Sunday, March 31, 2019

Good Teaching Conference #StartOver Day 40-44

I found something.

It's called the Good Teaching Conference. It's hosted by the California Teacher's Association(CTA).
For years I have been following conferences where they teach you about utilizing tech tools in the classroom like GAFE Summits and CUE conferences. But our district has been a 1:1 device school for... I honestly don't know for how long. My first presentation at a GAFE summit was in 2015, so Perris Union High School District must have been a 1:1 device school since 2013 at the latest.

The cool thing about tech conferences is that the attendees are excited to learn about utilizing technology in the classroom. And even if they are not, they work in a district where the devices are available for the students and the district is forcing teachers to learn, so the participants might complain here and there, but they end up participating. Presenters get excited because participation rates are high during sessions and participants get excited because sessions exude high energy, kindness and a spirit of collaboration.

But after a while, you learn that there are so many apps and online tools that basically do the same thing. It's just a matter of cost and ease of use. And the more conferences you go to, you realize you can't really keep up with all the things that pop up and gets left behind for whatever reason.

With that realization, you learn that tech tools are cool, but there needs to be a purpose for everything. Since more and more districts are becoming 1:1 device districts, more stakeholders are realizing that sessions geared only towards utilizing apps is not productive. These days, all you have to do is drop the name of an app and teachers can figure things out from there. If you want to emphasize social emotional states of students, you would have to find an app that would help with that in order to present at these conferences, unless I'm misinformed.

What I liked about the Good Teaching Conference was that although I saw savvy technology using educators here and there, half the sessions I went into didn't even require participants to have a device because that was not the main focus. The main focus was on "Good Teaching". Apparently, teachers have to be physically and emotionally healthy to support struggling students. So there was a session on that. When dealing with behavior issues, we need to understand first what the child is trying to accomplish or avoid, so there was a session on that. To make sure our students do a better job on the CAASPP in math performance tasks, teachers have to first understand how the assessment is scored. Then teachers need to think about different ways to instruct our children. So there was a session on that.

I am a CUE Rockstar. I don't know what that means to anyone else in the world, but to me, that means that I value students creating something using technology to display their learning. Here is a link that explains the SAMR model. And that is all amazing and great. I also have to admit that today in 2019, the well known names in education out there are not the ones pushing the use of this or that app but the ones who solve problems in our classrooms using technology. But I was busy trying to keep up with all the apps and extensions that I didn't really have time to think about the most important things. Like why I suddenly have days when I feel unmotivated to go to work. Like why my students are behaving the way they do. Like why I keep thinking students who can't add or multiply cannot learn higher level math. Like why I think some parents don't care. Like why I think my ideas in the classroom are better than other teacher's ideas.

It was refreshing. The conference was really refreshing. Because it was a mix of everything. Like the real world should be.

I wanted to attend a session that explains the brain of a child and how it relates to behavior and learning. But I didn't have room in my schedule. That's ok. I'll catch it somewhere else. Now I'm off so I can apply what I learned.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Direct Instruction for One Week and the Result #StartOverDay 30-39

Wow. Two weeks went by fast.

Students are in the process of registering for classes for next year. Juniors are already done. Counselors are working with Sophomores right now. If I want to grow the computer science pathway at my site, I have to recruit.

Unlike last year, my principal gave me his blessing and even gave me $500 to help with the recruiting process. I reached out to a printing company for flyers on why taking AP classes are good for you, and a bunch of posters for computer science that I found from the website. My principal also paid for a substitute for one day so I can visit Advanced 10th grade English classes and Algebra 2 and higher classes to do a presentation on the computer science pathway at Perris High.

