Dear New Teachers

Today, a representative from theladders.com emailed me asking if I could promote the site on here with a post for new teachers.

Either spambots are getting smarter, or there’s been a sudden spike of interest in the blogs of recovering math teachers turned tech coaches.

While I have no interest in theladders.com or any of their services, the 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.

Ahem:

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.

See?

See? Math proves it.

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,

…you’re right

… and you should quit.

Seriously. 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.

Leave before you make the rest of us look bad.

If you choose to stay, be prepared for hardest job you’ve ever had.
Be prepared for chances to affirm students instead of disciplining them.
Be prepared to work your ass off and still not be very good at your job.
Then be prepared to have your contract expire and start all over again.

beprepared

[Be Prepared joke goes here]

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.

Me in 2008. Notice I don't yet look very happy to be a teacher.

Me in 2007. Notice I don’t yet look very happy to be a teacher.

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.

~Matt Vaudrey

Desmaze

Claire Verti, one of my teachers, sent me this blog post today. David Sladkey is using Desmos to complete a maze with his students.

Screenshot 2015-04-22 at 1.26.27 PM

Sweet, right?

I immediately tackled it and now present to you my completed Desmos Maze. As you can see, I had some fun toward the end.

Screenshot 2015-04-22 at 1.49.29 PM

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.

Desmaze - Hard

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.

Screenshot 2015-04-22 at 1.39.55 PM

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:

#YourEduStory Week 14: Describe Your Ideal Conference

While driving between school sites after a morning of silent SBAC testing, I sighed and realized, I don’t have much to blog about these days.

Which isn’t to say Nothing meaningful is happening nor I don’t have much to say, I’m just finding other places to say it.

With that, here’s a prompt from #YourEduStory:

Describe your ideal conference: What is covered? Who is present?

Oooo, ideal. I love that word.

drooling-homer-simpson

Introducing:

The Professional League of Unconventional Risk-Takers, 

sponsoring:

The PLURT Conference

There are four things happening above that furrow one’s brow:

  1. Keynote Address
  2. Discussion-based sessions
  3. Tool-based Sessions
  4. EdCamp Sessions

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 Anniversary

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.

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.

"Come on, second period, come ooooooooon!"

“Come on, second period, come ooooooooon!”

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.

"It's so great to see game-changers like you creating 21st-century learners for student success."

“It’s so great to see game-changers like you raising rigor and creating 21st-century learners for student success. Let’s take a 2-hour lunch and discuss it.”

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?”)

You can do a lot of different things with ____, what do you WANT to do? That might not be the best tool for the job.

You can do a lot of different things with it; what do you WANT to do? That might not be the best tool for the job.

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.”

 

So, yeah. It’s going pretty well.

~Matt “One Year Anniversary” Vaudrey

Accidentally Teaching Students to Hate School

“Stop!”

A whimper from across the terminal makes me look up. A 12-year-old boy and I make eye-contact before he buries his face in his book and pleads to the woman on his right again, “Stop! Please!”

The heavy-set woman folds her arms and says flatly, “You just made it 400. Wanna try for five?”

The boy puts his book down and turns to look at the woman, his mother. “Stop!” He pleads again.

“Five hundred, it is. Let’s go for six.” She bristles up straighter in her chair as her son scoots lower and lower. “Six it is. You wanna stop crying now?”

The boy looks at me again, his face growing red and his pre-pubescent hands squeezing the pages of a Captain Underpants book. The book flops onto his lap and he whispers, “Stop… please.”

captain-underpants-thn

“Seven hundred sentences,” Mom stares down her son, a hint of pride in her voice, which is loud enough for us to hear in the row facing them. “You need to stop being oppositional. There; you just made it eight.” She is determined to win.

The book covers his face again. “I’m not gonna write them,” he sobs into the pages.

“What’s that?” His mom holds a hand to her ear, a hint of sarcasm tints her voice. “Do I hear 900?”

“I’m not gonna write them!” He’s insisting now, trying to convince his mom or convince himself, I can’t tell.

“One. Thousand. Sentences.” Her head bobs with each word.

John growls in my ear. “I can’t sit here for this shit.” He angrily zips his bag and storms to the other end of Gate 29 at Ontario Airport.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a novice teacher wrestle with the will of an adolescent. It’s not even the first time I’ve seen someone use writing as corporal punishment and be confident that it’s the right move.

But it’s the first time in recent memory that I’ve been powerless to do anything about it.

I join John a few feet away and we growl together in time to see the two of them walk past.

Mom is holding son’s wrist with two fingers, insisting “I’m hardly touching you.” but clearly, she is further compounding his embarrassment. A boy on the verge of manhood, asserting his will against a his mother–the opposing force–but met with humiliation.

She raises her voice, as if to announce to the observers that she’s being reasonable. “Once you stop being so oppositional, then it’ll get better.” She sounds confident, but I know better. “You’re twelve years old. Stop crying!”

