go into the gym to jump off the top of the bleachers.
Student 5: We’re gonna jump off the bleachers?!
Verti: No, your doll is. The one you’ve been using all day.
Student 5: Ohhhh.
First period ends and we repeat the process with two Algebra classes and two more Pre-Calc Honors classes.
Freshman Algebra is–obviously–louder, sillier, and requires more directions, but they rotate through the twelve stations around the room just fine.
Here’s a good snapshot.
Day One Student Quotes:
Can we break their limbs? Does that still count as safe?
We took our jumps too close together, we should have spread it out more.
The numbers are making me nervous, I’m gonna average to sort out my life.
I had PE first period, so I saw you guys. I don’t know what we’re doing, but I know it’s something fun outside.
I feel like this cute stuff is made for elementary school.
Student 1: This is a “performance task”? Noooo! That means it has to be right.
Student 2: Yeah, see? [holds up his phone showing this tweet]
Freshman: Do you wanna join Alien Club?
Vaudrey: What are my duties as a member?
Freshman: You have to take an oath (makes the Vulcan symbol).
Vaudrey: No, thank you.
That freshman continued to talk about Alien Club the next two days.
Day 2 – Desmos and Bleachers
First period begins sweaty at 7:40.
I’m sweaty because I hauled six tubs of iPads to room 908, but I’m hoping the payoff is worth it.
On the wall is the first of several slides directing students to submit their raw data from yesterday. It’s noteworthy here that these students haven’t used the iPad much in class all year, but required very little prompting to open the internet and navigate to the URL I gave.
This wasn’t the first nor the last time I noticed rich kids are way more motivated than … well… my usual clientele.
Vaudrey: Here, you will input your data from yesterday. If you don’t have any jumps for six bungees, leave it blank. If you have multiple jumps for two bungees, enter the others at the bottom. Then… watch this… drag the sliders to fit your line to the graph. Everyone say, “Ooooo”.
One of the marks of a Common Core classroom is minimal instruction from the teacher. I am confident that students can figure out how to drag sliders and input data, so I don’t need to waste my words giving more explicit instructions.
And yes, that is a skill that classes must develop; the previous 10 years of school have trained them well to value compliance over curiosity.
It takes a while to shake off those blinders.
After a few minutes of playing, I show the class how to click on the intersection of the purple and green lines. We talk about what that number means and begin building a bungee with that length.
Student: What do I do if my line doesn’t hit all the points?
Vaudrey: Do you all have the same intersection?
Student: He has 16, she has 18, and I have 21.
Vaudrey: Would you rather have too few bungees or too many? Discuss with your group.
With the remaining time in class, we discussed possible improvements, then showed this video:
Verti: That’s what we’re doing tomorrow. Tomorrow, Barbie jumps off the back of the visitor side of the bleachers. Start thinking about what you’ll do.
Day Two Student Quotes
We need 18.6 bungees… what should we do?
We should get the average, like find how much one bungee gives us, then divide.
Whoa! We figured out a way to do a half-bungee!
What do we do if we have one point that’s like… out there?
Let’s set up a proportion!
It shouldn’t be this hard. If Algebra kids can do it, we should be able to figure it out.
I told you to add an extra bungee, but you said, “Noooo, we gotta be saaaafe.” Safety’s for losers!
I don’t like technology; I’d rather do a worksheet.
Day Three – The Big Jump
Students got right to work, grabbing iPads, opening Safari1, navigating to the link on the board, and awaiting instructions.
Vaudrey: Today is the day. You have a new graph where you may enter your data, AND you have the option of checking your line against the data from other classes by clicking the folder for your doll’s weight class.
NOTE: Claire and I realized that we didn’t actually tell students to input their 301 cm jump from Day Two, which might have helped their data a bit.
After building their long bungee, we began the seven minute trek past the fence from Day One (yellow ellipse) to the back of the visitor’s bleachers.
Then, the fun part.
