Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sweet Movember

This November, I will be raising money for prostate cancer research by participating in the global movement known as "Movember."

Movember began in Australia, where a group of men grew out moustaches (mo's) for charity. Today, Movember marks a month long commitment for men to grow out a moustache (no beards allowed). Supported by women and other men, the point is to seek out sponsorship and raise as much money as possible to support prostate and testicular cancer research. It's like walking for charity, without the walking.

I've already registered online and started my own team: it's pretty damn cool. Several friends and colleagues have joined. It's going to be super interesting teaching in my school, where most of the male staff will look like 1970s porn stars by mid-November.

Who wants a moustache ride?
Supporting a good movement always gets me excited, but what really blew my mind was that my campaign has garnered my male students' interests. In fact, some of my team members are current and former students from my school. That fucking rocks! Here they are, at an age where they can be so self-conscious about themselves, yet we have a group of male students who said, "Fuck it, I won't shave for a month." I'm thinking part of it has to do with the fact that many of these guys really do admire the staff at my school, and if they can participate in something we're all participating in, then why the hell not? Awesome. Simply awesome.

Unfortunately, in order to remain somewhat anonymous on the blog, I can't share my team's campaign page with you. However, if you are friends with me on Facebook or Google+, you can find a link there. If you'd really like to show your support, you can make a general donation on the official Movember website.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't Hate the Player

I received the following e-mail tonight:
from: Keenan Joseph (
to: Yo Mista! (
date: Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 9:02 PM (58 minutes ago)
subject: Assessment
Hey, I forgot to hand in the quiz from earlier but I have it completed. Can I hand it in to you first thing tomorrow morning? I don't want a 0 to jeopardize my overall grade for the class.
Such initiative. This is the kind of feel-good-shit that makes a teacher at a transfer high school feel great.

Unfortunately, I think I'm growing a little jaded. I've seen so much of this honeymoon motivation over the past two years, that it's become predictable. Clearly, Keenan is a new student at my school, who probably came here to be different. To get away from his friends who acted as a distraction. To stop feeling so pressured to chill out without focusing on school. To graduate. On time or about time.

In the coming weeks, Keenan will most certainly continue to dominate my Algebra class. But then what? Will he, like the majority of our transfer school students, fall back into his old ways? Will he refuse to come to school just because it's raining or cold outside? Will he need to be bribed to come to school in January by free breakfast or movie tickets? Will I get a contact high off him because he reeks of weed on the day of the Regents Exam?

Or will Keenan truly be different by coming in everyday and doing what is expected of him? Will he dominate his Regents Exams and pass all of his classes for the year? Will he be one of the few who gets active support from me throughout the college application process?

Only time will tell. I hate this game.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Math Club

I teach the last period of the school day this trimester, and surprisingly, it's quite fun. I think it's because of the particular mix of students I have in the class. I have taught many of these students before; they simply need the class for a credit they're missing. Even though it's seventh period, some of them actually show up on a consistent basis. They're also big personalities, which I like and work off of well.

Today, I taught graphing multiple equations on a coordinate plane. Mid-lesson, I put up a problem on the SMARTBoard and asked the class to graph the lines. Leo and George immediately raised their hands:
Leo: "Can I do this problem on the board, Mista?"

Me: "Sure Leo, why don't you wait two minutes to let everyone else copy the problem down? Then you can step on up to the plate."

George: "Mista! He just did the last one! I swear to God Leo, if you get this wrong, you're out of the math club. Like, completely banned. Don't fuck this up."

Leo: "Shut the fuck up, bitch. I'll smack you. I AM the math club."

George: "Just saying. No pressure."
Leo then proceeded to graph the solution on the SMARTBoard. All the while, George kept making creepy sounds in the background to mess him up. The rest of the class was working hard on graphing their own lines.

Unfortunately, Leo made a simple error in his graph: he forgot the slope of the line was negative. Both of the lines he graphed ran positive and did not intersect.
George: "Oh. My. God. You did it wrong! Dude! You're out. Sorry, you're just out. The slope is negative. I am sad that you are Dominican like me. You're an idiot."
Leo: "Says you, I got a 98% in the class, dick! What do you got? A 93%? Yeah, you can blow mines."
It's hard to believe that this is the language they're using when discussing mathematics. But honestly, I'll take it. This really is what makes it all worth it.

