Mathemagicians in the Making

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Math Word Wall by Jillian Starr, The Starr Spangled Planner
starrspangledplanner.com

 

So, BOY (beginning of year, not gender-specific) testing is over, and it’s time to sort our students into groups. This year I find myself with 22 groups of 2-5 students, grades K-5 who need remedial intervention in mathematics. That’s 65 kids who will be coming to me for guidance and support. Wow! No pressure.

Now honestly, throughout this cycle of intervention (October-December) I will no doubt find that several of these students simply suck at testing (especially the little ones, who are taking their first test ever, and on a computer, no less.) But of course, that is the joy of my work, to see children rise, and grow, and think, and help their peers do the same.  I tell my students all the time that it is my job to put myself out of a job, and I need them all to help me.

So now I am scheduling, and planning, and creating anchor charts, and prepping for a parent night. I am also prepping notebooks and folders and thinking about videos and all the ways I can support parents in person, through home-school intervention, and via the internet.  It’s fun. It’s overwhelming. It’s exciting.  It’s a lot of work, but I love it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cut a bunch of stuff out.

Finding Peas in the Whirl

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I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. Making stuff, organizing stuff, planning stuff. Why do I always feel I’m never getting anything done? Perhaps it’s because prioritizing isn’t my strength. I guess it’s not that high on my list of priorities. I don’t tend to work smarter, I just splatter stuff everywhere until a project comes together. It’s my way.

It may be mania when I find myself whipped up in a frenzy of ideas and activity, but its a productive mania. This time, though, I am hoping it’s just inspiration and vitamins, because I hate it when I fall.  I’m actually pretty optimistic these days, because art seems to be keeping my sad at bay, or at least allowing me to work through stuff in an active manner. I am recognizing the fact that I am not writing as much poetry (despite PSF, which has yet to find its wings…it will.)

I  am fighting, then, to keep my joy alive and thriving. I switched to a Spanish class that is mainly review (because I’m honestly just not as fluent as my other friends were in my advanced class), and I am taking the leap to practice with actual people a little more. I am writing even when I am not particularly inspired (or inspiring, sorry, my faithful readers), I am hugging kids, regardless of germs, and I am planning to math the heck out of ’em in a little over a week. I am still making art, even if I’m going a little outside the boundaries of art journaling. Who cares, right? It’s my art, and it doesn’t need to be confined within the bonds of a book.

I have some ideas for blog posts. I may write some. I may post them here. I may post pea-sized nuggets of wisdom, or stray thoughts, or random pictures of my cat. Whatever springs from the cyclone that is my brain. Until then, I will visualize whirled peas, and let peas begin with me.

FlameYeowFlame likes to watch Discovery I.D. and My Cat From Hell.
He worries me.

Children Make Me Sick

 

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For the last couple of weeks, I have been working with kindergarteners. All those adorable faces, all those grubby little fingers in little snotty noses. All those little hands, touching everything, and then touching me. I love every minute of it, brand new voices, tears and smiles, sweet, spontaneous hugs.

But children + the first weeks of school = germs. (See, I’m mathing!)

Last weekend, it hit me. The first cold of the year, and it hit me hard. Sinus headache, scratchy throat, cough, and the stuffiest/runniest nose ever. I wasn’t the first to go down, and turns out, I’m not the last. Plenty of my peers are feeling the first tickle of the plague as we head into the three-day weekend. Fortunately for me, I’m beginning to emerge. Last Monday, though, I was forced into quarantine, after not being able to sleep all night for fear of drowning in a pool of mucus. Nothing more disheartening than watching one of your precious PTO days disappear before you even hit September.

Yesterday, at our staff meeting, leadership passed out packets of Emergen-C. They get it: the struggle is real.

Still, it’s worth it. I get the wonderful privilege of seeing these tiny persons, some barely five years old, learn and grow and emerge into big kids. My original kindergarten class, from my first year at ROMO, are fourth graders now. (My very first kinders, from another school in another state, can legally drink now.) The fourth graders are big, rough and tumble, beautiful brilliant beings. I love them, and still see them as they were then, little precious gifts, with grubby fingers in snotty little noses.

