CSET Series: Math III and OpenCourseWare

I have a personal problem where when something difficult peers over my life’s horizon, I go into denial and procrastination mode.

Leetle by leetle, I’m doing better… mainly because honestly? It makes my God happy when I try my best.

Last month, I spent one week feverishly cramming for the first of three math CSET exams (In CA, you need to take 3 subtests to earn a math teaching credential… although I don’t know why I have to get one since my multiple subject cred technically covers up through 8th grade and I doubt any 8th grader will be learning calculus no matter what’s in Common Core…).

I felt pretty despondent about it because I honestly knew very little.  No, I’m not being modest. At one point I wrote in the free response section, “Hello, I plan to teach in urban Oakland where there are very little qualified math teachers.  As you can see, I’m a creative problem solver and I am great at explaining my thinking. Please be gentle.”  Or something along those lines – basically appealing to their pathos.

Now in two weeks, I have the third subtest (CSET III for trig and calc).  Two days after, I’ll have the second subtest.  I just don’t have time to do them any time else.. although now that I think about it, if I don’t pass, I might as well have just scheduled these for later.  (20/20 hindsight).

To add to all this unmotivation is the fact that trigonometry kicked my BUTT in high school and although I loved calc, I can’t say I really remember any of it.  (Truly, a 5 on an AP Calc exam doesn’t really work 10 years later..).

BuuUUuuUUuuut…just now, I figured out the cosine of 5pi/4 by drawing a picture .. so now I feel a leeeetle better about my prospects.

I’m using Khan Academy, Barron’s AP Calc book and UCI’s Open Courseware to prep math teachers for the CSETs.  I’ll let you know which worked out the best for me later.

If you know of any other resources, let me know!

Example diagnostic problem from UCI's OCW CSET Test prep!

Example diagnostic problem from UCI’s OCW CSET Test prep!


Voice and choice.

Voice and choice.

That’s what everyone outside of the classroom is talking about. Students need more voice and choice. Voice and choice feeds into high interest which in turn fosters student learning.

After a year of being inspired, prodded, guided, and pointed in this direction, I have a few thoughts.. especially after a particularly dispiriting day.

1) If kids don’t have basics by a certain age (aka fluent reading skills), that should be a time where heavy interventions happen WITHOUT voice/choice. Choices should be made FOR them until they demonstrate the skills to be able to utilize their voice/choice.

2) If classrooms are expected to allow more voice/choice in ways that are systems-driven (without teacher input), people implementing those systems should expect to support teachers in the classroom.  Basically, if there’s a high-needs student in my class, rather than offering me suggestions based on theory rather than practice, come INTO my classroom and COACH this kid or COACH ME in helping this kid.  It’s not support or help if every time I send a kid for help (after trying a bunch of things and detailing out the events to you demonstrating that I gave plenty of chances and opportunities), you message to the child that they need to “ask for more breaks”, and tell all the teachers to help students “better exercise their choices”, then umm, YOU do it.

3) 21st century learners need academic skills first. ’nuff said.  If not that, then humility, teachability, and perseverance.  If not that, then we need more people to support the teacher.  Otherwise, what message are we sending to the kids?  As long as you’re not behaviorally disruptive, you’re fine?  Just cancel homework?  I have kids who get their ish done despite coming from dysfunctional homes.  Our homework is NOT hard.  All the kids do after school is play on their stupid phones.  What the heck. If they don’t know how to wisely use phones, why give them “voice/choice” over them?  If YOU’RE not willing to coach them on proper use, then don’t make others provide it.  Or if you just want to give them voice/choice, then fine. But in the end, again, what do we care about?

A Day in the life of a teacher on her day back from Spring Break

12:55 AM – Reluctantly go to bed after admitting that I can’t put off school by staying up late.

Have weird dreams throughout the night that I’m administering the CAASPP test. See IS and KA and feel happy to see them.

6:25 AM – Stumble out of bed and put on the same outfit as I wore to church the day before.  Blearily ask roommate to make extra coffee.

6:50 AM – Leave for school.

7:02 AM – Grumble inwardly that the side entrance isn’t open.. drive around the school to get to the other entrance.

