Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Teaching Battle: 10 Things

This will be a post about 10 Good Things I'm doing as a teacher! But first, time for backstory!

Begin at the beginning, go until you come to the end. Then stop.

Last week, Mattie B (@stoodle) posted about Exorcising Teacher Demons. I read it, I nodded in complete understanding (it reminded me a bit of my less eloquent post Yi Can't Even), I tweeted at him, and I went about my day. Basically disregarding the "10 Things You're Doing Well This Year" portion of his post, because he seemed to have that well in hand. Also, that's what I do. I disregard positive things. Possibly because I don't want to get too happy lest depression will feel like a bigger crash, possibly because I have trouble believing things about myself... I dunno, I'm seeing a counsellor right now. Anyway.

Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) seized on that part of his post. She created her own list and hashtag for the idea. Which Tina Cardone (@crstn85) grabbed as a matheme. And then Jon Orr (@MrOrr_geek) started tagging people. Interesting, I thought. Maybe I'll keep a partial eye on this. Which is actually a big deal, as the "One Good Thing" blog is REALLY not something I'm into.

I think it was Andrew Gael (@bkdidact) that finally spurred me into action with his 10 Good Things He's Learned. From other people. It occurred to me that if other people have been saying good things about me at work, and I'm dismissive of it - that's rather rude. So okay. Let's do this.

My way.

Ten Good Things I'm Doing - along with the Reasons I'm Dismissive Of The Things - and Why That's Not Helpful. (Did I mention I was seeing a counsellor?)

All that said, I recommend not reading if: (1) You aren't the sort of person to see the bad in good things, because I don't want to put terrible ideas in your head; or (2) You're the type of person who gets annoyed when a talented person talks about how they lack talent. Because yes, I am liked and have a lot going for me, but I'm not convinced that actually makes me a good teacher. One who actually prompts learning. Still here? Okay then.

10. I am hella organized.

Most of my colleagues say I have great binders for courses. And while I do tend to lose things within an enclosed space, it is enclosed, and it turns up on the bottom of the stack eventually. Except this year I've been worse at that. Even a test went missing somehow. But I have more material and students to coordinate now, I'm getting older, and it's anomalies, not the norm.

9. I help with some student events.

Either supervising, or lending desks... I even got a 'thank you' card from student council. It had some math in it. Except I've been having to scale back this year, plus I'm just there, I don't really do anything. But being there is enough, and you're allowed to have a life outside school too.

8. I'm approachable for things.

"What are these 'emotions' you speak of?"
Students approach me for help with events. Today, the broadcasting students filmed a "live studio audience" in my classroom. Occasionally a student has even come to me with personal concerns. Except sometimes I have to turn people down! And I don't know how to handle emotions and stuff like that! I'm so much better with the organization and things! So I don't know that this is "good" at all!! But I seem to be handling it and haven't destroyed anyone's life yet.

7. I manage the anime club.

Both students and teachers have thanked me for this, the club having being called "the best ever" on a few occasions. Except I don't "manage", I only provide the space, supervision, and occasional old school anime. I didn't even start the club, just inherited it. But I have done things in the past, and even if I don't do much now, what I do is obviously enough.

6. I offer excessive extra help.

A teacher told me the other day that I was name dropped as someone who makes themselves available for math help at lunch and after school. Constantly. Except I just like talking math and it's setting a bit of a bad precedent, isn't it? People have to fend for themselves too. But not all the teaching can take place during classroom time.

5. I know the mathematics well.

Pictured: Research?
I mostly have my web serial research and twitter observations to thank for this, but also students themselves who've seen it in different ways. Which means I can, in theory, come up with good questions. Except when it comes to calculus and more math I've forgotten, plus there's a gap in Grade 10 which I haven't taught, and I struggle with Level 4 stuff. But I have colleagues to turn to for this if/as necessary.

4. I was asked to go on a trip to Edinburgh.

By a colleague - this was a school trip, with teenagers, in August, for theatre. Did I mention I like theatre? I was the only one on this trip without a son/daughter there. My guild named themselves the "Perfect Circles". Except I was out of my depth, really had no clue, no experience. But now I do.