Bad Idea: attempt to have a conversation about bungee length from 32 feet in the air.
Good idea: Have the discussion in class before walking outside. It allows the meticulous teams some more time to build their 61.5-bungee cord2 while the rest of the class can be validated or made nervous by their classmate’s calculations.
We used 17 bungees yesterday to jump 301 cm, so we multiplied that by 3 to get 900, but we figure it’s gonna stretch from so high, so we left it there.
We divided yesterday’s 301 into today’s 981 and got 3.26, then multiplied that times the 19 bungees from yesterday.
Our graphs all had… um… all intersected at different spots, so we took the smallest number because we wanna be safe.
Claire and I got more and more excited hearing the variety of reasoning skills, the students got less and less certain that theirs was the “right answer”.
Day Three Student Quotes
Our data is right inside the average, so we’re feeling pretty good about our data gathering skills.
(points to a data point at the bottom of the cluster) This group was playing it safe, they probably just took the first jump and didn’t see how close to the ground they could get.
Keep the head on, if we take it off, it’ll mess up our whole calculation.
S: Is he a real teacher?
Verti: Yes, he’s a real math teacher.
S: He is?!
S2:We have 37 bungees, that feels like a stupid lot of them.
V: Someone last period used 33 and it was a safe jump.
S1: But was it fun?
V: I don’t know.
S2: Uhhhhh, I don’t like this uncertainty! This is stressful!
Day Four – Exit Ticket
This is the first year that I haven’t given the Teacher Report Card to students, so I welcomed some student feedback. We didn’t use the Exit Ticket on Day One, so we tweaked it and Claire gave a voluntary link for students to complete on Friday.
We then color-coded it; Green for Great, Yellow for Next Year, Red for Ouch.
If you so desire, have a look and mourn the students clinging tightly to final exams and grades.
Barbie Bungee is a yearly staple in Fawn’s class, and she bundled the rubber bands in groups of seven so students can’t keep any (I assume). I gave out rubber bands like Oprah and–of course–had a couple freshmen shoot each other on Day One.
Vaudrey: Come here.
Freshman: It was an accident!
Vaudrey: … you’re a freshman, right?
Vaudrey: … hm. [Deliberate, silent eye contact] Don’t do that again.
For the first time ever, I planned a lesson in Google Docs. I missed my spiral notebook, but for Claire and I to co-plan, we needed something collaborative, so this worked okay.
Here’s the folder with everything in it except the pictures. Some of Claire’s students haven’t signed media releases.
On Day Two, I was beat. My throat hurt from using my teacher voice and I was fried from plowing six periods through the gym to do bungees for a mathematical purpose that was unclear. This was the second-last week of school and it felt like it: disjointed. We got some great feedback here on how to improve it for next year.
Stacy’s head popped off years ago. This year, Grace and Sparkles lost heads, too.
Before tossing them from the top of the bleachers, I loosened all three of their heads so they’d pop off, prompting an “Ohhh!” from the students below.
I regret nothing.
~Matt “Please, Can I Borrow Your Classroom?” Vaudrey
P.S. Attendees at Twitter Math Camp this summer can come experience Barbie Bungee firsthand, featuring Fawn Nguyen.
1. Desmos in Chrome on the iPad was glitchy to the point of unusable. More points in the “Buy Chromebooks for Secondary Students” basket. ↩ 2. One group figured out a way to tie the bungee so it’s only half as long. I asked how they knew it was exactly half. Could it be 0.6 bungees? How much of a difference does that make?↩
Stacy, one my teacher sisters, shouted across the playground, “Why don’t you ask him? Mr. Vaudrey! Mariah has a question for you!”
It was the end of the day, and I was walking back to my car as Stacy’s 4th graders walked to the bus.
Mariah blushed and squeaked, “What if you were our principal?”
I grinned and said, “Maybe someday, but for now, you have an excellent principal.”
After nine months as EdTech Coach of Bonita USD, I’m starting to smell an administrative credential in my future. My wife made me promise to keep a job for at least three years before chasing the next thing, and there are plenty of ways to grow that will take longer than three years.