John leans in and says, “You know… a younger John would’ve said something to her. Like, ‘Hey, you’re training your son to hate school if you use sentences as punishment, so knock it off!’ A younger John would’ve let her have it.”

“Yeah.” I agree, “Getting older isn’t as fun when you’re supposed to tolerate bad management of teenagers. But you know telling her off won’t help her improve.”

“You know what I shoulda done?” John is so angry, he hardly hears me. “I shoulda said, ‘Lady, we can go talk in private or I can tell you what I’m thinking in front of your son.'” John’s eyes are alight and his jaw is clenched. Not a violent or angry man by nature, his blood boils when he sees children maligned.

He probably would’ve made the poor woman shit her pants.

We line up to board and I ask the attendant, “How full are we today?”

He shrugs, “Only, like … 38 out of 140.” He waves us on.

Perfect. A ratio problem to distract us. I grin and ask John, “Well, 35 is five sevens and 140 is twenty sevens, so the plane is about 25 or 30% full, yeah?” We round the jetway corner and see the woman seated in a row by herself. A dozen rows further up, a small head of curly black hair looks out the window.

I’m pleased to see that he’s asserting some independence. At the very least, it’s good to recognize when your emotions are weakening your verbal filter.

We settle into our seats across the aisle from the woman. I selfishly take the aisle seat, just in case the opportunity arises to talk about parenting with a woman 10 years my senior. I see her murmuring something to the flight attendant, and realize this is the moment when my wife would pull my sleeve and say, “Let it go. She’s not going to change based on a conversation with some guy on a plane.”

So I pull out my book and–as I’m prone to do–I have an imaginary conversation in my head. It goes like this:

Vaudrey: Excuse me, ma’am. May I speak with you?
Mother: Yes?
V: I’m a teacher and I couldn’t help but overhear your scuffle with the boy. Was that your son?
M: Yes.
V: He seemed upset about your punishment. What were the sentences?
M: When he’s oppositional, he has to write “I will follow directions” out on paper and give it to me.
V: Why did you choose that punishment?
M: Who the fuck are you? Why do you care?
V: My name is Matt Vaudrey, and I’m a math teacher. I’ve spent the last eight years finding ways to deal with unruly students. Sons and daughters of gang members and drug dealers, students far more unruly than your son who brings a book to the airport and bursts into tears instead of yelling or punching. He began to cry while you were speaking. Was that your intent?
M: …well… no.
V: What was your intent?
M: Well, I want him to be less oppositional!
V: Why is that?
M: You’re a teacher! You know he’s gotta follow the rules. He can’t speak to me like that.
V: Okay, you say he has to follow the rules, but you also mentioned disrespect.
M: Yeah! He can’t disrespect me!
V: I agree. Here’s why I wanted to speak to you: I tried using sentences as punishment early in my career, and it only served to alienate my students and foster in them a distaste for school. It didn’t remotely earn me the respect that I wanted. However, when I switched to a relationship and asked for my students’ respect, I found that I didn’t need to discipline them very much at all. Further, they were nicer to me, not just compliant. When we disagreed, we did so respectfully, because they knew that they had my respect, as well.
Does that sound like a relationship that you’d like with your son?
M: *scoffs* You look about 16, what the hell do you know about parenting a teenager?
V: You’re definitely the expert on your son, who I don’t know at all. But I’ve taught roughly 900 students, most of which were harder than your son.
Also, do you think that writing sentences as a punishment creates a positive connection with writing or a negative one?
M: (eyes welling up with transformative tears) Well… a negative one, obviously.
V: I agree. Would you like a better way to disagree with him? Head back to his seat and apologize for embarrassing him in the airport. Then ask how he would like you to respond if he’s being oppositional. Let him explain a solution that would work for him. Sentences clearly aren’t doing it.
Then you’re teammates instead of adversaries, with mutual respect as the goal.
M: (bursts into tears) Yes! Thank you, Mr. Vaudrey! That’s what I want for my son! Waaaaahahahahaaaa!”

My wife says my imaginary conversations start out reasonable and get stupid toward the end.

 

*Ding*

“Welcome to Ontario Airport. Local time is 10:35 PM.”

John and I unbuckle our seatbelts and pull down our bags.

 

On my way out, the boy looks at me. I resist the urge to say, “Hang in there, dude. It’ll get better.”

 

Because I’m not sure it will.

~Matt “Guardian Angel of Parenting” Vaudrey

P.S. John wrote about the experience, too. And my distaste for this style of punishment isn’t anything new.

The Givachit Scale

Yesterday, John Stevens and I have a workshop for the lovely math teachers of Madera County. It was fantastic.

John walks a crew through Barbie Zipline.

John walks a crew through Barbie Zipline.

Barbie Zipline

"Which one is more Mullety?

“Which one is more Mullety?

The drive up and down gave us plenty of time in the car to listen to Jimmy Fallon skits and female-fronted rock bands, but also time to discuss our new roles as EdTech Coaches in our respective districts.