This meant that every moment of my free time had to be spent scouring for information for my presentation. Students at my site often do not know what computer science is. Since the moment Computer Science was offered at my site three years ago, there were consistently only one section of AP Computer Science Principles and one section of Computer Science Discoveries. Some students have seen their friends go through pains to create animations that don't even look beautiful and other students have seen their friends write so many lines of codes to make a game that is not sophisticated nor exciting. Even the students in computer science classes do not really understand what they can do with the skills they have acquired or how computer science is used in the real world. Thanks to and a few other sites geared for counselors, I was able to create a presentation that focused on the need of minority members and girls to take a piece of the pie in the computer science field. I was quite happy when girls approached me and asked about the courses. I may have mentioned this in my earlier blogs, but Perris High now has the opportunity to offer AP Computer Science A through Amazon and I just can't really think of a reason why students will not take advantage of this opportunity(my slides, in case you want to copy and modify). And yes, I bought 14 boxes of pizza from Pizza Hut on March 6th for students and parents who might be interested in learning more about the pathway. Unfortunately, I didn't advertise the pizza in fear that the whole school will show up only for a slice of pizza and not for the information. That was a huge mistake since even the students who were interested did not show up although they came looking for me later that day since it was back to school night. My coach Deatra proposed advertising the pizza next year if I get funds again. After all, the children might show up just for the pizza, then learn that they were actually interested in the field after all. My principal, Mr. Santos, suggested that I keep the parents and the students hostage til the end of the workshop, then offer the pizza (limit 1 slice per person) as they leave my room. Of course I will be applying both their advice for next year. My affection and respect for these two grow more and more each time I interact with them.

Now that has come and gone, it is time for me to confess. I have been lazy.

I cancelled station rotations on March 6. In case you didn't know, Wednesdays equals station rotations. Structure is important for students especially if they never found success in a math class. But I really didn't get to do anything that week except visit classrooms, put in rush orders for posters, order pizza and get presentations ready. I still had to teach all my classes, run GirlsWhoCode and stay after school for credit recovery. So I made an executive decision to direct teach the whole week in my #StartOver class. That week was devoted to studying for Thursday's test where students get to challenge first semester of Introduction to Algebra 1.

I have to say, there was absolutely no planning required on my part. Remember my little team of Introduction to Algebra 1 and Support class where all students are starting over? I'm the only one at my site so I have a team of teachers from 2 other sites at my district and we email each other. Joe is the one who mostly communicates. He sent out a practice worksheet. It was beautiful. It had the same questions on both sides of the column, different numbers. It was designed so I can solve one as a sample and the class can solve the one on the right looking at the model on the left. All of a sudden, I got insight into why teachers prefer direct instruction.

Planning for station rotations has gotten easier for me since I've been doing it for a while now. But you do have to think about which new concept you want to introduce, what kind of notes you want your students taking and what kind of problems you want your students to be solving in each of the stations. And the collaborative piece should be similar but still different every time. I would say that it takes me about an hour to plan and prepare the videos, notes and documents for station rotations. It used to take me longer, but I'm becoming more efficient. Even if I were to use direct instruction, I usually pre-write my notes so students know exactly what the format looks like. I have learned the hard way that if I simply start writing on my Interwrite pad, my students have no idea how to organize it. They have to see how it looks in an actual lined notebook that looks exactly like theirs.

Now that the recruiting week is over, I have to report to you that I'm back to more than half the class not doing work and explicitly going on social media or using their cell phones. I got flashbacks to those days years ago when I felt ineffective as a teacher and wanting to leave the classroom.

I thought about it. If I were a coach and all my energy was devoted to my sport, I probably might not have the time to invest in teaching strategies. If I teach a higher level math class and all my energy was devoted to helping students work through a difficult problem, I probably won't see a need to invest in teaching strategies. But for teachers like me who teach lower level math and is not a coach, I need to continue to grow.

So here I am, looking at my past two weeks and promising myself that I, Princess Choi, cannot be lazy.