But it doesn’t cost anything to dream. So I’m dreaming.
Much like Mariah’s current principal, my style would be hands-off, empowering teachers to take risks and figure stuff out, knowing they have my support. I’ll be picky as hell in interviews, so over time, my staff will be full of people like Jo-Ann, Elizabeth, and Jed.
However–since you’re reading–I’d like to share a couple things I saw this year that have no place in my school and that I would absolutely chastise immediately (but I can’t this year as a teacher coach).
Your an educator and your students are their to learn. You’re door should have correct sentence structure on it, so there always seeing good grammar modeled.
If you noticed the problems with the previous paragraph, you may come work at my school.
Being Mean To Kids
During state testing, the bell rang for lunch. Two 3rd-graders whispered, “Yesssss!”.
The teacher stood up straight and barked, “That’s three minutes off lunch, right there! You gotta be quiet during testing.”
He has no place at my school.
Months earlier–during a demo in a first-grade class–the teacher interrupted me and pulled a squirelly, excited, 6-year-old to the side of the carpet, directed him to sit, barking, “If you can’t sit still, you won’t get to use the iPad today.”
And he burst into tears.
It gets worse.
Offensive or Ignorant Remarks
It’s eight weeks into my new job as Tech Coach. I’m sitting in the lounge with the principal and three veteran teachers, pleased to have some camaraderie as I commute through the 13 district schools in my car.
“My husband is a cop,” says Margie, swallowing a mouthful of spinach salad. “And he says that every time he pulls somebody over now, they’re filming on their phones!”
“And thanks to Twitter, that video can be shared publicly, so everybody can tell their stories,” I added, acutely aware that the conversation was about to go horribly.
“Yeah! The cops are tried in the court of public opinion before their shift is even over,” adds the Principal.
“Like this whole Mike Brown thing!” Adds Paige.
“This huge kid tried to take the cop’s gun, and now he’s like… some martyr!” Margie stabs another mouthful of spinach salad. “He’s a thug!”
“Matt! Can I borrow you?” A blonde, middle-aged teacher in the back row waves me over during a break in our curriculum training.
“My students all recorded video reports for their biographies, and I want to put them into Google and print out a Q code that parents can scan during Open House. Can you help me with that?”
I grin, “Sure! How about after all of this is over?” I don’t correct her vocabulary; she’ll figure it out eventually.
“That sounds great!” She replies, “I’m a huge tard with this stuff, so you might have to go slow.”
I wince visibly on the word tard, but I don’t know this teacher’s name and figure I must have misunderstood her.
“You used the word tard before. What did you mean by that?” Playing confusion tends to gently remind, without telling her what I would like to say.
“Oh, like a retard,” she declares. Nobody in her row of tables turns to look. “I’m really slow when it comes to tech stuff, but I do want to learn. I’m gonna write everything down.”
I’m heading to her class after this. We’ll see how it goes.
I doubt she’ll earn a spot at my school.
~Matt “Principal V” Vaudrey
UPDATE 2 June 2015: Andrew respectfully pointed out the need of a Principal to be gentle when needed. We both agree that a relationship provides reciprocated input between admin and staff, and a Principal must be a listener first. My rant-like tone here is rooted in helpless frustration for the things I cannot change.
Karena: I love everyone around me, that’s why I always say ‘Hi’. You’re my homie.
Bubbly, friendly, social, hard-working, and musically-gifted, Karena played guitar and sang in her family band while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She had a thick Mexican accent, but that didn’t stop her from loudly proclaiming her affections for one of my younger students in the Pre-Calc class:
Karena: Gustavo, you look cute today. Guys, when me and Gustavo have our kids, you are going to be the Godfathers.
Karena: Gustavo, where you going? Oh, he got me a ruler, how cute. I’m-a take you to Mejico and show you my ranch and my cows. I’m-a put you on my burro. Do you want to see my burro?
