November 12: A day in the Life of a math/stats teacher

The following  stream-of-consciousness account is part of the “A Day on the Life of a Math Educator”  blogging initiative. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

5:47 am:   I’m up!
I have a lot to do today. I’ve been working on organizing a presentation about a nutrition study being done on our campus. Today is the day that we decided to have the event. I took on the task of organizing who would present, what would be presented, who would film it, publicity, thank you gifts, and finding a venue for the presentation. Most of it’s done, but a few loose ends need to be tied up.   I have to get gift bags for “Thank you” gifts for  presenters. I need to compile four PowerPoints into one file to save time during the presentation.   Ugh.  I should have done this Sunday, but I was helping my hubby recover from his puking and 24 hour flu. So it’s an early trek to the grocery store to pick up gift bags.  Remember the receipt.

7:00 am:  At school!
OK…. I got the gift bags, found the receipt. I hope I get reimbursed.  Now time to think about the day… What did I not get done this weekend that must get done ASAP? I rattle off the list:

  • Again:  DON’T FORGET, BILL: organize the PowerPoints for the presenters.  Make sure their presentations are short enough to get done in the time allotted.
  • Write introductions for the presenters.
  • Prepare for student meetings:  Ok three kids in period 7, one kids before school, three more that haven’t yet told me if/ when they’re coming in for help.  Par for the course.
  • Check on thank you gifts being prepared by “Marielle” from the business office. They weren’t ready Friday afternoon. Hopefully here this morning.  Run down to her office to check… “They’re ready in my mailbox, Bill.”   OK…  sprint up to faculty lounge (upper level of campus), get gifts, back to my office, prepare gift bags.
  • Precalculus:  do I quiz  them on problems involving double/half angle trig identities today? They will probably do well on it.  Do I postpone?  Do I give them a choice? Ugh.  Here’s what I DO know: they’re  currently doing a HARD topic (solving HARD trigonometric equations, general and specific solutions), and they are not quite comfortable with that yet. First things first. They really need to practice and wrap their heads around this.  Let’s see what happens when I get to class. I’ll prepare to give a quiz,  but if they want time to work more on equations, I’ll give it the next day.  I’ll poll them and decide in class.  Crap… Let me check their assignment… OK – They will struggle with 17 and 35 for sure.  Those will definitely be on the agenda first thing.  They’re good for extending what we did in class last time.  Prayer:  “Dear Baby Jesus.  Please let me have a quiz in my archives…. Thank you Baby Jesus!”   OK Precalc  adressed.   One AP  Stats class today, not until 5th period.  That’s like DECADES away from right now. Plus, my plans / activities were planned earlier last week. I stayed at school until 6 pm Friday  to be ready for that.  So I’m good… AWW CRAP:  I need to grade one problem for my 5th period class.  OK.  I have time 3rd period to make that happen.  No appointments 3rd period, no worries.

7:30 am: Pre-1st period

A nice colleague “Markus” wants to change the plans for the presentation…  “Are you sure we can’t we do a live simulcast of the event?” I’m sure.  “Sparky” says it’s possible.  Sigh. No it’s not. I did a test-drive on Friday. No go.  I remember to not let others’ enthusiasm turn into my frustration.  I remain calm.

8:00 AM:  1st period, Precalculus

The kids seem alert, talkative and active:  Hallelujah!  I’m convinced that groups are definitely the way to go with this group.  If nothing more than to get them talking to each other about anything   in the morning and not fall asleep. I anticipated their difficulties correctly this morning… Woo Hoo.  It’s very much a “let’s get work done” vibe today.  LOVE IT.  One student want’s to set up a one-on-one meeting with me:  “I’m starting to realize I’m just memorizing instead of understanding.”  YES… He’s a really hard-working, great kid, but is definitely over-extended, in my view: seven classes!  He gets no break for an entire school day.  What compels students to take on this much? Why are kids feeling the need to do this to themselves? Ugh Poor kids.  It’s too much.  It shows on his face, in his approach to learning math. But small victories:  He’s asking for help, and wants help getting concepts, not asking about grades, not asking for procedures. And he’s realizing it on his own. I don’t need to tell him.  I’ll take it.  Small consistent growth produces big changes over time.  Over all, a pretty darn good 1st period class. Lots of misconceptions resolved.  Lots of questions asked/ answered. Lots of kids helping kids.  Lots of me seeing how kids work, and actually helping them.  Lot’s of learning what kids are struggling with right now. They were understanding more than I expected. Whew

8:45 AM: Period 2  

This is the beginning of my LONG BREAK today:  Woo Hoo!   Well sorta.  Period 2 is to make sure that everything will go well during the presentation (after period 2).  I just have to get to the auditorium,  connect with the presenters (a UCLA researcher and a professional dietitian), and connect the student filming the event, No problem.  I go to open the auditorium:  “Excuse me… there’s a class in here.”  

