Taking Stock

I spent 5 hours today cleaning out my desk, going through files, recycling mountains of paper. In concrete terms, it means school is over. Graduation is tomorrow. And then: I’m on summer vacation [1]. So now a bit of a brain dump as I take stock.

I’ve found this year to be an important transition point:

For the first time, I taught ninth graders, and for the first time, I taught geometry. And in order to do that, I worked an insane number of hours with my partner-in-crime and co-teacher BK in order to write an entire curriculum from scratch, from head to toe. Yup, you read that right. We — in essence — wrote a textbook. We sequenced the course, we wrote materials and designed activities for the course, and we had kids do all the heavy lifting. There are particular moments as a teacher which standout as “big moments.” Moments where we know we’ve developed immensely as a teacher. Transitioning from individual and partner work into total groupwork was one of those moments. Converting my non-AP calculus course into a standards based grading course was one of those moments. And writing a curriculum from scratch, in a single year, with an insanely thoughtful collaborator was the most recent of those moments [2].

The previous two years (before this school year) were two of the hardest years I’ve had as a teacher. We teachers were called on to do a lot in the wake of our school’s five year strategic plan — and it became overwhelming. I had no work-life balance. And  I became a bit curmudgeonly because of those tough years. But this year, things have been better. I still have no work-life balance, but the overwhelming onslaught of initiatives have subsided. One of the things I did to actively try to stay positive this year was to write down every single day one good thing that happened to me — big or small. From the first day of classes to the last. And those things are archived here. This was especially important because at the start of the school year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer (she is doing very well, fyi, no worries).

That being said, I am going to make a goal: that next year, I am going to just let the things that I can’t control go… There’s no point in getting worked up over something that you can’t do anything about. Instead, I’m going to stay loose, and bring back my frivolity and humor, and go off the beaten path in class more. While organizing today, I was looking through a number of old emails and cards from students, and saw so many inside jokes and fun times that they references… and then I thought about this year… and I came up blank. I couldn’t think of a time that I doubled over laughing in class. I couldn’t think of an ongoing joke that I had with a student. I could think of great lessons and a ha moments, but nothing frivolous and fun. So my vow is to make sure that next year involves more joy and laughter. For me, and for my studentsEvery day.

Wow, yes, this braindump led me to something big. With that, I’m out.

[1] That doesn’t mean I’m done with school. I have lucky 13 college recommendations to write. And two summer projects that each will take 25 hours each to complete (revise my multivariable calculus curriculum; plan for our new schedule next year with longer blocks).

[2] I’ve written entire course curricula before. Calculus, for example. But that took a few years to write and get added to. And Adv. Precalculus, which I did in a single year, but lacked the collaboration and innovation that I was able to do this year with BK.



  1. You were busy! I’ll be in New York City this summer. I’d love to meet you face to face and chat. I started using standards based grading and would love to brainstorm with you. Thank you for sharing your reflection.

    1. That sounds like fun. I’ll be around until mid-July and then I’m going out of town. Either email me or if you don’t have my email, send me a message with the “contact me” box above and I’ll email you back (I don’t like to publish my email on the web!).

  2. Sam, your post has left me a little teary. Maybe because I totally relate to the loss of work life balance in the face of taking on challenges. Maybe because I wrote a new course (would have LOVED a collaborator). Maybe because there is at least one good thing that happens every day- a child working independently, the lovely sound of a-ha from your class. (Just introduced Pascal’s triangle this week and got a bunch of them!). Or maybe because I still have 2 weeks and a Calc 3 exam to go! But I love your vow to yourself, and can’t wait to make a similar one of my own on June 26. Kudos, dear!

  3. I have really enjoyed your sharing a this year. I am going from Alg II back to Alg I and geometry (my favorite!) and I would love it if you would be willing to share your geom curriculum. I am looking forward to using many of the introductions you use, and my goal is a student led class structure. Both the 9th and 10th graders will need lots of support in the how, at least in the beginning, but I fully expect them to take to it. I used 20 time during the last three weeks of school to keep them interested in their own learning, and to see how it will work as I build it into this coming year’s activities. The creativity and joy – and confidence! – makes me really excited for next year. I always look forward to your blogs. Have a great summer (and I didn’t notice any “curmudgeonly” moments!).

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