Ray: I’ll see it.
Karena: No, I’m only showing Gustavo. And I will buy you a cow. And then I’m-a take you in a airplane.
Gustavo: Ugh! Leave me alone!
Karena: Gustavo, I brought you an apple. Here, open up you mouth.
Gustavo: What? No! Who feeds somebody an apple? Mr. Vaudrey, why are you laughing?
Karena: Come on, mi chiquito amor porcino…
Gustavo: You just called me a pig!
Karena: … Are you sure you don’t want your apple?
Karena: Ah! Gustavo. Stop rejecting my apple. When we get married, I’m-a divorce you.
Gustavo: Mr. Vaudrey! Shouldn’t you be stopping this?
Vaudrey: Gus, you should be flattered! Winning the affections of an older woman.
Gustavo: She’s not even that old…er!
Vaudrey: She’s a senior.
Gustavo: I’m a junior!
Karena: That’s okay, I like leetle kids.
This was a typical class period. Interspersing math with loud public advances on the shy boy (who smiled the whole time).
After Winter Break, Karena and the other seniors begin the trudge toward graduation, which increased in pace until Frantic May and Emotional June. In February, however, life was pretty good in Mr. Vaudrey’s 4th period.
We had just wrapped up periodic functions and were packing up to file out to lunch when I realized that Karena had been strangely quiet today and appeared to be staring hard at her notebook instead of packing up.
Once the class had emptied, I sat across from her. “Karena, what’s going on?”
She immediately burst into tears.
“Meester Baudrey,” she wept. “I’m sorry I didn’t finish my homework last night. I had to work late at the store and I fell asleep behind the counter. These are the same clothes I wore yesterday, I just come right to school this morning with no shower. And my parents had to take my college money to pay bills.”
We sat in silence. Karena sniffled and dropped tears onto her immaculately-highlighted notebook, and I was stunned.
“What am I gonna do?” she asked, and looked at me.
I paused for a moment. What is she gonna do?
I have no idea.
Twenty-five years earlier, I was born the oldest of five children of a doctor. We had a big house and I could attend any college I wanted. We qualified for student loans and a large inheritance paid off most of my debt before I even graduated.
Karena worked late into the night and did her makeup in the bathroom this morning. If she goes to college, she’ll likely work full-time and be saddled with a pile of debt when she’s done.
That is the main reason we should raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Karena’s parents are undocumented immigrants.2 They work very hard to provide a better life for Karena and her four brothers.
My wife and I are both educators with Master’s degrees, two paid-off cars, and a home with a pool. Neither of us have jobs were we have to work “hard”, and we’re still in the top quarter of the wealthiest in the nation.
The minimum-wage earners can fight for themselves (and many are), but they need the support of the rest of us, too, if the higher-ups are to pay attention.
Currently, businesses like McDonald’s have little incentive to raise the minimum wage. While smaller companies can cut a bit from the top and spread it evenly along the bottom, McDonald’s pay increase would cost them quite a bit of money. They’ll continue to keep things the way they are, exploiting immigrants and the poor to build a profit.
Does that make you uncomfortable? It makes me uncomfortable.
I didn’t know how to help Karena. Five years ago, I gave her a tissue and a granola bar, and I haven’t seen her since graduation.
Although I’m not trying to find a job, their suggested prompt is a good one, and I have a litany of writings from my early career that show how much of a struggle it is to be a new teacher.
Dear New Teachers,
It gets better.
Really, it sucks now, but you’ll have more and more great days and less and less days that you wanna quit and move in with your parents.
Working with new teachers in my role as a coach, I ask the question: “Why are you a teacher?” Their responses are as diverse as the teachers themselves:
I want to make a difference for kids
I love English and I want to share that love with kids
I had a terrible History teacher and I want to make sure there are some great ones out there, so I chose to be a great teacher
I want summers off
I want a paycheck
I don’t want to work hard
Four years ago, I was hired at Moreno Valley, and the clerk in HR that processed my application said, “I can tell which teachers will make it and which won’t.”