Really?   ARRGH!  I remain calm.  I verified that there was nothing going on period 2 in the auditorium!  Sigh.  OK.   Well, I’ll just double-check the PowerPoints –  Thank God I did. I check my email:  “Markus” sends me two more additional Power Points  to add to the presentation.  (Did I ask for these last week? Yeah, I think so…)  Ok. No worries. I’m locked out of the auditorium anyway. Re-edit the PowerPoints.  No problem…  …. Where are the presenters?  They arrive.  There’s yet ANOTHER version of a PowerPoint to replace.  OK. Get it done. Remain calm.

9:40, Activities Period “Things will go wrong.  You planned for this.”     

Presentation Time! I will be introducing a University researcher, a professional dietitian, a biometrics expert, running their PowerPoints (not a big deal),  and  Skype-ing in a teacher who will be a “guinea pig” for this Wacky Contraption called a BodPOD. But because the room was unavailable before the presentation, I hope/pray that the following  things will be working

  • Computer projector and my computer talk with each other effectively.
  • Audio from my computer connects to the auditorium audio system.
  • There’s enough bandwidth for Skype to work like it did Friday Afternoon.

To my surprise, the Head of the Upper School, Head of School, and Head of Athletics come to the event.  So do about 30 students (YAY) , 5 coaches, and  about 8 math/science teachers. Better attendance than I expected.  As people file into the presentation, I apologize to the previous teacher for accidentally interrupting his class 2nd period, and he’s gracious about the slip up.  Here we go… Aww crap.  Audio Not Working.  Internet (and thus Skype) not working. Where’s the audio pluggy thingy that was here Friday?  Why isn’t Skype working?  Frownie Face.  While I try to troubleshoot this issues, Two of my students blitz me with an AP Statistics question 2 minutes before the presentation is about to start.  Hey, at least they’re getting help and asking a good question.  … OK, perspective:  We have video.  That’s the most important.  I’ll work on audio later.  Tech problems bedamned, I decide to start the presentation, and do the intro.  The researcher and the dietitian are great. Kids/ teachers/ coaches are engaged.  I smile like a game show host, and scramble to get Skype working behind the scenes.  Time for questions: One science teacher begins to critique the study design.  I think to myself… Let the kids raise questions. This is for them, not us.  The kids will get there.  The researcher does a beautiful job addressing the teacher’s critique  and reassuring him that she knows how to do run/interpret a study. I wish the students were given a chance to raise this question.   Is Skype working?  Maybe!  I try it… Ugh.  spotty audio, no video.  Bandwidth  is lacking!  Frownie Face.

Time to call an “audible.”   Thankfully the truck containing the BodPod is about 20 yards outside the auditorium.  “Let’s take a field trip over there, shall we?”   This turns out to be a good move.  Kids get to see the device, ask the technician questions, and be a bit more “hands on” with the presentation.   Thank you’s all around.  Good feelings, interested kids, happy leaders on campus.  Blood Pressure reducing.  Success emerging.   Whew. I hope.

10:15 AM:  Periods 3-4:   I actually can get some work done?
Shockingly, Yes… Monday is a day where I may have four non-teaching free periods (minus meetings with kids / colleagues that emerge).  Other teaching days,  only one  or 2 free periods.   I get two class’s papers marked and record the grades in my gradebook! This is a lucky two periods.  A couple students pop in for some quick questions, and I’m able to help them work through their struggles pretty quickly. I have time to grab lunch and check email for 20 minutes!  Woo Hoo! I re-check my plans for 5th period AP Stats class… Lots to do today. But I am prepared.

11:55 AM: Period 5: AP Stats–Day One of learning about probability in depth.
We work through three activities to give students a sense of what probability of an event means. Time is a premium here. I want to work through these activities efficiently: get to the thinking, don’t waste time.  Each one works pretty well (I think) … The first one:

1. Using a simulation with dice to answer the following question: “1/6 of bottles of soda have a cap that says “You’re a winner!”  Seven friends each buy a bottle.  Three are winners.  How surprising is this?

