#DITLife of an Alaskan Middle School Teacher

Hello from Kodiak, Alaska!  This is my first blog post in a DITLife series about what it means to be a 6th math teacher in Kodiak, Alaska. This is part of a compilation of DITLife blogs in a group project spearheaded by Tina Cardone to show what it means to be mathematics teacher today.  So here goes!

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7:30 AM My first task today is a relational one. Yesterday at a building level in-service, two people opened up and shared some personal stories about things that affected them this summer. With respect to their privacy, I cannot share more than that. But I spend a few minutes writing cards to give to them. Relationship building isn’t just something I want to focus on in my math classes; it’s a part of how I see the world and extends beyond the classroom into who I am.

8:00 AM I enter the KHS auditorium for our district-wide in-service. Almost immediately, a colleague finds me and and we start hashing out details of next Friday’s 6th grade Blast Off Day, a fantastic event originally coordinated by elementary counselors and community sponsors designed to help with team building for students entering middle school. I would be happy to share more about this if your school is interested!

8:30 AM Our new director of instruction, Kim Hanisch, is introduced; I’m always excited to learn from someone new! We also have a presentation by our superintendent, Stewart McDonald. He is awarded the state Superintendent of the Year award, a great honor.  His message:  Be a champion for the kids. IMG_0394 2.JPG

We then have a Star Wars parody film, starring our counselors, about Luke Skywalker being a champion for his students using counseling strategies. It’s hilarious!


Next, our principal, Jethro Jones, talks about pioneering home visits for our district. Our middle school visited the homes of our students before school started to welcome them and start off with a positive home-school connection. This was a lot of fun and we even have a great video with lots of photos and dancing from the day!

10:15 Session on using iPads in the classroom. I have a class set this year. What is your favorite app?

11:30 Lunch with my team! Of course we talk shop constantly. We spend our time talking about schedules, trainings, and our yummy Thai food. Like the kids, I have been looking forward to lunch for hours. The food is great but reflecting upon it now, it’s because it is meaningful, fun, and social. How do we imbue this tone in our classes?

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12:30 Afternoon sessions for middle school teachers include how to analyze data using Excel. At one point we are separated into two groups. These are the groups that we will be split into for our two separate school lunch periods as well. I quickly scan the lists of teachers in the “A” lunch and teachers in the “B” lunch and realize I am separated from my 3 best friends during this year’s lunch period. I have a temporary moment of middle school drama and panic – why have they done this to me?? As an adult I am able to quickly compose myself and get over it. But my sixth graders may not if they are separated from their friends. I am grateful for having had this experience because it will remind me to be extra sensitive. What seems minor to me may be a crushing blow to an adolescent.

2:30 Literacy training with Yolanda Westerburg. This woman is amazing and has worked with our district for years. I walk away with ideas on how to incorporate a variety of sentence structures for exit tickets.

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My table team plays around with the structure and we make some for math:

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I quickly present an idea to Yolanda an idea I have about a thinking chart for word problem solving strategies. She loves it. So much to work on!

4:00 Our in-service day is over, but I head back to my classroom for my math book club. Before I get there, I run into a parent who has questions about the first week of school. I share our plans for the first week of school including 6th grade Blast Off and the parent looks relieved and excited. I hope his child will be as well! Again I’m reminded of the emotionally charged aspect of school and of the need to intentionally and caringly build relationships with students and parents.

4:15 I join my online math book club. Abby, Connie, and Amy share their experiences and perspectives on teaching in Minnesota and Connecticut. We have read and discussed Principles to Action and will be reading Making Number Talks Matter next. Today’s topic was professionalism. A main idea from the chapter was that we have to continue our education and become life long learners, which is exactly what we are doing right now!

6:00 I head to a board of directors meeting for Kodiak Teen Court. This is a nonprofit youth court program in which minors train to become attorneys and judges in our community. It is not a mock trial. Juveniles charged with a crime can opt to go through the teen court justice system, which focuses on restorative justice and does not leave a criminal record. As a board member and teacher, I help recruit students into the program. Students can receive a school district credit for participating in the rigorous training program on law and civics and then contribute to our community in a meaningful way. I strive to intentionally involve myself in activities beyond math; we are not teaching content, but people.

7:30 PM Yesterday at our in-service we listed our core values. Multiple teachers listed work-home balance. I will admit I am terrible about this; I wholeheartedly throw myself into everything I do. At 7:30 PM I am tempted to head back to school to work on my classroom. Keeping yesterday’s conversation in mind, however, I drive myself over to CrossFit Kodiak Island for some self-care. If I am going to focus on relationships, I have to start with myself so I can better meet everyone else’s needs. I am about to tell my coach (whose son I taught) that I’ve been working since 7:30 AM, but before I can, she mentions that she taught the 5:30 AM crossfit class. Perspective.

The theme that kept resonating with me during yesterday’s building level faculty meeting was “relationships.” One comment I hear over and over again from parents is “I hated math in school!” This is a really emotionally charged statement, and largely channeled by a disconnect – maybe with a teacher, a challenging math problem, etc. This is ironic because mathematics is all about relationships and connections: finding patterns in visuals and numbers that inform our reasoning and sense-making of our world. Yet for whatever reason the ball was dropped – someone sought a connection and it was never made.

My goal this year is to change that.

Questions or comments on anything I wrote? I would love to hear from you! Happy teaching, everyone!



5 thoughts on “#DITLife of an Alaskan Middle School Teacher

  1. Awesome reflection. Sounds exhausting, but I am glad to see you are taking time for yourself. Thanks for putting this, and yourself, out there.


  2. This is a great first #DITLife – I am also blogging as part of this group and decided to follow some of the other bloggers. I felt instantly connected to you reading this. I can relate to much of it although it sounds like our districts are quite different. The iPad question: I have a few iPads in my room and haven’t found a great way to use them yet, so I’ll be interested if you share more on this. I often have my students use them as cameras to take pictures of their work and send it to me. I put group work instructions on our class website and let students access the site in groups using the iPads. I like ixl.com for students who need extra math practice – I believe there is an IXL app. The book group: I have heard about this number talks book three times in the last week. Is the group open to new members? I think I need to read this book! The work-life balance: This is a place where many teachers struggle. I’ve made some goals for myself this year related to self-care and it was great to hear that you chose a work-out instead of heading back to school at the end of your day. Well done!


    1. Thanks for your comments, Kate! I can’t wait to read your blog also. I would love to invite you to our book club. There are only a few people in the club, so it’s funny that you have heard of this book club; either you happen to know all of us or there are multiple groups studying the book now! I will DM you the info. Regarding iPads, I am going to use an app called Splashtop if I can get access to it at my school. It lets you control the class set of iPads and present student work from iPads I believe (similar to one of Nearpod’s features). So where are you located?


  3. Alaska, whoa – even more north than me in Canada. I find some of this fascinating, as we don’t get “in service” before launching school. (On the first day, there’s a brief staff meeting, then boom, we’re teaching, hopefully came into school on our own time at some point.) Nice that things seem to click for you with everyone! I can’t speak to iPads (I don’t even own one myself) but Excel data is more my speed, as I teach high school statistics. The “cloud” rules are different from the software though, I find that annoying. Too bad about the “hate” disconnect, how has that been going so far?

    FYI, I’ve linked/summarized this particular post in my DITLife roundup; let me know if that’s a problem. (https://mathiex.blogspot.ca/2017/01/sharing-days-in-lives.html)


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