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For Math Teachers by Math Teachers

Teacher Spotlight: Elizabeth Bastias at Shadydale Elementary School

August 7th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

Elizabeth Bastias loves to read stories to her second and third grade students, but frequently does not finish them.  When they arrive at the climax of the story, she tells her students she is “tired” of reading and then closes the book, introducing them to the notion of a cliffhanger.  Then she watches as the students eagerly read the book to find out how the story ends.  She also observes the students searching hungrily for other books in her classroom library or at the school library to read.  This is one of the many strategies she employs to create lovers of learning.

Listen to Ms. Bastias talk about hooking her bilingual students on reading books in English!

Ms. Bastias teaches mathematics and science to second- and third-grade students at Shadydale Elementary School in Houston ISD, but formerly part of North Forest ISD, a district that was closed in 2013 due to academic and financial troubles. I visited her bilingual classroom during summer school at the end of July.  She participated in the 2014 RUSMP Summer Campus Program during June, and then volunteered to teach a mixed age classroom in July with students ranging from pre-Kindergarten through third grade.

When I observed her interacting with her students, two words came to mind, “master teacher”.  Although I did not understand the language, I could comprehend how meaningful the teacher-student interactions were.  Although the classroom was wonderfully busy with students engaged in differentiated activities, it was clear that Elizabeth had a command of the classroom.  The children were all eager to show their creative work to her and receive authentic feedback from her.  I witnessed love, encouragement, high expectations.

I urge you to watch yourself.

Principal of Shadydale Elementary School, Tammie Daily, knows how to keep a good teacher when she finds one. Ms. Daily first met Ms. Bastias when Daily was principal at Montgomery Elementary School.  Then Daily was able to recruit Bastias to teach at Bonham Elementary School when she became principal there, and then recently at Shadydale.  When I asked the enthusiastic school leader to choose five words to describe Ms. Bastias, Daily replied, “Inspiring, a risk-taker, life-long learner, creative, and a visionary.”

After visiting Ms. Bastias’s classroom, I agree with Ms. Daily.  Take a look at how Ms. Bastias  inspires her students to be artists, writers, and mathematicians.

For many folks, the bottom line in public education is how do students fare on state standardized exams.  During the 2013-2014 school year, 15 out of 18 (83%) of Elizabeth’s bilingual third-grade students passed the math STAAR exam (administered in Spanish).  This is in comparison to Shadydale campus results for third-grade students where 35 out of 123 students (28%) passed the math STAAR exam.

For further reference, in Houston ISD, 68% of bilingual third-grade students passed the math exam and 65% of all third-grade students passed the math exam.

Elizabeth believes passionately in teaching an integrated curriculum.  She argues that “when you go outside, you don’t see that this part is math, this part is reading, this part is science. [You see that] everything is integrated.  And that’s what I try to do in my classroom.”  She also tells her students that “you don’t have to learn math and reading to pass the test.  You are learning for yourself, for your life, for your future…not for passing the STARR.”

Watch as she explains her successful approach to teaching.

When interviewing Ms. Daily, the principal at Shadydale Elementary, I told her that it is a testament to her leadership that an excellent teacher followed her to two different schools.  Daily replied that Bastias didn’t follow her, that Daily told Ms. Bastias, “Let’s go!”  In other words, let us go together.


Note: STAAR results for Grades 3-5 at Shadydale Elementary School are available here, STAAR results for Grades 3-8  for the Houston ISD are available here.

Thoughts from Rice University Pre-service Teachers

July 16th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

By Kathryn Kubena and Daniel Marin

We are both Rice undergraduates studying Statistics and earning Secondary Mathematics Teacher Certification. Every summer RUSMP hires 4-5 Rice undergraduates passionate about math and education as research and office assistants, so naturally we found them. As preservice teachers, we’ve had the privilege to assist RUSMP in their Summer Campus Program and witness effective and innovative teaching from the master teachers.

