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For Math Teachers by Math Teachers

Archive for September, 2013

How I ended up teaching this fall in Abu Dhabi!

September 5th, 2013 by Alice Fisher

This post is written by Marsha Parris, a mathematics teacher in the RUSMP network.

I have always wanted to live overseas and have been on the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) list for a few years.  One of my co-workers told me about Teach Away, a recruiting agency for teachers seeking employment abroad.  I submitted an application last fall, and then interviewed in Phoenix in March of this year.  I was offered a math teaching position in Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates (UAE).  I then started the process of getting all my documents ready in order to leave in August.

I left Houston on August 19 and arrived in Abu Dhabi at 1:50am on the 21st.  The Abu Dhabi Department of Education Council gave teachers from abroad a half a week to get our bearings, and then we proceeded to orientation.  At orientation we were given our teaching assignments.  I am going to be working in the western region in a town called Ghayathi at an all girls’ school, grades 6-12.

This is the first year in this country that there will be English-licensed teachers in the secondary grades.  This is also the first year that female instructors will teach in secondary all boys’ schools.  This country has been undergoing tremendous education reform for the past four to five years.  During our orientation, I met teachers from all over the world. The range of ages of the teachers is from mid-twenties to early fifties; there are teachers who have taught only three years and those who have just recently retired!

The training facilitators were from New Zealand, England, and Scotland.  We spent most of our time just getting on the same page with our vocabulary.  For example, we will use the term “learning outcome” instead of “objective.”  We discussed differentiation, assessments, and the curriculum.  I am teaching sixth-grade math this year, and am excited that I will be able to spend six weeks developing number fluency!  All tests are scored using rubrics, which is a tad scary since I will have about 150 students. Thanks goodness I will be able to set up my iPad with a spreadsheet to keep track of all the data I am to collect.

Teach Away is looking for teachers who are flexible (not the “sage on the stage”), looking for adventure, and able to deal with a very laid back lifestyle.

I am excited about this opportunity and feel blessed to be part of this program.

Marsha Parris


What I wish I would’ve known when I first started teaching that I know now…

September 3rd, 2013 by Alice Fisher

ASCD recently published an infographic about “Ten Rookie Mistakes to Avoid”.  Among things to avoid are: Don’t try to teach too much in one day; and Don’t dress too casually.  The full article is available here.

Inspired by this article, we recently asked our RUSMP network what they wish they would’ve known when they first started teaching that they know now.  Below are some of the responses from our community:

Kymberly Riggins (High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice; Houston ISD; photo to the left): “I wish I would have known that I wasn’t hired to teach, but that I was hired to get my students to learn the curriculum, how to be academic, and how to be prepared for the 21st century.”


Sharon Grimm (Kolter Elementary School; Houston ISD): “Looking back at what I did not know as a first year teacher is overwhelming.  I think that the most important thing to remember is that school can teach you how to teach in theory.  However, once you get into a classroom there are all kinds of obstacles that you have to handle and still get across your material.  Finding a teacher you like and respect at your school is very important so you can go to to them for advice.”

Kristy Morris (Lemm Elementary School; Klein ISD; photo to the left): “What I wish I would’ve known when I first started teaching that I know now is the power of attention, both to negative behavior and positive behavior. I know now that you can let some things go so that the attention can be focused on the positive behaviors instead.”


High school teacher (currently in Fort Bend ISD and formerly in Houston ISD): “I can relate to Caroline White [see her response below] to the capacity of teaching in a very different environments if not opposite.  [School A] is in a low income area of the “big city” while [School B] is in the “suburbs” of Missouri City.  The biggest difference I notice is the parental involvement: [School A]’s parents as a whole are hard to attract unless it is a sporting event; while [School B]’s parent are more involved with their children from the first day as a freshman.  Another noticeable difference would be the resources; [School A] is a Title I school which means it has access to more funds for resources and the students don’t need to purchase much; while [School B]’s students can be given a syllabus with materials needed and the materials are purchased by the parents.  This is a major adjustment for me because I find myself spending more of my own money for materials that were on the previous campus [at School A].”

Marsha Parris (Al Mottahida School; Ghayathi, Abu Dhabi; photo to the left): “I wished someone had told me to take the time on the first day to listen to the students, do an activity that engages them, and listen.  I was way too busy with the “book keeping” part and forgot to listen until mid-September…”



RUSMP staff also shared their responses:

Anne Papakonstantinou: “Make sure you plan your lessons carefully so that you have the mathematics, pedagogy, and materials securely in place. That way you won’t focus on yourself and what you need, but on the kids and what they need.”

Richard Parr: “It is OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. This is important for teachers to realize and to help their students realize as well.”

Carolyn White: She recalled how she was a “crossover” teacher when she first started teaching.  Crossover teachers were African-American teachers from African-American schools who were placed in schools with predominantly white students, and vice versa.  She said that “it became important to understand the different cultures of the students in order to reach the students.  I also had to learn the different expectations of the parents, and attended after-school social events in order to get to know the parent community.”

Susan Troutman “It’s okay to ask for help.  A lot of times, teachers are afraid to ask for help because they think they may be looked upon as not qualified.  It is important to have a mentor teacher.”

Thanks to all who shared their valuable advice.  Comments and other suggestions are welcome (click below)!