How I Teach

Indy math teacher: Students are “thinkers, not human calculators”

PHOTO: Provided
Chris York fourth grade math teacher at Washington Irving School 14.

In a feature we are calling How I Teach, we spotlight how great teachers approach their jobs. Interested in submitting your own? Fill out our brief form, also at the bottom, and email a photo of yourself (school picture, snapshot or picture of you in the classroom) to [email protected].

Name: Chris York
School: Washington Irving School 14
Current subject/grade: fourth grade math

How did you get into teaching?

I got into teaching because I love to learn. I love getting up every morning, at 6 a.m., knowing that I am going to learn and experience something new. Education is always changing. We are always learning new ways to teach, to engage, and to enrich the education experience for students. I love knowing that next year, I may teach a specific skill in a new way.

How do you plan your lessons?

I do a lot of googling! In our technological age, there are hundreds of resources online. I will watch countless videos on different ways to teach a concept. I will read best practice articles on ways to teach a concept. I am always looking for different ways to adapt a lesson, always looking for another tool to add to my belt in case a student doesn’t understand the initial concept.

I also use data to drive my lessons. I always give some type of formal weekly assessment. This data doesn’t always go in the grade book to never to be seen again until report cards come out. This data is used to group students based upon need. If I give an assessment and I find out that nine students in my class didn’t understand the standard from the week before, I will be pulling those students over in a small group setting the next week to figure out what is causing the frustration. Data drives my instruction and small group work.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand something?

Honestly, it varies depending on the student. I would love to say that I am understanding every time a student doesn’t understand, but that’s not true. If a student really tried and gave me their best and still didn’t understand what we were trying to do, I would pull those students over and work in a smaller group. I would try to explain in multiple ways to see where they can connect from. I truly believe in the definition of insanity. If I just keep doing the same lesson over and over, expecting different results, then it’s me who is not understanding, not the kids. I need to be able to change my methods on the fly.

Now, if a student was lacking the “want to,” I would have a long conversation about their attitude. Kids that persevere and keep working, even when they don’t understand, usually end up figuring the concept out. If they are struggling with wanting to understand, then it’s my job to coach them to understand their need for it.

What’s different about your classroom?

My classroom is different because of what I focus on. Meaning, I tell my kids that, “I don’t care if you can give me the right answer. I care if you can think.” I consistently tell them that getting a math answer right in fourth grade isn’t going to get them a job. No job application, or job interview, will ever ask them what their fourth grade math scores are. If they can’t learn to think, it doesn’t matter. I tell them, “you can know all the math in the world, but if you can’t learn to think and make good choices for yourself, then it doesn’t matter.” Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want them to learn math. I have high standards for my students and expect them to know how do a math problem. However, if they can’t walk out of my classroom and treat people with respect, treat themselves with respect, and make smart choices, then knowing answers in my math class won’t matter in the future. I want them to be thinkers, not human calculators. Thinkers change the world, not calculators.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

One: Laughter is the best medicine. I always heard this, but once I read a study about how beneficial laughter is to the body. I started applying anecdotal evidence to my experience with laughter. I realized that all my best memories came from times that I was laughing. I could remember something from 10 years ago specifically because I was hanging out with my friends or family, laughing about something. Kids in my class come with added stresses. I tell my students if they laugh at my jokes, they get extra credit. It’s hard to be agitated and upset when everyone around you is smiling and laughing. Laughter is contagious and improves the climate in my classroom.

Two: People mirror what they receive. This is psychological but I believe it’s true. If I give a smile, the mirror neurons in your brain will reciprocate that back to me. If I laugh, you will laugh. If I say ‘hello,’ you will say ‘hello.’ If I speak in a good tone, you will speak in a good tone. If I yell, you will yell. I believe this is also true for trust. This is the greatest component that a teacher must build with children from any background. If a student doesn’t trust you, it’s hard for them to want to learn from you. I try to mirror trust for my students. I let them know that I trust them to do the right thing. I try to give them some confidence to trust themselves. If trust they will do what is right, then hopefully they will do what is right. Too often, our society tries to push people down. We are made to believe that we can’t trust anyone. Therefore, nobody trusts anybody else and we always have our guard up. I think my classroom is made better because I look for the best in them and try to build upon that. Would I trust them all to house sit? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t trust them to do something else. That something else is what I focus on.

 

maybe next year

Senate Republicans kill bill that would have taken broad look at public education in Colorado

Students at Vista PEAK Exploratory in Aurora work on a math assignment. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee spiked a bill Wednesday that was meant to spark a broad conversation about the future of Colorado’s public schools.

Some lawmakers hoped House Bill 1287 would help sell voters on raising taxes to better fund the state’s schools. But the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee voted 3-2 along party lines to kill the legislation, which would have created a series of committees to examine the state’s education laws and make recommendations for changing them.

Republicans objected to the bill because they didn’t want to create more bureaucracy, and they thought it was a ploy to raise taxes.

The bill’s demise was a defeat for a group of the state’s most authoritative lawmakers on education policy. It was one of the top legislative priorities for state Reps. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, and Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican. Both serve of the state’s budget committee and rallied lawmakers around the bill.

Rankin called the bill the most important of his legislative career.