While she was probably full of it, you–the new teacher–can probably tell which of your classmates aren’t going to retire from the field of education. They’ll retire from Plumbing or Business or Politics or something that has nothing to do with kids or teaching.
Education is a noble and just profession charged with equipping the young future-citizens of the nation, and it’s an honor that you get to be part of the solution every day.
You–new teacher–got into this job for one of the reasons above, and that reason alone will sustain you in this career. If, at any point, you realize This isn’t worth it to me,
… and you should quit.
Leave the field before you get jaded, complacent, grumpy, or rude. Leave the field of education before you cast a shitty shadow on teachers who love their job and want to make a difference.
All of those things were necessary for me. See, after the worst year of my life, I had to figure out if the hard work was worth it for the theoretical payoff.
I decided that it was. That the potential to positively impact the lives of young people was worth late nights, unfair pay, and being asked “How old are you?” all the time.
Further, teaching was the first thing in my life where I didn’t succeed quickly (you know… besides every sport during teenage years). It was years before I considered myself an average teacher, and I’m only recently getting affirmed by others as “a good teacher”.
Students have cried in my classroom to me (more times than I can count), have shared their lives with me, their breakups, their abortions, their addictions, and their struggles. As a teacher, I worked hard to be excellent at my job and the by-products of that role are still paying dividends.
A family friend is wrapping up her first year in the classroom as a Teacher’s Aide. She had this to say about her career:
When I describe my students and their lives to my dad, he cries every time. My friends gasp and cover their mouthes when I describe the neighborhood where my students live. Thankfully, I’ve been outside of the room every time one of my “all-stars” gets into a fight, so my only role with them is positive. I have students who don’t know their times tables in the same room with students who are bored with the slow pace of the teacher and I have to find a way to engage them all.
I love my job and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Dear New Teacher,
It gets better.
Be patient and keep working hard; it will get better.
I immediately tackled it and now present to you my completed Desmos Maze. As you can see, I had some fun toward the end.
Then, because we’re testing this week and my entire role is to sit and wait for something to break, I made this. Using Google Draw, we can make any kind of maze we want. Make just three points if you want students to start practicing, like Michael Fenton did spectacularly.
Or make a complicated one if you have two-hour blocked periods for SBAC testing and some Pre-Calc students who need to be challenged.
This might be what I bring into Mr. Rynk’s class next month for a demo lesson; I’m curious to hear students talking about piecewise functions.
Then, I made this one, thinking that it might help students with coordinate plane, but I’m not sold on it yet.
Initially, I had students changing the ordered pair (x,y) to move the point, but then, as students delete the 5 and type the 6, the point blinks in and out of existence. We need continuity. But moving the sliders isn’t very challenging, and it’s no longer a math activity, it’s a game with very little math reasoning in it.
Improve this, will you?
~Matt “I Promise; This Is Technically Work” Vaudrey
UPDATE 23 APRIL 2015: A nice follow-up question to keep the class challenged:
There are four things happening above that furrow one’s brow:
Conference attendees find value in each of these things individually, and rather than build a conference around keynotes and tool-based sessions (such a conference would surely entertain, but not challenge), the PLURT conference seeks to have enough of all four categories to sate all comers.
Also, the PLURT conference won’t have these things:
Free tote bags with the PLURT logo – That money goes toward the breakfast, which is satisfying for longer than a swag bag.
Awards – approximately 60 people cheered for Diane Main at CUE15, and she damn near walks on water. The remaining 5000 weren’t inspired to follow her on Twitter or read her blog (both of which, you should go do right now).
Board recognition/nominations – PLURT board is run like jury duty, but optional; twice a year letters go out, and you can decline to serve if you so desire.
Regional meetings – Instead, expand your mind and chat with somebody from Canada. That’s how I got fantastic ideas for my dream school from Kyle Pearce.