The field of mathematics is broad and offers a wide range of career and research opportunities, some being more technical and independent than others. Teaching mathematics provides an avenue for mathematicians to apply a different kind of skill set. In a modern public high school classroom, teachers may interact with about 6 periods of 35+ students, presenting, facilitating, and adapting to the circumstances of the day. A teacher is on his feet, addressing various students and creating individualized explanations to whatever problem they run into. These unique solutions and explanations are one component of student-centered environments, where students build concepts and connections. The daily variety and frequent meaningful social contact, attract both of us to become math educators. Like most young adults, we want to have a grand effect on the lives of others, and teaching allows your positive influence to domino from you to your students to their families to their communities.

While we may seem overconfident (and we probably are), our expectations for success in the classroom are grounded in the knowledge and impeccable training from the Rice Teacher Education program. The program, now celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, trains undergraduate Rice students to attain a 7th-12th teacher certification after learning from several master teachers and serving as a student teacher for their entire senior year. Like ours, the program’s philosophy emphasizes student-centered learning, from activities to discussions. That kind of instruction allows students to build up the concepts for themselves, giving us as teachers the opportunity to witness the “Eureka!” or “Aha!” moments.

Like Cathy Seeley, colloquium speaker at RUSMP’s Summer Campus Program, said in her new book Smarter Than We Think, “increasing student motivation lies… in [students] tackling challenging tasks where they can grapple with important mathematics.”

To us, that sounds exciting! We’re preservice teachers, having yet to calm a group of 35 sixteen year olds, accommodate for 5 different learners at the same time, create a socially relevant problem for tomorrow’s lesson, or even have an activity that just glides over every student’s head, so we may be misunderstanding our anxiety as excitement. But we’re confident that working in a dynamic environment and seeing students grow from our interactions will be worth it.

About the authors:

Kathryn Kubena is a rising junior of Brown College majoring in Psychology and Statistics, earning a mathematics Teacher certification, and Master of Arts in Teaching from Rice University. She is from Houston, Texas.


Daniel Marin is a rising senior of Hanszen College, majoring in Statistics and earning a  mathematics Teacher Certification in Rice University. He is from the Mission,TX in the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio, TX.

Why I wish I’d used Function Carnival as an Algebra student by Sakshi Multani

April 1st, 2014 by Alice Fisher

Function Carnival is an interactive, educational game by Desmos which helps students understand and create functions. The game includes three activities that depict animated real-life scenarios featuring a canon man and a roller coaster which users must then recreate by drawing an appropriate graph. For example, the first task is to “Draw a graph of Cannon Man’s height vs. time.”  Each activity has a drawing and a writing section that helps students grasp the concept of functions, an idea which is vital for Algebra students to master in order to succeed in higher level math courses.

Functions have never been my forte, but Function Carnival makes understanding them easy, even intuitive by asking users to model real-world situations with graphs.  Through each exercise, students’ graphing skills become stronger and they are more able to understand what each dip and curve on the function represents by drawing out their models step-by-step and correcting any errors. The writing portions of the activities put the graphs into perspective by encouraging students to analyze already given functions and to either correct them or explain a concept that they demonstrate. Using this module was like learning functions all over again, only better, this time in a way that stuck. Writing down the ideas forming in their heads helps students not only with memorization, but with comprehension of those ideas.

Teachers have the option of choosing between the Basic Carnival (for algebra students) and Advanced Carnival (for calculus students).  Within the Advanced Carnival which I completed, there was a section depicting a velocity vs. time graph.  The graph had both positive and  negative velocity, so that the challenge was to apply the concept of acceleration instead of speed to my interpretation.

 Despite its functionality (pardon the pun), the activities are complex and a bit difficult to get the hang of at first so that the activity definitely needs teacher guidance.  I don’t think this is an activity that should be assigned for independent practice for students.  Also, the program also does not offer immediate feedback on the writing portions.  However, the teacher is able to view all student responses – both the graphs and the written responses – so that she or he is able to give feedback to individual students.  This video shows what the teacher would see on his/her screen as the students complete the graphs.