2.  Imagine flipping a coin.  Record the result.  Imagine a second flip. record the result. now Imagine a  sequence of 50 coin flips. Write down the results.  Record the distribution of “streak lengths.”  Now let’s flip 50 coins.  We work as a class to make this happen quickly.

3. Use this Java Applet to help students construct an understanding of what it means to say that the probability of an event is 50%.  “Where’s the 50% in the graph?”

Most students pay attention and respond thoughtfully to the questions I prepared in their handouts.  I always worry about “being efficient” in getting through things quickly. Is the learning retained? You tend to convince yourself things are working, and  you’re sometimes wrong.  Time will tell.

12:45 pm, Period 6:  These kids want to do WHAT?
Students from 5th period provided me with proposals for an experiment on response bias. I’m reviewing them and giving them feedback via e-mail.  In short, they need to pose a question two different ways to subjects, and compare the results.  I have to approve these before they are given the green light to collect data.  A few are very good. Most are OK, and can become very good with greater attention to the practical details of executing their project. And then one proposal is… um… Oh no my dear students, no no no…   Let’s think about this more. I think through the questions I must ask these students… The following come to mind: How might you approach this topic so that your plan is not breaking school rules?  Can you see how  these questions might be… inappropriate (to practically everbody?)  Sigh.  I will definitely need to work with this group to guide them towards something more appropriate.  

Period 7: So many students at my desk!

I have five appointments with students this period. Plus a couple more drop in.  Make it work, Bill.  I get one pair of precalculus students to work together effectively, with some help from me. “Can I try to answer his question, Mr. Thill?”  YES.  Small victory. She does a great job, and her classmate starts to get it. Two more precalc students pop in.  I get them to work together too.  They have class with me 8th period, so some of their questions can get answered then. Two more AP stats students get advice about their project proposal.  Wow:  time for 8th period precalc class.

8th Period: Precalc: last class of the day.
Like my first period class, the students have a few challenges with the complexities of solving trigonometric equations. There’s a lot of “business” to address in this class: recap the “greatest hits” kids took on the most recent test, and share a list of “intangibles” that the precalculus teachers put together that help students understand what approaches to math class & problem solving tend to yield success in future mathematics. I have been pleased with my 8th period students’ approach so far: they ask lots of questions of each other, and work together collaboratively and effectively. Students who have shown some struggles are assertive and self-reliant on making progress and seeking help. They respond to setbacks wisely and take actions to make improvements. I say “Thank you” to myself at the end of the day when these students leave the class… they make the end of the class day such a a joy.  

3:30 pm… After school: Work time begins.

I really need to go running tonight. I have 1.5 hours of daylight left. I have lots to do for tomorrow. Two classes of short assignments to grade. Doable before 1st period tomorrow. OK. At this point, I realize my debit card is missing. Ugh. One more thing. I have to call my bank and cancel it. Not now. I think about a student I have who was out of school again today. She’s dealing with some VERY heavy stuff right now. No update from her or her advisor.  I worry a bit. I hope she’s doing OK. I think about the conversations I need to have with some students: the ones with the sketchy project proposal, the ones struggling in precalc, the ones who could “slip through the cracks” if I son’t stay in conversation with them.  What’s up for tomorrow? Create a short assessment for precalculus. Check my phone: when’s the hubby coming home? He’s on the way home already. What’s still not done?  I need to update my precalculus website and get the current lessons up there… …sunset is coming.  No run tonight.

5:40 pm: Home Time. 

Yay! Hubby cooked dinner! I am very lucky. I talk with him. Time to de-compress. I should be running right now. I hate running on the city streets in the dark. Too many things to trip on.  I call to cancel / replace my debit card. I scarf down some food.  I open my e-mail…. I really want to do this “A day in the life” blogging initiative. I will work on that and watch some TV.

6:30 pm. 

I start blogging about my day. A lot went on.

10:45 pm 

Finally finish this blog post.  I realize that blogging takes a ton of time for me.  I remind myself why I have put blogging on the back burner.  I marvel at those who stay current with it.  Hubby tells be it’s time to get to bed.  I agree.  6 hours until the next day starts.

About roughlynormal

I have been a math/statistics teacher for 25 years. I currently teach at an independent school in southern California. I also coach teaching fellows for Math for America - Los Angeles chapter. I love my career, my colleagues, and my friends & family.
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2 Responses to November 12: A day in the Life of a math/stats teacher

  1. Tina C says:

    What a busy day! Congratulations on a successful presentation. I love when students can work together because it helps them and me, win-win!

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