Gear Raffle – “This new document camera goes to someone nominated during the week, who is new to the profession and in need of new equipment.”
Door monitors – You wanna leave? Leave. You wanna sit in an empty room and brainstorm with new colleagues? Mazel tov, go for it.
Grumpies – because after sitting in traffic and arriving late, you deserve a free coffee and a yogurt.
Let’s learn together.
~Matt “#PLURT16” Vaudrey
1. Yes, a keynote address. I haven’t yet decided what the purpose of a keynote is globally, but my survey so far seems to agree that “Inspire” is high on the list of what Keynotes should do, so we can open the PLURT conference with one.↩ 2. …and the surviving cast of Star Wars re-enacts the Battle of Yavin on a scale model built out of legos while feeding me stuffed-crust pizza. Then we all go for a swim in a pool full of the tears of Stop Common Core supporters.↩
One year ago this week, I left the classroom to take a coaching position, not knowing if I would ever return. It was a risk, and while I’m usually a big fan of risk in the classroom, this risk was blind.
Tomorrow is my last day in the classroom. Possibly ever. Told students today. Mixed results. Blog post forthcoming.
Lemme clarify: I’m taking a job as P.D. Specialist, starts after Spring Break. #CUE14 is Thursday/Friday. Tomorrow is my last day. #NotFired — Matt Vaudrey (@MrVaudrey) March 19, 2014
Since then, I have changed schools/districts, presented at a dozen workshops and conferences across the state, and grown into many business-like skills that I didn’t think I would need.
For example, I never learned how to manage a calendar. Who would I need it? The bell tells me when to go potty.
Last week, I was walking around with the superintendent, visiting school sites and checking out classes that were doing interesting things (with tech). While killing time in the office, he asked me, “So, Matt; do you like your job?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s a great fit for me.” Luckily, my honest answer doesn’t require me to censor anything for the superintendent.
“Is it like what you thought it would be?” He leans in and raises his eyebrows.
“I don’t miss having my own students as much as I thought I would, and I get to give fun demo lessons and never give report cards or IEPs.”
We all chuckle and head to the next class to visit.
Here’s the longer answer I could give:
Is this job what you thought it would be?
Not really. And that’s okay.
After the CUE conference, there are a half-dozen new cool things teachers wanna try. Most of them will go back the classroom and forget them. If I want, I can go back to a desk and spend time on the clock figuring out new ways to make class more meaningful.
It’s pretty sweet.
(Notable: I’ve been in about 15 classes as of Thursday lunch. Not much desk time this week.)
Also, I don’t miss having my own students as much as I thought I would. That was by far the most important part of my classroom, and I’m not finding a hole in my heart like I thought there would be.
I believe I’m doing a decent job of district-level coaching without being viewed as the district stooge, which was a worry of mine.
Since I gave a snapshot of this week a year ago as I left the classroom, I think it’s fitting to give a snapshot of this week (before I arrived at CUE 2015):
Researched web-hosting for my personal website and my boss’s soon-to-be-created CEPTA portfolio.
Chat with a Speech and Language Pathologist to answer the question “What technology will help with small-group instruction?” (This–by the way–is a much more effective question than “What can I do with iPads?”)
Fine-tuned a digital fitness portfolio for Middle School P.E. Teachers, then set up all the students in Google Classroom and pushed out a blank copy. (Click that first link and check out the graphs. I’m quite proud of it.)
While joining the students to Ms. Berkler’s Google Classroom, I can tell she’s clearly not understanding the intricacy of what they’re doing. She gives a shy smile and claims “I’m not techy”. But she paces along dutifully as we logged into a Google Classroom with her Fitness Intervention students.
As fourth period files out to lunch, she turns to me and says, “This is going to be so good for us. I can see how this will help our class. And the students were really into your instruction!”
“Thanks!” I reply, “Any chance I can get in a classroom with middle-schoolers. They’re just so fun!”
She smiles the biggest I’ve seen all day and declares, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”