3. I get personal thanks from former students.

Generally in the form of "thanks for passing me" (or "for giving me 75"), to which I always respond "you passed yourself, I don't do freebies". Though a couple months ago, a student came back with "you still helped, I liked the songs". I didn't have a counter to that one. Except... actually, no except here, still a bit floored.

2. I got a post-high-school email.

That was new this past year. It was a student I taught in Grade 11. She had a math question related to a review evaluation at her post-secondary institution. So, I helped, she thanked me, and she also said don't stop doing the songs. ... Another one I'm forced(?) to put in the "win" column.

1. I had half a high school singing a math song. Twice.

My third annual parody presentation at the holiday assembly last month had more audience participation than I ever expected - I didn't figure on matching the previous year. More than one person said they hope the video version gets thousands of hits. Except it has less than 20. But that doesn't mean it's bad, just that it works better locally or in person. Or for a fleeting moment in time. Which is probably what I want anyway, because I dislike being in the spotlight. Except if it's fleeting, it is still accomplishing what I want? Is it like my web serial, a curiosity, the message buried by the messenger, who is up there raving like a madman with a box plot? The content ultimately forgotten? Because that's not what I want. I want it to be more. I want it to be about the mathematics, not about me.

Got a long list of past students. They'll tell you I'm insane. 'Cause you know they loved the singing -- but that's not my aim.

I suppose the aim of this post was 10 Things though, and I've accomplished that! You may want to consider doing it yourself - though perhaps with a bit less of the self-doubt. As they say, and as I may at one point believe: "You got this."

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Delayed Gratification

As I sit here, staring at the non-existent hit counts on my weekly serial, it occurs to me just how much writing and teaching have in common. I have no idea which of those two categories you fit into, if either, so go with me here as I explain both. Do tell me if I'm full of it.


How many times does one throw blog links out on social media before one figures it's futile, no one's listening to you? Comparatively, how many times does one repeat a concept in class before figuring it's futile, no one's following you?

For me, the number is probably three.

In writing my serial, two tweets on Sunday, and one on Monday... maybe another on Tuesday if I'm desperate. (For Facebook, one post, then a couple reminders. Parody videos, same treatment.) If THAT doesn't get you to read... well, then I'm not as interesting or important as other stuff in your life that week, so fine.

In teaching mathematics, a couple times on a concept the first day, a follow up the next day... and maybe hit it harder during review if it's a key item. If THAT doesn't make it click... well, the exam panic might, so cramming. But that's not learning any more than binge reading an archive is the same as tuning in every week.

Every week, I'm teaching. Every week, I'm writing. To what end? Are people getting anything out of it?

Team 'Yes': There's always about 10% who are right there with you, saying you're making them think, questioning the plot logic or the mathematics. In the writing, I do get a tweet every few weeks, maybe a comment every couple months. (I need to acknowledge that to myself.) In the teaching, I seem to do better in terms of responses - along the lines of "I enjoyed that" - but the feedback is more immediate by definition.

Team 'No': There's always about 10% who will never really be with you. They look at the serial and say "What's the point of this?" and never return. Or at the mathematics and say "I don't understand" and you may not be able to explain it differently. (By the way, I maintain that it's not that a student can't do the math, they simply may not be able to do it in the time frame needed.) Again, I see more of this in the teaching... where it's a bit more of an issue because they're stuck with you.


Regrettably, this leaves up to 80% of friends/followers/students where you don't KNOW if you're making an impression. Or at least, you don't know within the first day/month/year of having presented something. For my writing, this has led to MANY posts, among them:
-If You Build It... So What
-The Pass in Passion
-Why Do You Blog?
-Why I Post
-Being The Outlier
-On Building An Audience
-Writing At The Intersection
-On Seeking Validation

(Yes, I whine a lot when I feel my passions are micro invalidated.) But then, just like writing, one doesn't necessarily know if one is making an impression when teaching either. One may not know until the student graduates. One may never know. Because in our age of "instant gratification", teaching - and writing - is very much a story of delayed gratification.