7:04 AM – grab the crickets to feed the class pet, papers to return, and coffee and stumble into school.  See kids, but don’t say hi.

7:05 AM – Feed the cricket!

7:07 AM – Organize books for lit circles. Realize belatedly that there aren’t enough copies of two of the books after scouring the library and the closets.

7:20 AM – shoot out a desperate email asking if anyone has copies of Slam or Gathering Blue

7:25 AM – Realize belatedly that it’s standardized testing today and all the posters are still up.  Scramble to start covering up any posters with words and pull down student work.

7:25 AM – give up. Begin fiddling with the iPad to see if I can administer the test through the iPad.  Can’t.

7:35 AM – look at the testing schedule and realize your prep comes AFTER you see your first class.  Scramble to start printing out materials and prepping.  It’s also not a good time to realize that during spring break you spent so much time LT planning that you actually have nothing concrete for the first day.

8:10 AM – print out a Japan geography lesson, lit circle deliverables.. and realize your toner is low and the office still hasn’t ordered any extra.

8:12 AM – make copies.  Munch on a vegan blueberry muffin from Acme … all the good pastries got taken first and now there’s only bran and gluten-free options left

8:25 AM – Wait at the door. Enthusiastically greet kids.  I feel strangely ready since I DREAMT that I taught already!

8:30 AM – get into hectic-ity ASAP.  “Teaching” is a blur.  Happiness to see them turns stressful fast.  Immediately regretting not having planned this day better.

9:15 AM – Made a girl cry because she just got back from what I assumed was a long vacation but in actuality was an emergency death in the family.  She thought I was being mean, when really, I just felt extremely harried.  Am told all this by the kindly science teacher… who tactfully asks, “Did you have a rough break?”  I didn’t… so I feel worse that there’s no excuse for my grumpy combativeness to her suggestions of fixing things with the sad student soon.

9:25 AM – Try to figure out the rest of the plans for the extended class that I’m getting.  Getting ready because essentially, I’ll be with them from 10:15-3:30. Yeesh.  Do some other stuff – I don’t really remember what.

10:10 AM – It’s showtime!  Principal comes in to help administer.  Kids come in.  We start getting ready and the internet goes bonkers with 50 kids trying to access the secure testing site.

10:20 AM –  I realize I don’t know how to find the session code.

10:25 AM – Thankfully, I figure it out before the principal has to show me.

10:35 AM – all kids are “approved” and testing.  Unlike my testing experiences where I just tested and the teacher sat and graded, I take walks around the classroom, nonverbally reassuring kids with a touch on the shoulder or smiling when I catch a kid’s eye.

11:05 AM – I see a piece of wire from a mauled pen on AM’s desk. I pick it up to throw it away and start fiddling with it.  “It made me bleed,” AM warns.  I just shrug and right then, prick my finger pretty hard.  He muffles a laugh.  I put my finger in my thumb.  I throw away the wire.  I hope he has no diseases that can be transmitted through blood.  I suck on my thumb to suck out the poison.  I walk around the room with my thumb in my mouth. I feel stupid.

11:35 AM – testing fatigue / complacency is kicking in.  Some kids are on question 6 out of 44.  Principal warns students that they will have stay in through lunch to finish since we have another test tomorrow.  “Shaking your head’s not going to make it better.”  Students buckle down.  Begin eating my sweet potato because it looks like I won’t be getting a lunch break.

12:10 PM – Suddenly, half the kids who were super lagging are done already.  I know that they’ve thrown the test.  My heart sinks a bit but I also feel annoyed that these tests are so long.  Yet I also know that the kids in Palo Alto will probably joke about it and feel like testing week is super relaxing.

12:15 PM – Excuse some students to lunch.  Have others go down to get lunch and come upstairs.  Impressed by the perseverance of some.  Depressed by the cluelessness of others.  Kids are antsy now especially as the principal is not here. Also created a new seating chart because these kids kept asking for one.

1:00 PM – Study hall starts and most kids are done.  They don’t have much to do…  I do my best to hold down the fort.

