CUPCAKES! ALGEBRA II! BEST ACTIVITY EVAR!!!

Now that I have gotten your attention, I’m sorry. I don’t have the best activity ever for an Algebra II class that involves cupcakes. But fine, you want cupcakes. Here.

cupcakes

Now for the reason why I lieeeed to you. You know it’s gotta be big, and important. It’s this. I need you to read this, and take a moment, and actually consider it.

We have a math department chair opening at my school, and you or someone you know might be the person who would be perfect for it.

So I have a lot to say. I should probably note at the top that everything I’m saying is my own opinion, and this post doesn’t come from my school or my department. Just me. Now to the other stuff… I am not someone who wants to go into administration. And my colleagues also love being in the classroom full time. We tend to love our little classroom universes, and even though we engage in the bigger picture of the curriculum-at-large, our primary interest is being intellectually stimulated by classroom teaching. So we want to find someone from the outside who can see the bigger picture and wants to shepherd a bunch of thoughtful and awesome-face teachers as we push forward into our next step.

If this even remotely sounds like something you’ve been toying around with, keep on reading.

For some background. I teach at Packer, a fantastic independent school in Brooklyn Heights, New York City. The school is a Pre-K through 12 school. There are so many wonderful things about my school, I don’t know which to list. It is not religiously affiliated, but we are housed in an old church — and there is a chapel where we have meetings, and this chapel has beautiful stained glassed windows. The architecture is Hogwartian. There are about 80 to 90 kids per grade, and class sizes tend to be around 12 to 16 (though sometimes things go under or over). The school underwent a comprehensive renovation of the “Science Wing” and this summer it is going to renovate many of the Upper School (high school) classroom. The kids all have laptops, and all the rooms currently have SmartBoards, but next year they will be upgraded to Sharp LCD boards (and some will have ENO boards). When it comes to teachers being able to get “things” they need to teach, we do. Similarly, I have never been turned down for any professional development opportunity I wanted to pursue, and have always been fully funded. There is a commitment to teachers on that front.

The school is in the middle of an ambitious 5 year strategic plan, which includes a special component involving math and science excellence.  For me, the most exciting thing about the strategic plan is that teachers are thinking more and more about the importance of the process of acquiring knowledge. For me, that’s exciting because I have been wanting to move towards a more “how do we do math?” approach rather than “here, let me show you how to do math, now do some problems.”

Now to speak specifically about the math department, and why I think it’s worth considering. The math department head is in charge of math in grades 5 through 12 (middle school is 5-8, upper school is 9-12). That would mean being the head of 13 or so teachers.

We’re a really well-functioning department, where everyone gets along and are friends with each other. When we’re feeling wonky, I might be in the office with TeacherX , and we’ll close the door, put on the Sound of Music, and we’ll spin around in our chairs. (Because we both love the Sound of Music.) And every single time anyone is going to the photocopier, they ask if anyone else in the office needs something copied. And we all buy diet coke and chocolate share it with each other. We do site visits to other schools to see what they are doing. And teachers of the same class meet regularly. We share materials all the time. We pose puzzles to each other. And we bounce ideas off of each other.

What I’m trying to say is: that would be a concern of mine… coming to a new school and not knowing how the department is. I can say that we is aweeeesome.

I personally see us at a crossroads, and one where someone could come in and do some great work to take us to our next step.

We’ve come a long way in coming up with a solid and coherent curriculum. We have been trying to push our curriculum to get students to articulate their reasoning more… We have made “writing in the math classroom” a goal of ours for the past two years. And although we’re all very busy, we have made a goal to visit each others’s classes a number of times (I think 8?) before the school year ends. (That reminds me… I need to try to a few observations soon!) And we’re now in the process of thinking: how do we get problem-based learning in our classrooms?

And this is the crossroads we’re at. How do we bring our teaching, and our curriculum, to the next level? (I think this is a question the whole school is asking, because of the strategic initiative.) For me, that means learning to focus on letting go more, and developing curricular materials which continue to push students to focus on the fundamental ideas and less on procedures. It means getting kids to do the heavy lifting. It means trying to deconstruct a curriculum so I can figure out what the essential mathematical idea is, and then find ways to really bring that to the forefront. That’s all for me. Different teachers are at different places in their career and have other ideas on what they need to do to get to the next level. But the takeaway for you is that we’re interested in the craft of teaching, and looking to forge forward as a department.

That isn’t to say that everything is all roses all the time. What place is? And better yet, what place filled with teenagers is?

But it’s a place which I’ve been happy and proud to call home since I’ve started teaching. (It is suppose it’s actually a second home to me, since I spend so much time here!) The school took a chance on me — a young kid with only student teaching experience — and gave me a place to grow professionally. I was allowed to experiment with standards based grading (this is my third year doing it in calculus). I felt like I needed to switch one of my courses last year because I was feeling stale with it, and just plain tired, and that happened. I asked for funding to go to multi-day out-of-state conferences and I have always been approved.

The school is going through changes, as we work towards the strategic plan. And I think our department can, with someone with passion and vision and a strong work ethic, help us take our work to the next level!

Our department head is leaving because of reasons unrelated to her job here. And this timing of this is — at least for independent schools — late in the game. That is why I want to reach out to you guys. A perfect audience of math teachers! If you can see yourself or someone you know in a place like this, working with meeeee!, get into gear and apply!

We want someone awesome, and I’m 200% sure that the teachers in the department will do everything we can to support whoever we hire in their new role. You won’t be walking in alone, but rather with the support of everyone in the department who wants you to succeed, and will do everything we can to make that happen. We are a department and we look out for our own.

Because of the lateness in the hiring season, please please please don’t wait a few days before getting around to it. It is (in my opinion) a one-in-a-career opportunity, but the window is not going to be open for long. We are going to be working on this hire ASAP. 

The job posting and instructions about sending your information are here.

 

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