Our conversation landed on:

Policing Student Behavior

We knew of coaches (and other adults on school campus) that tend to bark at students for wrong-doing. When we were children, the “it takes a village” mindset was pervasive;

…kids didn’t misbehave around adults quite as much. There was a good chance they’d tell your parents or just take care of discipline themselves.

In the last couple decades, many parents have been empowered to give their kids whatever the hell they want and to bark at other adults for offering co-parenting when they’re unavailable.

Comedian Chris Titus has a lot to say on the parenting shift of the last 30 years, but this part stands out to me:

I never misbehaved in my neighborhood, even though my dad worked a lot. You know why? Because I had neighbors. And if my dad wasn’t around to beat my ass… someone would pinch-hit for him.

As Coaches, we often go into classes to support teachers.

Teachers who need support have disproportionately… rowdy classes.

Today, I watched a 3rd-grade boy slap a girl on the thigh when she wasn’t looking, she squealed and hit him in the arm. No harm done.

At the high-school level, a colleague of mine watched a boy make disparaging remarks about a girl all period, until the girl stood, clocked him in the face, and screamed, “Fuck you!”

The Givachit Scale

Here’s why I wouldn’t take those students to the office if I were standing in the back of the room.

Students have a bunch of adults in their lives. The graph below (which, like all my material, is copiously researched and not at all made up on the spot) describes the Givachit value for each group.

Givachit Scale

During my teaching career, many more students “Givachit” what their siblings think of their behavior than their pastor. Teachers will have the highest return by contacting those members of the student’s social circle with the largest slice. I’ve told Grandma about a student’s behavior and gotten much more mileage than with Mom.

Notice how tiny the slice is for District Stooge? That’s why I don’t intervene with students. Because the exchange will likely go like this:

Vaudrey (tough teacher voice): Watch your mouth.
Unruly Youth: Who the hell are you?
Vaudrey: I’m a teacher on special assignment to coach other teachers on effective integration of technology into the classroom. Watch your mouth.
Unruly Youth: What if I don’t?
Vaudrey: Then we go to the office and you get written up for defiance. What’s your name?
Unruly Youth: Barack Obama
Vaudrey: Okay, that’s it. Let’s go to the office
Unruly Youth: [continues sipping sugary drink]
Vaudrey: Okay… I’m gonna go find a security officer to escort you. Don’t move.

My family is not one to gamble, but I’d wager over half my interactions would end similarly. Odds are pretty high that the student who will curse in front of a stranger in a tie isn’t afraid of the consequences.

Also, it’s not worth my time to correct a strange teenager, considering the reciprocal scale guiding my actions:

Worth My Time Matrix

 

~Matt “Go ahead and chew gum in class” Vaudrey

 

Prep Position

“Oh!… what do you train them on?” my sister asked.

“Mostly risk-taking in the classroom,” I responded, trying to sum up La Cucina Matematica into a few words. “Since most degree programs prepare teachers to teach the same way that they were taught, John and I try to get teachers to explore more interesting ways to teach.”

Good!” Bethany huffed. “You don’t hear about excellent teachers very often, just the awful ones. The ones on the news.”

“No shit,” I agreed. “Getting students excited about school is a different skill set. A teacher named Dave Burgess wrote a book about it.”

As I explained Teach Like A Pirate to my soon-to-be-doctoral-degreed sister, she exclaimed into the phone, “Like Ms. Mega!”

I asked Bethany to elaborate, and she told me this story.

surgeon

When I was in 6th grade, Ms. Mega answered the door after lunch dressed like a doctor. She welcomed us into class with her hands held up like she had just scrubbed in to surgery. Written on the board was the word PREPOSITION in huge letters.

We filed quietly into our seats, unsure of what came next. Were we in trouble? Is there some kind of outbreak? Are we in quarantine?

“I need a volunteer!” Ms. Mega proclaimed loudly from the front of the class. in front of two student desks. While all of us were curious, my friend Sheree was the only one who raised her hand. “Sheree, please come lay on the desk.”

I was so glad I didn’t volunteer; I don’t want to have elective surgery at school.

Once Sheree was laying across the two student desks, Ms. Mega wrote the word “ON” below “PREPOSITION” on the board.

“Sheree is on the desk. She is in Prep Position. Her Preposition in on. Give me an example of another Prep Position.”

And she waited.

“Under?” offered Ryan shyly.

“Sheree, please assume the Prep Position under the desk.” Ms. Mega wrote UNDER next to ON as Sheree climbed down and balled herself under the desk. “What is another Prep Position?”

A room full of 12-year-olds quickly picked up steam, “Around!” “Through!” “Inside!” and Ms. Mega wrote all the prepositions on the board as Sheree tried to wrap herself around the desk or climb through its bars.

And to this day, I remember what a Preposition is, all because Ms. Mega had an interesting lesson about it. That was… 15 years ago. Ugh, that sounds like a long time.

~Matt (and Bethany) Vaudrey

UPDATE 12:53 PM We had this conversation today regarding this post.

Bethany Text Ms. Mega