“I’m bitterly disappointed, although it was expected,” he said. “I certainly don’t intend to give up. We’ve worked for over three years to move this idea forward. We thought we built a bipartisan coalition that was interested and wanted to help. We thought we were making really good progress.”

Hamner also expressed dismay over the bill’s death.

“To die quietly like that in Senate was really, really surprising and disappointing,” Hamner said. “Do we still have a need to establish a vision for the future of our kids? Yes. Apparently we’re going to have to do that without our Senate majority.”

Last-minute amendments brought by state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, to address Senate GOP leadership’s concerns could not save the bill.

Supporters of the bill said the legislature needed to step in to help rethink Colorado’s education landscape holistically, not with piecemeal legislation. The state’s laws are outdated and clash with 21st century expectations, they said at Wednesday’s hearing.

“Our current collection of policies and laws have failed to keep pace with changes in expectations of our education system,” said Mark Sass, a Broomfield high school teacher and state director of a teacher fellowship program. “We need a deliberate and collaborative conversation in our state, as to our vision of education.”

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he supported the goal of the bill. His name was listed as a sponsor when the bill was first introduced. But he said he eventually concluded the bill was the wrong approach.

“I’m not sure this is the solution to get us there,” he said. “It’s time for us to take a bottom up approach. I get nervous about standing up and staffing and financing another government program.”

After the committee hearing, Sass said Republican lawmakers failed to realize their unique role in Colorado shaping statewide education policy. The state’s constitution gives no authority to the governor, the education commissioner or the State Board of Education to create a strategic plan.

“We need someone to drive this conversation,” he said. “If the legislature won’t, who will?”

Priola said in an interview that he had hoped for more time to lobby Senate leadership and members of the committee. Instead, he said he’d try again next year.

“We live in a state with 178 school districts and thousands of schools,” he said. “There can’t be one way of doing things, but there also can’t be 1,000. There has to be some commonality on what we’re doing and what direction we’re heading.”

Rankin was less committed in trying again next year.

“I want to think about,” he said. “I don’t think this elected, term-limited legislature with the background they come from can develop the kind of leadership needed for this movement.”

The death of House Bill 1287 puts another bipartisan piece of legislation on shaky ground.

House Bill 1340, sponsored by state Reps. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, and Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, would create a committee of lawmakers to study and make changes to the way Colorado funds its schools.

The state House of Representatives was expected to hold its final vote on that bill Wednesday morning. But Democratic leadership pushed the vote by a day.

Some Democrats in the House saw the two bills as a package, while Republicans in the Senate saw them as competing. With partisan rancor flaring in the waning days of the session, House Democrats could return the favor and kill the finance study bill.

Rankin, the House Republican, said he hoped his chamber’s leadership would let the finance study bill move forward. He introduced a similar bill two years ago but was unable to get the bill through the legislative process.

“I think it’s a good idea to take a hard look at school finance. Maybe we can get some dialogue going,” he said, adding that he believes lawmakers still need to think about a strategic plan for its schools.

Hamner, the House Democrat, said she also supported the finance study.

“I think their bill will be just fine,” she said. “Unless the Senate decides to kill it in State Affairs.”

budget bump

Mayor’s budget includes funding for homeless students, 3-K for All, and air-conditioned classrooms

PHOTO: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveils his executive budget.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2018 executive budget, unveiled Wednesday, was hailed as a win by advocates who successfully pushed for the restoration of $10.3 million in funding for homeless students omitted from his draft budget.

“We are disappointed that we had to fight to get the $10.3 million restored,” said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children, “but are relieved that the mayor has restored the funding.”

The mayor’s $84.9 billion budget funds several other education priorities, many of which were first revealed in January. New additions include a sweeping plan to extend universal pre-K to 3-year-olds, announced Monday, and a five-year plan to install air conditioning in all city classrooms.

The “3-K for All” initiative builds on the mayor’s existing Pre-K for All program for 4-year-olds, his most significant education commitment to date. Extending the program to younger children will cost the city $36 million in fiscal year 2018, ramping up to $177 million in fiscal year 2021. With additional funding from city, state and federal sources, it could eventually serve 62,000 children.

“This is spending money where it will have the biggest impact,” the mayor said Wednesday. “Doing that [early education] investment the right way will facilitate everything else we’re trying to do in education.”

Equipping all classrooms with air conditioning will cost the city more than $28 million over five years, the mayor said, calling it an essential change. “Talk about everyday things that parents care about and kids care about and teachers care about,” he said. (Hot rooms are more than just uncomfortable: A study released last year found that Regents test-takers in New York City were less likely to pass if they were tested on hotter days.)

The restored $10.3 million for homeless students will pay for dozens of social workers in schools with high populations of homeless students through an initiative called “Bridging the Gap,” an Afterschool Reading Club program for children living in shelters, and teachers based in shelters who are charged with boosting school attendance, among other initiatives.

While advocates praised the mayor for including that funding, they said it’s still far less than is needed to truly address the crisis.

A recent report from the city’s Independent Budget Office found that the number of students who spent part of the 2015-16 school year living in a homeless shelter rose by 15 percent over the previous year, to nearly 33,000. Those students are clustered at a relatively small number of schools — 155 district schools each have 10 percent or more of their students living in shelters.

“Even with the increase to 43 Bridging the Gap social workers,” Levine wrote in an email, “most of these schools will not have a social worker to focus on this population.”