 As an added bonus, the program offers a do-it-yourself bonus challenge at the very end to reinforce the students’ knowledge which is “On a blank piece of paper, create your own graph.  Label the y-axis.  Draw the graph.  Then write the story it describes.”  The challenge is a great way for students to apply what they learned in the activities to a scenario of their own creation, both sparking their creativity and prompting them to concrete the knowledge they gained. All in all, Function Carnival gets a five star rating from me.  While I still wish my algebra teacher had introduced it to me back in eighth grade, I’m nevertheless glad to be recommending this fantastic program to you.

About the author:
Sakshi Multani is a junior in high school currently taking precalculus, a course she grinds her teeth through, but which, she has to admit, will likely prove its importance in the long run. Sakshi enjoys reading, writing, and teaching, and she hopes that when she is older she will find a career that will impact others’ lives for the better.

Face to Face

January 29th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

Rice professor, Steve Cox claimed he’s a little bit selfish as we talked about his outreach program called Worthing Rice Apprentice Program or WRAP. His program evolved from a previous Rice project that connected Rice professors and students with HISD students via web conferences. After joining the effort, Dr. Cox quickly came to the conclusion that “nothing beats face-to-face contact,” and that he “really wants to be part of the students’ joy of discovery. I want to see the ‘Eureka’ moments face to face. I want to slap them on the back or receive a hug rather than receiving reviews that someone learned a lot…I’m kinda selfish that way.”

For more than 10 years, WRAP has been offering a hands-on introduction and integration of mathematics, biology, electronics, and computer programming as students learn about how the brain learns. Dr. Cox is on sabbatical this year so we recently chatted via Skype about his program.  Listen as he discusses the goals of his program and view photos of the Worthing apprentices and Rice undergraduate and graduate mentors.

Dr. Cox concludes the video with what he tells his Worthing apprentices, that most of their jobs are going to require if not a STEM degree, the ability to interact with people with STEM degrees. His program is trying to create a somewhat different mindset among this community, “to get them to become creators, not just users of others’ technologies.”

Another reason Dr. Cox initiated this program was to get Rice undergraduate students involved in community outreach.  Zachary Kilpatrick, one of the first Rice undergraduate mentors of WRAP, is now an assistant professor at the University of Houston (UH) and has been instrumental in starting the UH outreach program, CHAMP (Cougars and Hope Academy Mathematics Program). Current mentor and Rice upperclassman, Sarah Schwettmann, has been involved with WRAP since being a freshman.  She’s learned that “the relationships you build with the apprentices hugely determine how transformative the learning experience is for both the mentors and the high school students.”  She also treasures the community that WRAP has built through academics and education.

WRAP is undergoing transitions and is now called the Rice BrainSTEM program.  For various reasons, the program took a break this past fall and is resuming at KIPP Sunnyside High School located a couple miles away from Worthing High School.  It is Dr. Cox’s hope that his program can work with both schools in the future.  Learn more about Rice BrainSTEM here.

Thank you, Professor Cox, for taking time to share your fantastic program with the RUSMP community.

Jazz – Why We Need Diversity in Mathematics

December 20th, 2013 by Alice Fisher

I recently sat down with Professor Mark Tomforde, Associate Professor in the department of mathematics at the University of Houston, and talked with him about his outreach program called CHAMP that he began this past fall.  CHAMP is an acronym that stands for Cougars and Hope Academy Mathematics Program.  Hope Academy is a charter school in HISD located in the historic Third Ward and serves at-risk high school students.  Photo of participating students is below.

Dr. Tomforde was inspired by and modeled his program after the Worthing Rice Apprentice Program or WRAP, an outreach program for Worthing High School students directed by Rice Professor, Steve Cox.  After Tomforde found out about WRAP, he contacted Professor Cox and was invited to come to Rice to observe a WRAP session. Tomforde also received very valuable advice from the Rice professor including, “be very patient as the program develops” and “if you can affect just a couple students, that is a huge success.”