1:30 PM – Send 4 kids down to the office to finish the test.  Begin teaching.  We cover SO much it’s crazy.  I don’t even know how we covered this much… I think it’s because everything was so crappy in the morning that I was able to revamp.  That’s one thing I like about myself – the ability to fix and improvise on the fly.  Changed seats, went over the spring break project, went over Lit circles, began Japanese geography… and a bada bing bang!


3:45 PM – talked with the interim Dean about a student.  (Oh yeah, sent a gal out because she was all grumpy about the seating and then refused to do work and kept saying snarky things about me and smirking. oh 8th grade).

4:00 PM – Went to school-wide planning meeting.  Discussed huge things.  The main theme = we have no money! We’re cutting this! BUUT we’re juggling so that we can keep THIS.  Alas.  public schools.  #Amiright?

5:15 PM – Finish with appreciations and reflections (love this time teehee).

5:20 PM – Go back to my room to clean up and bring some work home.

5:33 PM – Leave school.

5:50 PM – Get home.  Go lie on my bed to start checking emails that people have been referring to all day.

6:15 PM – Notice that it’s 6:15.  Contemplate working out (because feeling tired) or taking a short nap.

Opt for the nap.

8ish PM – Roommate asks if I need to wake up or if I’m going to sleep. I just mumble I’m going to sleep.  She turns off the lights.

1:40 AM – wake up.. get INTO my bed to finish sleeping.

2:22 AM – Wake up – wide awake.  Answer some emails.  Turn on a sermon.  Fall back asleep about 20 minutes into it.  Plan to wake up at 5AM in order to get some work done.

6:50 AM – wake up.  Total fail.  Clip my hair and put on a hairband. It’s going to be one of those days.  And back to school.

I guess you guys got some bonus hours.  But that day was CRAZY.

This WEEK was crazy:

Random thoughts/quotes.

Dreaming about teaching the Japan pre-assessment Tuesday night so that on Wednesday, cranking out the pre-assessment was easy.  (The power of dreams)

Tuesday, I misplaced my keys. Panicked. Had NT and J-Say come help me find them. They found them. They also found my selfie-stick.


– During the talks/requirements of the 8th grade boat dance…

“No, you may not bring anyone outside of ASCEND to the boat dance?”

“What if it’s a chaperone?” – spoken by the one kid.. who I could totally see… it being realistic.  I just about died when he asked this (mainly to himself, but I was in hearing range).

Girls kept remarking on my hair.  “Let me fix that bun.”

Had Storm come help me after school on Wednesday with a few things.  We just kept giggling/laughing together.  Then some girls came in mad because apparently she called someone a B***.  It started to get heated (but stupid) and I mediated really quick.. and it ended really quick.  I told them to cut the drama.  -_-

– Walked out of my classroom blaring, “ALL I DO IS WIN” … because I felt like a winner.


– Woke up Thursday morning thinking, “Oh shoot, I have to teach Japan today and I have nothing prepared!”

 Girls asked me, “Ms. Kim? Why’s your forehead so shiny?”  I wasn’t sure if this was a compliment or an insult. :-/

Kids were teasing me about my age..

Kid: “Ms. Kim, how did it feel when they invented fire?”

Kid: “Ms. Kim, what was it like in the Middle Ages?”

Me: “Yeah yeah, I used to ride dinosaurs to school..”

Kid: “What was it like when 9/11 happened.”

Me: “Dude, I was alive then!”

… it’s really nice seeing kids getting INTO their books.  Lit circles are SO COOL.  I just need to remind myself to scaffold scaffold scaffold so that I can release release release!

This is why I teach


“Ms. Kim, you probably feel pissed off when I called the guest teacher sexist because you believe I was rude and shouldn’t have said that.  to be honest, I agree with you, I was out of line.  However, I felt that way, I just felt that word.  I chose to do this because it was just another way of expression.  That word, sexist, was a word I used because I felt like when an instruction was given, I was called out, as well as keven, not because we’re dudes, but also because I just needed to say that word.  I could’ve just perservered and held it in till the end so that no one will get the wrong idea about who I was calling sexist.  Ms. kim, you probably want me to apologize for what I said.  If you really want me to, I can.  but, what I feel whats best is just respect her throughout the time we still have with Cal Shakes because I owe that to her.”

