Well, I can honestly say that I haven't had a start like this in my teaching career. The last two weeks have been absolutely crazy. As I sit here at 7 am on Labor Day morning, I know I should be working on schoolwork, especially since I don't have tomorrow totally planned out, let alone the rest of the week, but I do need to clear my head a bit before I get started.
Two weeks ago, I was informed by my principal that I would be teaching 7th grade Financial Literacy, which is a new 9 weeks course for our 7th graders. 8th graders also (at this point) are taking a 9 weeks course of Financial Literacy. This has not been done in my district before and it is a state requirement. There are not a whole lot of resources from the State of Ohio, so needless to say, I have been scrambling. After some discussions, I have decided to try to teach about half of the material so that when these 7th graders are 8th graders next year, if this course has to be offered again (which may very well happen for a number of reasons that I am not going to get into here), whomever is teaching it has something new to teach them.
Last Monday and Tuesday were our teacher workdays. We were informed that we are to give Benchmark tests to our students and at least two more Benchmark tests during the year to show what value we add to our students. This is part of the new OTES (Ohio Teacher Evaluation System) that we begin this year because we receive Race to the Top funds. Within the next few years, all teachers in Ohio will fall under the new evaluation system. 50% of my evaluation this year is from the results of these Benchmark tests and 50% comes from my (principal's) evaluation. I put principal in parentheses because there can be trained evaluators who can evaluate me also. So, I scrambled to put together Benchmarks for my Algebra 2 and Math 2 courses to give to my students Thursday, before I had taught them anything.
I do have to say that my students really impressed me with the effort and thought they put into their Benchmarks. I felt that I did set it up pretty well. I had an epiphany on the way to school Thursday. It finally dawned on my why they keep using the word "Assessment" in the tests the state has us give. A "test" can be perceived as a trial - for example, kids test their parents to see what their limits are. But by calling it an assessment (which I am going to start doing this year), you are calling it what it is - you are assessing what your students know. I don't know why it took me 20 years to figure that out. But I am making that change this year.
Anyway, I talked with my students Thursday as to why this Benchmark was important - that I needed to know what they came in knowing so I knew where to start teaching and what I didn't have to teach them because they already knew it. I also said that it will allow me to see how they grow over the course of the year. I told them that this would be the only time I would put a paper in front of them that had material on it that I had not previously taught them or exposed them to, or that they would not be given any guidance on. I also added that this was the only time that "IDK" would be acceptable on an assessment. I explained to them they would see at least 2 and possibly 4 more times where I would ask them to show me what all they have learned and know. I am seriously considering giving them the Benchmark at the end of each 9 weeks since there would be less material on it and hopefully a little less intimidating. I asked that they try to do something on each problem and if they really had no clue to write "IDK."
I was very impressed with the effort my students gave. In fact, I ended up giving them an additional 10-15 minutes on Friday to finish up. Of course, it was my freshmen (the accelerated kids - Algebra 2 at my school is a sophomore class for most) who worked the longest on it because I think it really bothered them that they couldn't do much on it. But even some of my juniors and seniors (the ones who are "behind") worked longer than I expected. Now, I will be honest, I haven't looked at them yet to see what they really did on it. We have had a very full weekend with family and fair activities.
So, after a start of school on Wednesday that included using 2 of the videos from Dan Meyer's Graphing Stories (thanks to @druinok for the idea!) and spending Friday after students finished the Benchmark going over How to Study Mathematics and The Cone of Learning (both from this blog post from @crstn85), I think I'm ready to start teaching. Well, almost ready - Tuesday brings going over SBG for the first time and an introduction to Cornell Notes. Then on to new material for my students.