The goals of both programs include exposing young people, especially those from underrepresented groups, to interesting topics in mathematics and sciences as well as encouraging them to attend college and perhaps major in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field.  During one of the WRAP sessions this past fall, the students visited the computer lab of Rice Professor James McLurkin.  A photo of the visit is below:

Rice University Professor Richard Tapia, RUSMP friend and champion of underrepresented groups in mathematics and the sciences, has argued that underrepresentation does not endanger the health of the discipline, that the health of mathematics is fine.  However, he does strongly believe that having such a large part of the US population not engaged in the practice of the mathematical sciences does endanger the health of the nation.

I asked Dr. Tomforde if he thought that having a more diverse group of mathematicians would benefit the field of mathematics.  Here is his response:

He also shared with me the most recent newsletter from the Math Alliance, an organization whose goal is to make sure that every underrepresented or underserved American student with the talent and the ambition has the opportunity to earn a doctoral degree in a mathematical science.  The first paragraph of the newsletter summarized one of the talks given at the 2013 Field of Dreams Conference hosted by the Math Alliance.  The speaker, Kathryn Chaloner explained that:

“the philosophical differences in how we interpret probability and gave a historical and mathematical perspective on Bayesian Statistics. Her talk did this by focusing on 3 key mathematicians, Thomas Bayes, Leonard Jimmie Savage, and David Harold Blackwell. Each of these 3 mathematicians made important original contributions that could be described as “out of the box” thinking, going against the cultural norms of mathematics at the time. Each of these 3 mathematicians were also excluded in some way from the educational system in which they lived: one because of his religion, one because of his disability and one because of his race.”  

Dr. Chaloner’s slides are available here.

Thus, Tomforde believes that those from underrepresented groups can offer insights into mathematics that would otherwise be missed much like jazz in music.

In addition, he discussed what he learned from and about his students.

Thanks to Professor Tomforde for sharing his thoughts with RUSMP!

Learn more about WRAP at http://www.caam.rice.edu/~cox/wrap/, and  read more about the CHAMP program at http://math.uh.edu/champ/.

Choose Gratitude

November 25th, 2013 by Alice Fisher

“Tapping into the Power of Attitude” is an article in the recent issue of ASCD’s Education Update.  It’s a timely topic with Thanksgiving around the corner.

Robert Emmons, scientific expert on gratitude, posits that gratitude has two key components:  “First it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”  In the second part of gratitude, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” Read more of what Emmons wrote about gratitude here.

Teacher educator Dr. Kerry Howells writes that “many frown upon the use of the words gratitude and education together. It seems like a strange combination.”  Gratitude is common in conversations about spiritual transformation or wisdom, but to see how it relates to teaching math content knowledge and problem-solving skills seems to require “a greater leap than many are willing to make.”

However, research points to gratitude “as a potential bridge between students’ academic and social well-being…Studies show that grateful youth have higher GPAs, experience more positive emotions, and ultimately, go on to live more meaningful lives.”  (from ASCD)

Recently, RUSMP Summer Campus Program teacher participant, Dahirou Ndiaye was featured in a recent HISD new article for a connection exercise he begins class with called “Good Things.”  Students are asked to share something positive going on in their lives such as a birthday celebration or achieving a personal goal.  He received this idea  from Macie Schroeder, another teacher who attended the Summer Campus Program.  Macie says that “Good Things” came from her training in Capturing Kids’ Hearts founded by Flip Flippen who believes that If you have a child’s heart, you have his head. The idea behind “Good Things” is that students are going to talk during class so “why not give them a brief, designated time to share their news with the entire class? ‘Good Things’ also allows me to learn more about who my students are outside of class and I can also share a little bit about who I am outside of teaching. Students know that I genuinely care about their lives and that our classroom is a safe place to share those positive things.”