So, context.  We’re having this amazing visiting teacher from Cal Shakes – a Bay Area Shakespeare group.  They’re awesome and this teacher is great at managing. Unfortunately, I saw the same things from the students that they gave me when I came in at the beginning of the year.  A lot of testing, a lot of rudeness… just a lot of sh…enanigans.   Plus, I’ve been dealing with this issue of kids throwing out the word “racist” and “sexist” especially at adults… and I’m sort of like, these are loaded words, and in the sphere of adults, they’re overused.  These issues –sexism and racism– are real, but they lose their clout when people misuse them! Anyway, kids know that I’m sensitive about those words.

Anyway, she’s really great at management and has been calling kids out on it, and so of course, they’re responding with derogatory speech and attitude.  I’ve been having different students reflect, but at this point, it sometimes feels fake.

I read this letter today after school, and I smiled big in my head.  This boy had left my room angry saying, “Why do we always have to check in? I’m never checking in.”  He missed school the next day, but today, he gave me this letter, happier.  I read it, and honestly, to spell it out for all you readers, this is why I teach.  I get to witness the awesomeness that’s inside each kid that I come across.  Sure, there are parts that our school has instilled in them… and maybe even a teensy piece has to do with me.  But really, I didn’t teach him to write THIS.  I didn’t teach him to put these pieces together and follow up with me like this.

Tomorrow, I’m going to tell him I read the letter. I’m going to suggest that apologies still go a really long way, and that he should apologize because as an adult, I know how much it means to me.  And I’m going to leave it at that.  He doesn’t need a standing ovation.  I just hope he continues to grow.

Update 4/3 —

Had a talk with him in the morning.  I was rambly (per usual).  Midspeak, I stopped myself.

“Do you get what I mean?”

“I hear you.”

“Can you speak back what you heard?”

“Hold on, I’m processing.”

“Okay, okay. Well..”

“I’ll do what needs to be done.”



The ups and the downs.

I read this article, “Where Have All the Teachers Gone” today.  In particular this stood out.

“An analysis just out from Georgetown’s Edunomics Lab argues that boosting class size for great teachers would save money that could then be funneled into bonuses for those educators taking on a larger load. The savings would come largely from a reduction in the overall teaching force, angering teachers unions and their allies.”

Calm down teachers unions.  What sane teacher would boost their class size for extra money?  I don’t want you to pay me more for added time or kids, I want less kids for the same pay.

Today was really rough. I had a hard time keeping the simmering anger down and when I got cut off on the bridge and there was weepy country music in the background, I couldn’t help but start to cry out of self-pity.  Amidst the excuses and trying to empathize with two students who made it hard today, I harshly told myself that maybe that time of the month was approaching.

But there comes a fault where it just can’t be my fault.  As I neared the last light before my house, I glared at the blinking red hand and railed against this piloted “rotations” system going on in my classroom.  I’m told that the light is closer than I think and I’m doing better than I’m giving myself credit for.  But at the end of the day, nothing feels worth it.

I try to concentrate on the rest of the kids.  The laughs.  The miniature successes.  And how with a rotations system, I can finally give some of my higher kids extra attention too.  But what do I do about little Bo Pete who stares at me blankly.  How many more emergency meetings are we going to have on differentiation and outlier students?  I’ve heard the science teacher explain her differentiation piece three times now in three meetings with I’m sure the same audience.  I’ve heard us voice the same issues.  Kids know that all they need to do in my class is work hard.  If I have Mr. Freshly-Tested-Out-of-His-IEP and Ms. ELL/IEP/Missed-class-because-of-broken-leg thriving, what’s the excuse for the kids who claims that “I get him in trouble” or “nothing will change” or “it’s because others distract me”?  How do  I respond to ridiculous requests like, “when I’m distracted, let me go for a five minute walk, let me listen to music, seat me somewhere else, seat me near a friend?”

Do I reward you because you, as a fourteen-year-old, can’t hold it together?  Sure, go on your five-minute walk.  Then come back and be more confused than before.  And then get more frustrated!

