In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.
Algebra 2/Geometry teacher at Midwood High School
One word that best describes how I teach:
Current mobile device:
iPhone 6 Plus
What software or tools can’t you live without?
Software: Google Docs
Tools: a whiteboard and spectrum of markers
What was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
My phone, as I learn to use it more productively, and Evernote.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have an office with a long counter which holds a printer, office tools, many cups of colorful pens and stacks of books and resources. Shelves above with binders of resources and books to read.
How is your classroom set up?
My classroom has ‘library’ tables – rectangles with 4 chairs; whiteboards on two walls and a SmartBoard front and center, as well as a ‘teacher desk’ which is used just to hold papers. Full wall of windows (love that light!) and a counter along the back for extra workspace. My teaching supplies are on a mobile cart which goes everywhere I do.
Where at your school can you honker down to get shit done?
I have a desk in an office which is a former boys bathroom (true fact). We call it the Bat Cave.
What non-math stuff do you do at your school?
I am in charge of the department’s iPad cart and am working with some other teachers to start a staff diversity committee.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Despite all my digital tools, my handwritten to do lists (see next item), keep me on track. If it’s on the list, it gets done.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
Reminders on my phone, and a Rhodia grid pad on my desk.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My phone is everything – that’s it.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I’m great at finding things. Anything, anywhere.
When it comes to work, organization, teaching, what do you need to work on the most?
I need to work on eliciting a broader level of participation in my classes, getting more students talking about math, not just the same few.
What is the key to good classroom management?
Routines and boundaries. Students need to know what to expect in your room.
While you’re teaching, what do you have in your hand (if anything)?
A pen or pencil, always, Can’t walk around the room without one in my hand.
How do you manage the flow of paper in your teaching? How do students hand in paper? How do they get it back?
I keep a basket on my desk as an Inbox and refuse to take papers in my hand (I lose them). I empty the basket every day and sort the papers into grading/reviewing priority and put them into a ‘to be graded’ folder, usually clipped by class. As I finish grading and recording, the papers go into color coded (by class) folders for return. I return papers by hand at the end of class; this is where my system sometimes falls down – I may run out of time at the end of class, or, if a student is absent, forget to return it the following day. With 170 students each term, it can be difficult to remember all the things.
What do you use to plan? Do you use a different tool for the bigger picture (unit/course)?
I used to use a lesson plan template from Madelyn Hunter, but started to migrate to a Google Docs template last spring. I also find myself handwriting plans in a favorite notebook (like a Moleskine) as part of my thinking process. I use an Understanding By Design template for unit planning.
How do you manage your time in the classroom?
Depends on the course. Algebra 2 is pretty straightforward: warm-up routine with a homework check-in, recalling prior lesson and developing new content, and guided practice. I implement group activities whenever possible but struggle with getting through the curriculum with looming Regents exams (my school places a very high priority on those scores).
How does your grading system look different from anyone else?
My school has a school-wide grading policy, as does my department. And we use a school-wide online grading system. I keep color-coded hard copy of homework and assignment records in addition to the digital records.
What do you listen to while you work? Do you play music in class?
When I am planning new lessons, I generally need quiet or non-referential music (like Productive Morning playlist on Spotify). When I’m grading or doing other organizational work, I love something upbeat or danceable (I’m a former disco queen!). I like to play music in class when kids are working in groups.
What are you currently reading?
Just finished The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra next on the fiction list. Non-fiction: working on Everyday Anti-Racism (M. Pollock ed.), Courageous Conversations About Race (G. Singleton), For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood (C. Emdin), and Designing Groupwork (Cohen/Lotan)
How do you recharge?
Good conversations on twitter, quilting or reading
What’s your sleep routine like?
I try (during the school year) to have lights out by 10:30 (I get up at 5:20), but it’s hard to say goodnight to the world!
I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions:
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“You do you.” from Anne Schwartz
“Live your life, every day.” from my wonderful doctor