And this is my last comment. How can we help coaches and teachers who teach dual enrollment classes, AP classes and other difficult courses be a better teacher?
There is no need to hurt anyone's ego. They are all good people. But it is a disservice to our students when we stop reinventing ourselves.
Have a great time, til the next blog!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

It's Not Anyone's Fault. Expulsions Can't Be The Answer. Striving for a Better System #StartOver Day25-29

At the beginning of the #StartOver math course, I had to let my students know that behind the high pitched voice and the smile that can't be taken seriously was the teacher who felt that her priority was in informing their parents of everything. These things don't happen because I say that is who I am.

I had to show them. 

This meant I had to stop in the middle of class when no one was working, walk over to my desk and start calling parents-in front of the class. Half the class don't want to stress out their parents or deal with consequences at home, so they start working. The other half waits to see if I will hang up, then call their parent next. A few students stand strong and refuse to work til the last minute. 

This type of drama needs to be produced maybe once a year or not even at all in other classes. But when you have a group of students who are used to not working for a year or more, this drama has to be played out often. I learned before day 10 was over that I needed to leave time each period for dramatic productions such as calling parents in front of the class. That meant teaching less, calling more. I had a good rationale. It's better to pause teaching and call parents than to talk into the air while all my students are on social media. It's better to call parents than accept the fact that none of my students will share their thoughts in the classroom. But the effectiveness of anything wears off after repeated use. 

I stopped calling parents during class after week 4. It was turning into a routine and some students were getting tired of it. I started calling more parents after school and on weekends. I had a good rationale. Wasting class time is not effective. I'm producing this drama for less than half the class now. It's better to call parents after school since it's only about 4 students from each course.

Now I'm looking to start week 7. Two weeks went by without me calling parents in front of students during class time. A started walking out of class 3 minutes before class is over and he definitely walks in 10 minutes after the bell rings. About 10 percent of my class is paying attention and sharing their thoughts with me during my lecture/project days (Monday and Tuesday). When I asked A to sit down and work, he said, "you haven't even been calling parents for a while now." I responded by saying, "oh you think so?"

Actually the night before, I was texting/calling a parent because I was doing my routine calls home and K's mom was at the emergency room. The poor girl is quiet and keeps to herself. And she is failing all her classes except for one. I wanted to call the mom to see if there is anything I can do to help her since I can't seem to be able to connect with her in class. Mom was at the emergency room because K was sick. Mom told me she wants to talk to K's counselor to see if there is another option for K's schooling. I told her that is a good idea. I felt bad for not being a counselor. All I could do was wish her the best and hang up. It was 10:10pm when I last spoke with mom.

On day 29, there was a SST meeting for L. L is so cute. I have to say this because he is so extremely cute. He is funny too. But he does absolutely no work. And he has no ability to control himself. He gets in trouble at school because he throws things. And in my previous blog, I did mention that he kept calling a girl "Skin her". That girl is now no longer in my class. The administrators decided to protect her by changing her class. I called mom several times and when I emailed her, I finally got a response from her. I was really shocked. You would think that L's mom either doesn't care or doesn't like the school system or doesn't know how to control the child. All those prejudices were broken for me when I met the mom. She was soft-spoken, smart, positive about the school system and had strategies to discipline her child. It's just that L is his own person.

Sometimes, us teachers complain about parents. Because we think that our worst performing students are the product of parents who don't care. L's mom has to work. She doesn't get home til after 6pm. She has a job where she can't pick up her phone. That's why she responds via email late at night. She didn't get L a phone because she didn't want him to be on it at school. She told him not to take the laser pointer to school but he did. Behind her back. Then got in trouble with me.

Actually, now that I think about it, of all the parents I ever called, only 2 were hateful and blamed the school instead of their children. Everyone else were grateful I called even if Google Translate did a horrible job of translating English to Spanish for me. And the phone calls sometimes translated to the change in the child's behavior. But not always.