This activity of expressing gratitude with one’s classmates “totally changes the atmosphere of the class right from the beginning to a very positive climate,” according to Dahirou.  Thus, gratitude does seem to have a natural place within the classroom.

Dr. Howells gave a talk about gratitude and education at the 2012 Mind and Its Potential conference.  View the recording here.

In her talk, Dr. Howells argues that gratitude exerts its full power when gratitude is an expression towards someone instead of for something.  She states that especially for teachers, gratitude is more effective if conceptualized as a practice rather than as an emotion.  She then tells a story about a teacher who inadvertently stopped cyber-bullying among three students in his class through the practice of gratitude with his students. The teacher shared very specific and personal statements of gratitude with each of his students.  After this practice, the cyber-bullying stopped.  She states that perhaps we have missed the core of why people bully in school and in the workplace – because they don’t feel appreciated nor feel connected to the people around them.  The French word for gratitude is “reconnaissance” which contains the word recognition. So what the teacher from her story was doing was recognizing the students in a way that nobody else had.

She then draws our attention to the etymological link between thinking and thanking: both words come from the same root word!  Thus, she hypothesizes that when students thank when they think, they think better.  And when students thank while they think, they think in a deeper way.  This is what her research demonstrates as well.

Teachers have seen this in immigrant students who are so appreciative of the education that is being provided that they excel in class despite having limited English proficiency.  Faculty see this in mature students who go back to school after raising a family and are thirsty for intellectual growth.

We end with Dr. Howell’s powerful statement: If students think about what they have been given rather than looking only for what they can receive,  their learning transforms and they are able to be more present in their learning.

Mathematics Coaching: An Essential Component on a Job-Embedded Professional Development Structure

October 31st, 2013 by Alice Fisher

RUSMP instructor, Blanca Medina recently wrote the following essay on Mathematics Coaching:

In many districts across the United States, schools use mathematics coaches as an important element in a comprehensive plan to improve instruction and learning in mathematics. But coaches don’t work in isolation. They are part of the education system and they play a crucial role in the design of an effective job-embedded professional development structure.

Job-embedded professional development occurs at schools and is tailored to teacher’s professional needs. It is designed to enhance teacher’s instruction with the purpose of improving student achievement, and allows schools to create a collaborative work environment that provides the level of support necessary to improve the teaching of mathematics in the classroom. These are some of the components:

  • Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s): grade-level meetings, where teachers collaborate with each other to implement best practices, discuss student performance and work, create data-driven lessons, help each other prepare and share materials, and assist each other in areas of difficulty.
  • Coaching: done by a person with high level of expertise in mathematics and in education in general who is not a classroom teacher, an administrator or an evaluator. A coach can help teachers align curriculum, instructional materials and assessments, create data-driven and differentiated instruction; collaborate with other teacher in their grade level, provide and model a variety of teaching strategies specific for a teacher’s needs, recognize and correct misconceptions, inform teachers of all matters of education: school and district policy, instructional strategies, curriculum and special populations.
  •  Mentoring: differs from coaching in its focus. A mentor is an experienced teacher providing support to a new teacher in the personal and non-academic features of teaching like district and school rules and procedures.

Within the job-embedded professional development structure, the role of a mathematical coach is an important one. They engage in direct contact with teachers to analyze their strengths, weaknesses and possible misconceptions with the purpose of improving math instruction and student learning.

Through classroom observations, demonstrations of strategies, modeling lessons, co-teaching, and engaging teachers in math conversations and powerful questioning that make teachers think, math coaches change teachers’ attitude. Teachers are guided to reflect on their own practice and encouraged to modify it when student data indicate learning is not happening.

The coach will select or design curriculum-based activities to demonstrate to teachers. These activities will address areas of need and will allow teachers to grow professionally. They should represent what research indicate are best practices. Once a new skill or strategy is learned, it’s time for teachers to implement it in their classroom. This implementation should generate some physical form of student response that the teacher can bring to the following meeting for discussion.