By the way, there is no math club. It's just these students in my seventh period class who claim to be in it because they're so "good" at math.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Methodical, Miserable Mista

I have a process when it comes to my job. When this process is executed to perfection, life is smooth. I get time to think about how the day went and how the lesson worked. Or how it didn't work. I'm not always perfect. But I like being close.

My lesson PowerPoints are pre-uploaded to my school's e-mail from my Macbook Pro the evening before. The next morning, I arrive to school early and download them onto the Dell piece-of-shit-desktop computer connected to the SMARTBoard. In mere seconds, my lessons are open, ready and waiting to be presented.

Quizzes and homework assignments are pre-downloaded to a USB thumb drive (also the evening before), which I simply plug into the Xerox printer in the main office and print. I always print five additional copies of whatever I need as I have learned from the past that having more copies of material is always a good thing. I don't lose things, but I guess students do. Humans.

All quizzes and homework assignments are graded before I leave for the day, with grades uploaded into a spreadsheet I created that utilizes conditional formatting to colorfully detail how students performed (green = good). My student aides change the date to tomorrow's date on the chalkboard once they're done entering the grades into my spreadsheet. I write the next day's topics on the white-erase board before I leave.

This is pretty efficient when I'm operating at 100% health. I usually am. However, the following things happened today:
  1. I forgot to upload the lessons I had worked on the night before. Luckily, I had my lessons from last year saved on my desktop, but all the lovely tweaks I had made the night before were gone.
  2. I left my USB thumb drive in the printer and walked off with my copies. Luckily, a colleague found the drive and gave it back to me.
  3. I locked myself out of my own room. Twice.
  4. I made a mistake in a math lesson while modeling how to simplify a specific type of problem involving exponents. I actually forgot to use the order of operations in a problem. Luckily, a student pointed out my error. A student who barely comes to class.
I could tell I was getting sick because things were suddenly not falling into place. Yesterday, my throat felt scratchy after lunch. I tried to remedy this with cough drops, orange juice, sleep, and more orange juice.

I guess I'm getting worse, and I feel helpless.

Falling sick always shocks me, as I am rarely sick. I was never absent in high school. The last time I actually missed a school day due to sickness was in the seventh grade: I missed three school days which ultimately led to my first and only "B" in middle school. It was sewing class and never did learn the art of applying my foot gently on the sewing machine pedal. Because of this "B" in middle school, I was salutatorian instead of valedictorian. Because of sewing class. No, because I was sick. No, it was because my sewing teacher was a nut job with no sympathy for hard-working students overcome with illness. Completely crazy.
Says I, the nut job who was never absent in high school and who just wrote an entire post about his control issues. Touche, conscience. Touche.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2 Students, 1 Ruler

In fifth period Algebra yesterday, we wrapped up ratios and proportions with an in-class activity exploring the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio. This was one of those lessons where I thought my students would actually learn something useful, as neither the Fibonacci numbers nor the golden ratio are actually on the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam. This makes me a terrible teacher because I am not training my students to be test-takers. Obvi.

I thought it'd be cool to show my students how the golden ratio is utilized in architecture, art, design, nature, etc. I highlighted how cosmetic surgeons often use a facial mask with proportions based off the golden ratio for their patients. Basically, I was setting them up to understand that proportions based off the golden ratio appear to be more pleasing to the human eye.

Then the activity: I would partner students up and give each pair a ruler to measure each others' faces, hands, arms, feet, and legs. They then divide the appropriate measurements to arrive at their own respective ratios. For example, they measure the length of a hand (middle finger to palm) and then measure the length of an arm (wrist to elbow). Divide the arm length by the hand length and tada, we have a ratio!

The goal was to get the kids to understand how "weirdly" enough, most of these measured ratios would be close to the golden ratio. As I passed out plastic twelve-inch rulers, one of my female students looked at me extremely worried:
"Mista, I don't know how to use one of these! Do you start from 1 or 0?!"
This question shocked me. I quickly discovered my usual quick-witted response mechanism appeared to be vacationing in the Bahamas. So, I took the ignore approach and hoped she was merely pretending to not understand. Ask your partner, dammit.

About a half-hour later, there was a pair of girls who appeared to be done. I approached.
"You guys look done, nice work. What did you learn?" I asked.
"Mista, according to this, my partner's numbers be closer to the golden ratio than mine. This means I'm ugly, don't it? First it's my mom and now it's this worksheet. That's some bullshit!"
Uh... Whoops.