We’ll pass around the Kleenex  and Clorox wipes, and forge forward, as we always do, with grit and persistence, to get better every day.

There’s Something in the Air

My beloved friend Ruth posted on my FB wall: “Is there something in the air that speaks of almost crushing heartache right now?”

My response: “Yes. But also of healing. I see positive things on the horizon, which might also cause heartache, but for the higher good.”

As you all know, I have been immersed for the last month in professional development for the 2018-19 school year. A week ago Friday, we welcomed 100+  kindergarteners to our campus for their first day of school. It was a “trial run” of sorts. We taught them how to sit and stand in line and move back and forth between classes (we have a rotational model; separate classes for math and literacy, even in Kindergarten.) We showed them where the bathroom was, and reminded them of bathroom expectations: flush the toilet. Wash your hands. One pump of soap. One paper towel. Use the trash can. They were pretty good at it, with adult supervision.

I was on Potty Patrol, like I pretty much am every year. I guess my patter is inspiring. It’s boring as hell (for me), but I get to see all the cute faces (at least the girls) and they have their first exposure to me. I usually make at least a few friends.

Last Wednesday was the official first day of school for our entire student body. Nearly 600 children, grades K-5. What beautiful chaos! All the hugs (from the bigger ones), all the tears (from the little ones.) It was beautiful.

I spent the week with the Kindergarten students, acting as back up and enforcer. (Well, not really, more like the constant nagging reminder: Sit up straight! Raise a proud hand! Eyes on the teacher!) By the end of the week (three days, with early release) there was definite progress. Most students would respond to the teacher’s request for attention. Most students could find the bathroom all by themselves. No one got permanently lost. They did wonderfully!

We (the staff), however, were exhausted! I would  wake up at 5:15, arrive before seven, and be ready to greet students at 7:30. While the students got out at two, the staff stayed until 5 (or longer) for staff meetings, lesson practice and debriefing. I went home “early” Thursday night, fell asleep at 6:00, woke up at 7:30 to make dinner, and was asleep again before nine. As someone who suffers from insomnia, I can tell you that hardly ever happens.

Despite being exhausted, and feeling a bit irritable (sorry everyone outside of work…I have to hold it in there) I managed to have a nice weekend (after a bit of a rough start.) All intentions to go to work for a few hours flew out the window, but I did get some pampering in, and my last bit of birthday shopping (Spending my annual Amazon gift card…) and some art, and a bit of writing, and this post, which may be sub par, but at least it’s here.  I’m here, and that’s what matters, because this is what I do: write or die.

I feel like this year is going to bring immense change, and I’ll be called on to take things more to heart, more seriously. To care more deeply, to breathe more intentionally, and to work more diligently. I have a feeling I will be moving forward in a big way, but I am called to also slow down and appreciate every moment. To use it, whether actively or passively, with clear purpose and intent. To love. To grow. To heal. To use my gifts and my voice. To find my heart and soul again. To do all those things is often heartbreaking, but always well worth it. I can’t wait.

 

Welcome Back to the Madhouse

We’re all mad here.  (It goes without saying.)

Training and preparation for the new school year is in full swing, and I’m getting used to the getting up early and forcing myself to bed at night, and starting on my “To Read About Math” pile, and trying to find time to blog and make art and poems in the meantime.

Just posted my Art Journal projects for July, and a new post  on the Making Mathemagicians page.  Hope to see you there!

Back to School, and Updates

It’s my last week of vacation, and I’m making it count.

Whoever still thinks teachers still get 3 months of summer vacation is sorely mistaken.  At my school, I get five weeks of summer vacation.  Five weeks to de-compress from teaching 100 kids all year, and hanging around with 600. I love them, but can you imagine taking care of 100 kids a day? You’d need to de-stress, too.

