I conducted an interview to better get to know my mentor teacher. Here is a synopsis of her responses:
How long have you been teaching math? At Petaluma High School or elsewhere…?
My mentor teacher has been teaching math for eight years. She taught for two years in Gilroy, California, 3 years in Pasadena, California, and 3 years in Petaluma, California. She said that each school had completely different demographics that she would have to adjust her teaching methods and pedagogical approaches accordingly. She has taught a wide range of math classes including Algebra A/B, Algebra 1, Geometry, Honors Geometry, Algebra II, Calculus, Math 1, and Math3. She has taught in schools that use the traditional chronology of math classes (Algebra I, then Geometry, then Algebra II, then Trigonometry or Calculus) as well as the new integrated chronology of math classes (Math 1, Math 2, Math 3, then Statistics, Trig or Calculus).
What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned during your first year of teaching?
The most valuable lesson she learned during her first year of teaching is that if something is not working do not be afraid to completely abandon it and try something new the next day. This can include new classroom rules, new ways of explaining a concept, new disciplinary actions, new seats. If something is not working do not keep trying it because it will most likely do more harm than good.
How were your experiences when you were younger in your math classes and did it influence your teaching?
When she was in school, math seemed to always come easy to her; however, she did have the understanding that everyone learns at different paces. She enjoyed helping other students in her classes better understand the concepts and was good at explaining things in ways that others could understand. Sometimes, she did not understand certain concepts when she was in class and had to work on them at home on her own until she could completely understand them. She also did not learn well from being lectured at, she is much more of a hands-on person and would have to work through the math before she could fully understand it. As a result, she lets students turn in classwork the next day to give them more time working through the concepts. She also does not do a lot of lecture which she likes to describe as the I do, then you do style. Instead, she structures her classroom so that her students start working on problems and then they come back together as a class and discuss/work through them. This allows them to discover the mathematical ideas on her own and then have their findings solidified and verified by the teacher, which is more of a you do, we do, then I do method.
How do you begin conversations with parents? Are there any mistakes with parents that you have made?
She would advise to always be short and direct when it comes to talking to parents. Simply let them know what is happening. Once a parent responds or contacts you via email make sure to respond within 24 hours. She will always send a progress report to the parents after an exam including the class average on the test, so parents will know where their children are at. Another piece of advice she gave me is to not be afraid of bringing in department chairs or administrators into parent meetings. It is especially helpful if you are a younger or newer teacher to have department chairs or administrators there during meetings. She also advises to offer parents an in-person meeting when they seem irate over email. They are more likely to send a nasty email than say those things in person. A mistake she made with parents was marking a 0 on a progress report which means off task behavior instead of O for outstanding for all of her A students. She got a lot of angry emails from parents and even the A students’ attitudes changed toward her. She had to change their progress reports and email all of the parents apologizing for her mistake.
What is the best lesson you ever taught? (Not necessarily math related.)
When she was teaching calculus to seniors, she had a Fun Fact Friday every week. Every Friday, she would give them a little lesson on something they should know before going to college of just things to learn to be successful in everyday life as an adult. She would do small lessons on doing laundry, credit cards, finances, cooking, etc. Her students loved it and it provided them an opportunity to learn life skills that they do not get a chance to learn in school.
What are some of your classroom rules?
The main classroom rule that she has for her students is that they respect each other, respect themselves, and respect their teacher. Other than that, she is very strict on cheating and whenever students leave class they owe her the number of minutes they were gone. She does not have too many strict rules because she wants to teach students to be responsible for themselves, which is an important life skill.
How many students are designated ELLs, what are their level-designations in the ELD program, and how are you modifying the curriculum to meet their specific needs?
Of her 31 students in her period 4 (Math 2) class, four are designated ELLs, of 26 students in her period 5 (Math 2) class, seven are ELLs, and of 31 in her period 6 (Math 3) class one of them is an ELL student. So, in total she has 12 designated ELL students. Emerging level ELLs will test with a bilingual translator in another room. She will also seat bilingual students next to Spanish speaking students so that they can communicate. She will not put high level bilingual students next to lower level students because they will work too far ahead and may hinder the student more than help, so instead she puts a mid-level ELL student with an emerging level ELL student. She also makes sure to come over to them during group work so that they can get some one on one time with them. She lets them also write in their native language and the Spanish speakers get a Spanish version of their eBook. Some of the bilingual students have outside support classes and their ESL teacher luckily has really good math skills.
How many students have an IEP and how are you meeting their requirements for accommodations/course modifications?
Of her 31 students in her period 4 (Math 2) class, eight have an IEP, of 26 students in her period 5 (Math 2) class, one has an IEP, and of 31 in her period 6 (Math 3) class one of them has an IEP. So, in total she has 10 students with an IEP. In order to keep track of all the accommodations she has to make, she has a spreadsheet that details every students’ needs in the class in which she will add notes on them throughout the year. She also, meets with the student in the first month of school to make sure everything on the IEP is what they need and if there is anything else she needs to know about them and their needs.
How many students have a 504 and how are you meeting their requirements for accommodations/course modifications?
Of her 31 students in her period 4 (Math 2) class, two have a 504 plan, of 26 students in her period 5 (Math 2) class, one has a 504 plan, and of 31 in her period 6 (Math 3) class one of them has a 504 plan. So, in total she has 4 students with a 504 plan. She does the same thing with these students as she does with her IEP students. She has a spreadsheet that organizes all their needs that she can also add notes on throughout the year and she meets with these students to see if there is anything else she needs to know that may not be outlined in their 504 plans.
How do you handle student behavioral problems? Does it vary?
When a student is not behaving in class after multiple warnings to calm down she sends them out to go on a walk and get water and calm down. She will sometimes change their seats if a seating arrangement is resulting in too much side conversation. She tries to talk to the students one on one, but if it continues to escalate she will email the parents. She will then acknowledge a change in behavior if they have been behaving nicely the next week. She does admit that sometimes she focuses too much on the negatives and not enough of the positives and needs to have more of a balance. She used to give late passes as a motivator to students, but she stopped when one student stole them all. She also gives amnesty days for good behavior and when time allows which is a day where students can do any assignment they did not turn in for full credit and if they have turned in all their assignments they can do extra credit work. She also makes a point to acknowledge when a student does well on tests or homework or has made any major improvement to their grade in the class.