The discussion generated by teacher’s feedback on the implementation of new skill or strategy should be guided by DuFour’s four questions: 1. What do we want our students to learn? 2. How will we know they learned it? 3. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty? 4. How will we respond when a student already knows it?

Mathematics coaches can have a direct impact on teacher’s quality, which will accomplish the final goal of improving student achievement.



“Job-Embedded Professional Development: What Is It? Who Is Responsible? And How To Get It Done Well?” National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. April 2010. 14 October 2013. http://www.learningforward.org/docs/pdf/jobembeddedpdbrief.pdf?sfvrsn=0

“Mathematics Specialist and Mathematics Coaches: What Does Research Say?” Research, News and Advocacy. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 17 March 2009. 14 October 2013. http://www.nctm.org/news/content.aspx?id=22839

Shaub, Linda. “Instructional Coaches: Leaders of Instruction and Agents of Change”. Texas Educational Agency. 2 January 2010. 20 October 2013.  http://ipsi.utexas.edu/alg_readiness_tool/kit/instructional_coaching_v2.pdf


What Houston Can Learn from Schools in Finland

October 11th, 2013 by Alice Fisher

Recently Susan Troutman, RUSMP Associate Director for Secondary Programs, attended the Houston A+ Challenge talk given by Finnish educator, Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.  She immensely enjoyed listening to him speak, and so shared the following with us:

View slides from Sahlberg’s presentation
Listen to an interview with Sahlberg by KUHF radio’s Laura Isensee
Read a synposis of the event

Why are educators and policy-makers around the globe so interested in the Finnish way?

The Finnish education system has dominated international rankings for a decade.  In addition, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world. “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education.” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.  Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States. (From http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html?c=y&page=1)

Dr. Sahlberg shared with the audience in Houston that the Finnish way of education focuses on collaboration instead of competition, personalization instead of standardization, trust-based responsibility instead of test-based accountability, and equity instead of school choice.

Read more at his blog.  I was especially intrigued by his post, “What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?”  Although the entry is long, it is worthwhile to read in entirety.

He claims that the following three beliefs of the impact of teacher effectiveness that seem to prevail in many under-performing nations are fallacies and explains why:

  • “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”
  • “The most important single factor in improving quality of education is teachers.” 
  • “If any children had three or four great teachers in a row, they would soar academically, regardless of their racial or economic background, while those who have a sequence of weak teachers will fall further and further behind”.

Then he suggests lessons from high-performing school systems, including Finland, and urges us to reconsider how we think about teaching as a profession and what is the role of the school in our society.  Below are excerpts from his post:

“First, standardization should focus more on teacher education and less on teaching and learning in schools. Singapore, Canada and Finland all set high standards for their teacher-preparation programs in academic universities.”

“Second, the toxic use of accountability for schools should be abandoned. Current practices in many countries that judge the quality of teachers by counting their students’ measured achievement only is in many ways inaccurate and unfair. It is inaccurate because most schools’ goals are broader than good performance in a few academic subjects. It is unfair because most of the variation of student achievement in standardized tests can be explained by out-of-school factors. Most teachers understand that what students learn in school is because the whole school has made an effort, not just some individual teachers. In the education systems that are high in international rankings, teachers feel that they are empowered by their leaders and their fellow teachers. In Finland, half of surveyed teachers responded that they would consider leaving their job if their performance would be determined by their student’s standardized test results.”

“Third, other school policies must be changed before teaching becomes attractive to more young talents. In many countries where teachers fight for their rights, their main demand is not more money but better working conditions in schools. Again, experiences from those countries that do well in international rankings suggest that teachers should have autonomy in planning their work, freedom to run their lessons the way that leads to best results, and authority to influence the assessment of the outcomes of their work. Schools should also be trusted in these key areas of the teaching profession.”

Read his entire post here.

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)!