Anyhow, after my five weeks, some of which is spent traveling, and some of which is spent binge-watching shows on Netflix, I get to return to work for professional development. Three weeks of workshops that last longer than my regular school day, before our students return on August 14.

I work at a public charter school, so we have a lot more PD than other schools: about 300 hours a year. When I taught in public school in another state, we were lucky if we got 15 hours a year. The reason we do this is because our children need it. I work with a largely immigrant population: kids who often get the short end of the stick as far as getting an excellent education goes. It is our job to close that opportunity gap for our kids, to make the possibility of going to college real for them.  It’s working.

I am a Math Interventionist. I work with small groups of students struggling with math; students who are in the lowest 20-25% of test scores, but don’t qualify for special services. I take groups throughout the week to work on skills and strategies. I love it.  I call my program “Making Mathemagicians.”

One thing I love is discovering new ways to approach the basic skills necessary to master mathematics. Anyone who knows me well knows I am not a master mathematician (I can handle K-5, which is what I teach), but I wish I was. I am enjoying learning right along with my students, and my goal is to become more proficient in a subject that always flustered me. Being “not a math person” has kept me humble, and allowed me to have empathy for these kids who struggle to understand even the most basic concepts. And, to their credit, I have only a handful of students who have ever said they don’t like math.

I have created a page for my mathematical journey as a teacher here at the Freelance Dilettante, called, appropriately, “Making Mathemagicians .” Other new sections are “Art Journals“, where I invite you to join me on an artistic journey, “Random Writings” (prose, articles, etc.) and “The Intrepid Adventurer“, where (eventually) I will put writings about my travels.

I know it’s a lot, but It keeps me from having eight blogs. Now I only have four, this one, and my three private ones. (Everyone should have a private, locked blog. Then no one can read your diary, even when you die.)

Anyway, I hope you join me on (at least some of) my journeys. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

The Struggle Towards Unattachment.

The Buddha said that attachment is the source of all suffering.

I used to think that meant that people should not love people or things, or have feelings, like the image of some naked ascetic on a mountain top. I have come to realize that, at least for me, this “ideal”  is impossible. I love people wholeheartedly; I appreciate beautiful things. I definitely have some feelings, and strong ones.

Perhaps the “ideal” isn’t realistic, and we need to step away from it. To me, “unattachment” is not the same as “detachment” (and I think even some Buddhists will agree with me on this one.) Detachment connotes isolation, not caring, not feeling, not needing anything or anyone, while unattachment connotes something very different: not being attached to outcomes. It’s love without strings attached.

They say “If you love something, set it free.” (Or, if you’re Sting, it’s “someone“) and some people, in their attachment, will say “Oh, they set me free? That means they don’t love me anymore,” when it’s exactly the opposite. When I set someone free, I set them free *because* I love them, they now have the freedom to love me, or not, as they see fit.

To be honest, I royally suck at unattachment. I love people, and I want them to love me back. I want them to like me, and understand me, and think I’m funny, and cool, and smart, and to appreciate how much I love them. I want them to be honest with me. I want them to forgive me when I fuck up, just as I forgive them when they do.

However, I suffer.

I suffer from loneliness. From social anxiety. From feelings of rejection and loss. From thinking that people don’t like me because I’m awkward and weird. From self-hatred and self doubt. All because I am overly attached, not to people, but to what they think of me.

In other words, I’m attached to outcomes.  Instead of just loving people (including myself) regardless, I put all this weight on whether they love me back, or think I’m awesome, or whether they choose to forgive me.

It’s not that I don’t care or that I don’t want to put effort into relationships, or to right wrongs (because I’m wrong as often as I’m right), but what can I do about it, other than be me and take steps to be better? I can’t make people think I’m amazing or to fall in love with me platonically, or forgive my awkwardness. So, why act as if my life depends on it?

All I can do is try. It’s damned hard. When you love someone, it’s natural to want that love returned. But honestly, do you want coerced love, or do you want it given freely? In the future, I will continue to love, but I am renouncing the expectation that you will love me in return. (Although I hope you will, because this detachment thing is hard.)

I set you free.