At the end of the day, I won't have the satisfaction of a working computer program, or a functional garage door, or having played to a sold out crowd. I guess I'll have the satisfaction of this post, but that doesn't mean it's even going to be read by anyone until June! (At which point it may get 50 views. Seriously, my dead web serial is now getting more daily views than my ongoing one. What is even the hell.) Similarly, merely because I teach something today, doesn't mean it's going to be understood by others until June either.

So what's the incentive to keep going? It needs to be more than routine, right? It even needs to be more than the 10%, doesn't it?

I think it's the personal touches that help to bridge the gap. When you can interact on a more one-on-one basis with students - or readers. Which is (of course) where I completely fall down on the writing side, as I always figure saying "READ & VOTE PLS!" means I'm bothering people. Which is sort of reinforced by social media gurus who say not to constantly tweet out links to your stuff.

The funny thing is, some students apologize for bothering me with math questions... and I almost never feel bothered. I like talking math, and I like even more if it helps them to understand something. So I'm not sure why I can't get past that mental block when the situation is reversed. (Maybe because I really am bothering? I mean, no one's forced you to sign up for my serials. Am I actually in anyone's reader out there??)

Oh well. As I say, this simply felt like an interesting link between writing and teaching. Patience, as always, is a virtue. And since I only have 5 views and 1 vote for the weekly web serial, there wasn't much point writing THAT tonight, so you got this instead. Thanks for reading, feel free to take me to task in the comments.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Four Webpages, One Post

I'm seeing a bunch of people wrapping up 2014 with a post summarizing their stats. That sort of thing tends to make me feel inadequate, as generally others seem to get more traffic, but possibly that's an illusion. So, what the heck, here's my statistics, reaching as far back into the past as I can. If my inadequacy is illusion, let me know, and if it's not, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're doing better than I am.

We can't all be right - or can we?

Of course, as the title says, I manage 4 webpages. Five if you include my personal page. Six if you include my course website. So let's break it down, starting with the oldest.


Google Site. Began: July 2011. Posts in 2014: 2.
Contained my math web serial until August 2012, by which point I'd migrated to the blog. Contained the index pages until personified math folded. Still houses my song parodies.
In the beginning, it updated twice every week for over a year. I don't recall why there was a spike (of 421) in Sept 2011. Bit of a spike in Sept 2013 too. Total of 617 sessions for all of 2014, and 3,719 sessions all time.


Blogger Site. Began: June 2012. Posts in 2014: 22.
Continued my math web serial until May 2014, when I ended it.
In the beginning, it updated twice every week. In 2014, it scaled back to once per week, until it ended. The peak was in November 2013 (1,264 views). October 2014 spiked up with more views than January 2014 for no reason I can fathom. All time total of 20,042 page views. (With 160 total posts, an average of 125 per post, but many of the between-arc posts skew that.)


Blogger Site. Began: August 2012. Posts in 2014: 56.
It's been reinvented a few times, but there's never been a month without a posting.
The peak in January 2014 (over 5,000) is artificial, that's when I went through and updated all my tags, and for whatever reason (bots?) they counted as hits. July 2014 is the real high mark, at 4,005 page views, when I had 18 posts. What baffles me is no month for 2014 was below 2,250 views - even if I had only one post that month. If only my web serial had been so lucky. All time total of 55,465 page views. (With 174 total posts - not including this one - that's 319 per post... which is weird, since aside from CMEF at 611 and TrigGate at 417, everything else is below 340.)


Wordpress Site. Began: August 2014. Posts in 2014: 24.
My new web serial, not math related. Has updated once every week without fail (except over Christmas).
There were 499 views before January, over the four months it existed. So there's a while to go yet.

I suppose there's enough evidence to say that my mathematics web serial wasn't as much of a failure as I thought, given how it's still getting some hits. Even so, the lack of engagement was enough to make me move on at the time. I'm also sure I'm misinterpreting some of the data; Facebook also tends to taunt me with messages like the following every few months, despite the Math-Tans page having only 18 likes:

Anyway, if you're doing better than me on stats, pat yourself on the back. If you're not doing better than me, perhaps it's an issue of volume. If it's not that - keep at it, we all had to start somewhere.