Or sure, go ahead and listen to music.  Oh wait, you don’t know what’s going on because you’re spacing out even more?  I’ll take time out of my lunch break to help you out.

Oh sure, sit with your friend who’s going to “help” you.  Wait! Now you’re both throwing things at someone else at the table?

Give me a break.

And while I’m juggling kids, there’s people who promise help and never deliver. That’s even worse.

And I promisepromisepromise you, I have it really good here.  How do I deal?  Money’s definitely not what’s going to sweeten it.

What’s interesting though, is that when kids are rotten, something sweet happens with the school.  And when school things discomfit me, the kids are pretty sweet.  I’m thankful for a happy end of the day.  Now onto the massload of emails concerning students I sent to the office, a failed conflict-management, and phone calls home.

So about that…

So in my last post, I was really frustrated. And I still stand behind it.  But we got $60K awarded to our school, so I’m pretty stoked!

What I’m nervous about is all the asks and hidden strings tied to money.  Yet at the same time, I’m glad and thankful for the opportunity to pilot exciting ways to actually help children move.

Does technology really help children move though?  We did a guided conversation about what excites us about technology and where are our reservations lie.

For me, I think I honestly have to answer with what excited me about technology.  I really liked the idea of teaching my kids marketable and relevant skills for the 21st century.  The idea that students could choose different paths and personalize their learning was cool as well.

But after a year of trying to effectively implement this in my class when we did have many resources and programs, I have so many more reservations.

Are we trying to replace quality personal instruction with technology?  The stakeholders on the tech side would definitely say no.  But then, it leads to my next less hyperbolic reaction.  These programs are basically all pilots.  None of them are as adaptive as they claim.  They’re not that interesting.  And it eventually turns kids off learning!

What if we pilot something and it doesn’t work?  In a sense, these roll-outs are basically experiments.  Just as in grad school there’s an ethical review board, someone needs to go out and see what’s ethical for our kids.  Of course we mean well, but what if parking someone in front of a so-called adaptive math program for 90 minutes a week is actually not as effective as hiring another person to work with that child for 30 minutes a week 3 days a week?

Anyway, I don’t entirely dislike the groups that give money, even though I said so.  I think I was just frustrated that the same group that could fund us might also fund another school just because it SAID it was doing good things.

I guess I just wish there wasn’t so much inauthenticity or lack of accountability.  Blergh bloop.

Dear “Education Innovation Grant Donors”, I really really really dislike you.

Dear Education Innovation Grant Donor,

I really dislike you.  You come into cities, districts, and states with your shiny, quiet offices and fancy titles to dangle all this money right out of our reach.  It’s quite easy to get this money, you say.  All you’re looking for are schools that are serving their kids, being innovative, thinking outside the box, providing 21st century skills.

You lie.

What you really mean is you want us to be like [insert some school you love here].  What you really mean is that you want us to flood our classrooms with yet untested technologies from partner* companies.  What you really mean is that you will look at the numbers instead of delving deep into what’s actually happening at a school.

You’ll give a school a gold star just because their data appears stellar (high test scores, abnormally high college acceptance rate, serving low-income population), without actually looking at how they’ve achieved it (paternalistic disciplinary practices, no extra-curriculars, no college graduations).  You’ll give us lofty ideas and advice (try montessori, try flipping the classroom, scale your model, blow up your model) without a clue as to how implementation would work. You’ll encourage us to pilot, pilot, pilot without acknowledging that in reality this is experimenting on kids who don’t have any other options.

You are a parasite disguised as a benefactor.

You don’t actually know what teaching entails.  You have a vague notion of what success means.  You think that all you need are good managers and consultants to help you get your innovative grant donor-ing group to do well.  You think that your two years of teaching experience and grad school has earned you the right to march into our buildings and “consult”.  You think your ideas are news to us and that they will help us turn things around.

And guess what?  You have so much money, that we are willing to listen, meet, pander, and spin our schools at different angles just so we can get some.

Because we don’t really have a choice.  Do we?

In truth,


*aka, you serve on their board or payroll