I thought about it. High School is the last education system the children have to pass through before they hit adulthood. I thought about this society I live in. There are people who follow the golden rule. The law need not be there for these people. They follow a higher calling. Then there are people who need the law. Without it, they might do some harm to others, mostly because they didn't know. Then there are a few who try their best to find loopholes so they can do what they want and get away with it. Finally, there is a system where people who cannot be controlled by the law are contained, away from the general population (prisons, jail etc).

At school, we have rules. A minority of our students love school and they come early and stay til late. They email teachers for feedback and can't wait to participate in school events. Most others come to school and follow rules because they have to. Then there's students who sneak away and share drugs or display graffiti in the bathrooms or destroy school property and get away because they were never caught. Then there's the few who are caught and they have to go through consequences set by the school.

In my dream world, every school has the same allotment of students who are in each of the categories I mentioned earlier. And we all have a great system to help these children who love school shine even more brightly. That would mean rigorous courses, service learning, a lot of community service hours to help out the less fortunate etc. For most of the general student population, we would provide the same thing we provide to our students who love school. But for the students who are not performing either because they are sick physically, emotionally or mentally, we need to have a system to help them. High School is not the same as real life experienced by adults. We cannot expel or suspend them. What would these children do after a suspension or an expulsion when they become an adult? But we also cannot mix these students with the general student population.

Looking at my site, I know we have counseling, ATS(Alternative To Suspension) and independent work. Many of my students are not in my class on a given day because they either have to go for drug counseling, psychological counseling, ATS or do independent work. These programs are great. But while they are gone receiving these services, they are falling more and more behind with work in the classroom. So when they return from ATS, counseling or independent work, they face failure in the classroom anyway. These students are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Back to my dream world, what if we had a system where counselors,  program managers,  administrators and a few dedicated teachers from each subject form a team? We would need psychologists as well. This team will only do one thing. Help students keep up with required curriculum as well as provide necessary training to navigate through the school system and provide counseling as needed. And the system here will not be set up like a classroom. It would be like a rotating system so anyone can come in whenever necessary and leave whenever necessary. Kinda like mainstreaming the students with IEPs. I know there are schools that does just this. But that is not what most families are exposed to. Parents have to research to find a school that does just this. What if every public school had this system?

So if a child got in trouble for selling drugs and using drugs, they can enter this program. And instead of being pulled out of their classes for ATS and counseling sessions, they can stay in the program. There are credentialed teachers for different subjects who will help them with work individually or in small groups and they can get counseling and other support as necessary. This way they can get their credits and get the support they need as well. When they feel like they are ready, or when the adults feel the student is ready, the student can then be reintegrated into the general student population where the focus is on service learning and helping others.

Back to reality. It's not the parent's fault my students are behind in math. It's not the middle school or the elementary school's fault that my students behave the way they do. It is not because my students are dealing with poverty they are the way they are. All schools should have a good system to support all these children before they become adults. I read a few months ago that more and more educators are running for political offices. Maybe they will help a little. I learned that we spend more money on prisons and helping low income families than in education as a society. Maybe revamping our school system will help society. In my classroom, I have to get back to producing the big scene of calling parents in class so my students who need the whip can get back in place.

Thanks to this #StartOver classes, I remembered why I started teaching. It wasn't because a teacher impacted me. It wasn't because I love children. It wasn't because I love math or computer science. I wanted to teach at the high school level because I felt like if I could catch the struggling mini-adults in high school, maybe they would be a productive person in society as a full-grown-adult, where it's more difficult to find support for their problems.

I love my job more than ever before. And I feel so much affection for my 70 #StartOver students. But I also feel like there needs to be change. I've been going to conferences and fan-girling over people who I think could change education in the classroom. Now I want to change my direction. I want to think of the school as a whole system. And remember the fact that my students could struggle as adults. And I want to create a system that would help them as adults when they leave my school. I feel powerless as I think about this. There is so much to learn. So I will take my first step. I don't have a clear idea what my first step is. But that's why I blog. Is there anyone out there who want to join forces with me?