2019 Is an Odd Number

The arrival of 2019 means I have to scroll down even farther to find my age year when I fill out an online form. Ugh… 1985… 1975… 1970… 1967… Here it is… 1965!

I just came back from a short trip — via long-ass flights — to Melbourne for my niece’s wedding. I did a lot of walking and eating (not unlike what I do elsewhere), but the highlight was seeing my all-time favorite, koalas.


Around this time, two years ago, I wrote These Twenty Things — the nerve I had to suggest we should do this and that. But, I do wish I had more time to write because recording in this space helps me reflect on what I enjoy most about teaching, which is mainly about what my students take away from a lesson, and perhaps more importantly, what they put into it.

There are a variety of things in education that I still don’t have a good grasp on, like differentiation and Problem-Based Learning (PBL). I get what they are, I just don’t think they play out in the classroom [of 35 students] nearly as efficiently and effectively as intended. They are hard to do, most teachers have not had the training, or the training they get is from people who have never consistently implemented them.

But here are a few things I trust I have a good handle on.

Begin with a challenging task so everyone has access to it. Fully invite students to work on the problem, individually at first, then in small groups, then with the whole class. When sufficient time has been devoted to this (this can mean 30 minutes or two days, depending on the task and your students), then go do your regular routine, but invite students who finish the regular stuff to continue with the challenging task. I normally see this gets flipped around a lot, that teachers ask students to do the challenging task after they finish their regular work. The problem with this is 1) at least half of the students don’t get to it, and 2) those who get to it don’t care about it simply because the teacher didn’t care enough about it to fully introduce it. It’s not lip service when I introduce each PS with, This is definitely my favorite one!

Wait time and asking for a classmate’s help. Y’all know about the wait time. I usually wait, then I say to the student, “Would you like to call on a classmate to help you?” If the called-on student is not able to help, then I ask the same of this student. This should keep more students paying attention, and it’s one more way for me to stay out of it.

Deal with “bad” behaviors in a different (unexpected?) way. I have two recent examples. I was on detention duty, and instead of copying down a selected passage we gave, the student had written a very angry note to another teacher. He had hoped to hide it from me. When I finally got him to produce the note and read it, he started to tear up. I said, “Do you feel better now that you’d written all this down?” He said he was mad and didn’t mean anything by it. I said, “You wrote it, and I read it, and now it’ll go into this garbage can. Done. Sometimes it helps to get it on paper.” Another one was when a student brought a pencil to me and said, “It has bad writing on it.” Along its skinny spine was the inscription: fuck you bitch. I thought of one particular child who may have written it. The next day, at the start of each class, I projected the pencil under my doc camera. I said, “The spelling is all correct, that’s always good, but punctuation needs work. Anyway, if this is your writing, I hope it was a good stress release. Next time though, please write it on a piece of paper instead, this was our classroom pencil, and now I have to throw it out. Waste not!”

Go ahead and give your students lots of advice because you can’t do this with adults without risking getting punched in the face. My usuals:

  • That soda is not good for you. Eat a doughnut instead. (Hey, the sugar ratio of soda to a doughnut is 3.5 to 1.)
  • If you want to cheat off of your friend’s paper, I offer a free how-to clinic at lunch. I mean you do a horrible job at this, I can TELL for chrissake.
  • It’s not all about you. Learn that early and learn that fast. Your parents may love you unconditionally, but have you ever tried to wake them up early for no good reason?
  • Always brush your tongue too.
  • Don’t trust places that claim “We’re like family,” and yet they don’t let you eat for free.
  • Your real friends are not the ones who attend your party. They are the ones who show up when no one else does.

Oh, and there’s a book that you or your school should get. It’s Necessary Conditions by Geoff Krall. I know it says “secondary math,” but that’s some marketing talk, it’s really for any teacher, you!

And finally, I’m incredibly honored and grateful to be at the following meetings this year:

  • February 20: Washington ESD, Vancouver, WA, full-day workshop
  • April 5: NCTM Annual, San Diego, IGNITE
  • April 25: Ross Taylor Symposium, Duluth, MN, full-day workshop
  • April 26: MCTM Spring Conference, Duluth, MN, keynote + session
  • May 3: Wisconsin Math Conference, keynote
  • June 19: HIVE, Open Up, Atlanta, talk + panel
  • July 11: CAMT, San Antonio, keynote + sessions
  • August 7: Ohio Annual Meeting, keynote + session
  • August 15: NYS Master Teacher Program, full-day workshop
  • May 8, [2020]: OAME, Ontario, featured speaker

I sincerely hope I get to connect with you at one of these places!

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