Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What does the word rigor mean to you?

I've always been a decent student...rarely made all A's but worked hard and got mostly A's and B's. I made a few C's along the way and those are the grades that, when brought home, elicited a reaction from my parents, such that I didn't want to earn C's any more. In fact, the one that sticks out in my memory the most is the C earned in conduct the first grading period of first grade. I will never forget going into my mother's classroom at the high school, handing her my report card and WAITING for her to realize I had a C in conduct. Her face LIT up...she was so proud of me...I had earned A's in everything else! Then her eyes scanned over to the conduct column and all the joy just left her face immediately. She was devastated!

The point of this story is not to tell you that I was a talkative first grader and got a paddling every day during that school, it's to explain that school was not easy for me. I had to work at it. It was rigorous...and satisfying for me to work hard at something and earn decent grades!

Since I've been teaching I've struggled with working hard to teach, and expecting my students to master what I've taught, but not feeling like I had a way to gauge that mastery. As fate would have it, the Superintendent in our district has set a goal for herself of seeing a common grading system in place in our district between middle and high schools. This goal led to the formation of a task-force of about 40 teachers from all the secondary schools in our district, who were charged with reviewing the current grading policy (which is very broad and open for interpretation) and fleshing it out so that it can be used by all teachers in order to be more fair when grading our students.

We worked for about a year, meeting approximately ten times to hash out was not easy nor was it always fun, but it was always rigorous and led to lots and lots of communication and compromise from committee members. We were able to have good, solid collegial conversations about what we value for our students...and it turns out, we all value rigor for our students!

On Monday, December 13, I joined five other colleagues in making a presentation to our school board about our meetings and suggested changes we came up with. It was a very interesting meeting that you can read about right here.

I have read several books on rigor and have definitions that I like, but the one we used Monday night in our presentation is posted this and tell me what you think. What does the word rigor (as it pertains to education) mean to you?

What is rigor?
•An environment where EACH student is expected to learn at high levels
•Complex, ambiguous, personally challenging
•Content mastery
•Applied skills and critical thinking
What is NOT rigor?
•Special program for select students
•Severity, inflexibility, or hardship
•A measure of quantity of content
•A measure of adherence to rules

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The BIG birthday!!!!!!!

My birthday was yesterday. I LOVE birthdays...mine and all those around me who have birthdays! I used to tell my students when my birthday was so they would at least say "Happy Birthday Mrs. Madden!" But the older I've gotten the less I tell them about my birthday...the kids keep getting younger and I...well, I keep having birthdays.

But this birthday was a big birthday with a zero hanging on the end. A fairly big "to do" has been made by those who I love and who love me about this birthday, with very intense verbal harrassment. My husband in particular (who happens to be five weeks younger than me) has reminded me quite often that I would be 40 before him. My dad fondly remembered the birthday card he got from his mother on his 40th birthday and vowed to get me a card that was just as vicious.

When I showed up to school on Monday I stopped by my friend Gina's office. Just as I was leaving her office, my teammate came up and started a conversation with Gina and myself. I didn't realize it at the time, but she was stalling. So eventually I was able to go into my classroom, and this is what I saw:

And a few minutes later, my teammate brought me a birthday hat. I wore it all day long...I forgot I had it on and then spent a lot of the day wondering why people were laughing at me.

It was a GREAT day!!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Concert of Hope and Remembrance...

Sometime back in the summer, the Cancer Association of Anderson decided they would remember my brother, Randy, at the Annual Concert of Hope and Remembrance. My dad is the director of the choir and orchestra. The Concert of Hope and Remembrance is a fund raiser for the Cancer Association of Anderson. They usually remember someone who has passed away due to cancer, but this year they blessed our "family system!" The concert was amazing...the music was outstanding and I got the impression that there was standing room only in the church sanctuary where the concert was held.

There were over 130 people singing in the choir.

My Dad was amazing at the concert! It's like watching a puppet master...he moves his pinky and people make beautiful music! I love this picture of him!

The music choice was Patriotic Music of America, and Music from other Countries too.

My sister, Becky, gave an extremely moving and very appropriate memorial speech about Randy. I wish that I had a recording of it to link here, but she has it posted on her blog. Please check it out at

Randy would have been mortified that all this hoopla was made over him...but we enjoyed it and we got to miss him publicly. Great!

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's been a MONDAY...

Well friends, today was a Monday ALL DAY LONG! It started out seemingly innocent and quickly went downhill! Here are a few of the things that happened that made this day seem like four days all rolled into one:
We were given a deadline by which to have grades in our state-wide grading program for mid-term reports. This deadline was AFTER the first deadline, which we passed because our district had to update the program the day before our first deadline, thus disabling the program.

I facilitated MAP testing for all my students, which is a big deal. They did well, but it was stressful.

I am hosting lunch study hall this nine weeks in my classroom. Lunch study hall was supposed to be pretty big today due to a re-test by another teacher, but I was administering MAP tests and couldn't get back to my classroom, so my poor teammate ended up having kids come to his room.

We had a curriculum meeting with our principal and instructional coach during planning, which has been scheduled for several weeks now. I made a stupid mistake and scheduled a parent conference during that meeting time. :(

When the parent arrived for the conference, another parent, who had canceled a meeting on Friday, showed up too, thinking that she would reschedule the meeting on her own, which would've been fine if we had not had the other parent in a meeting at the same time.

The conference lasted a little longer than I thought it would, so when I got outside to walk my student across the highway, she was already walking herself.

This is JUST the beginning. I'm not anywhere close to done with stuff that's important. I'm tired and want to go to bed. BUT, the saving grace is that I have a lot of great students this year and I love my job...and Saluda Trail is the best place to teach in the world. Did I mention that I love my job?

Saturday, September 11, 2010


When we got back to school my principal asked us to complete a survey online. One of the things she asked us was what we wanted to work on to help meet our school goal of increasing rigor and achievement in academics. I said that I felt like I needed more guidance on how to use differentiation in my classroom. I know that differenting means that I will have students working on different concepts at various levels in the same class, but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to incorporate this into the middle school classroom. I think that part of the reason I'm struggling with this is that in my mind I will give up some control of exactly what's going on in my classroom. Another reason I struggle with this is that I feel like we don't have time to do anything other than give direct instruction and get it all covered.

Do any of my teacher friends have any suggestions? I'd like to try to go ahead and get started with this now since this is the coolest group of kids I've had in a very long time!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I know it sounds like I'm at a race, and sometimes teaching feels like a race to me, but really, the title of this post is meant to indicate that school is well in session! In case it's been forever since you've talked to me, let me express to you once again, that I LOVE my job! Part of the reason for this is that I have taught at great schools. Part of the reason for this love is that I enjoy teaching math. Part of the reason for this is that I really enjoy teaching young adolescents. And part of the reason I love my job is because I have found my calling...what I should be doing with my life to make a difference in the world.

So this year is a pivotal year for me...I have a 6th grader in my house, who also goes to my school. I am enjoying taking him with me each day. I am frequently surprised when I round a corner in the building and run into him or look up from my desk and catch him walking into my room. I seem to forget that he's there, in my building, until I see him and my heart beats a little faster and I smile a little bigger every time he comes into my line of sight! The year that I was in 8th grade, and my mom taught 8th grade was the year that she quit teaching for several years. It seemed like she couldn't handle 8th graders with bad attitudes all day and then come home to an 8th grader with a bad attitude in the evening. So I'm hoping that my son and I don't experience anything like that this year. Overall, though, I think we've gotten off to a great start.

My students are really good kids this year. I teach roughly 100 students every day. By this time last year (and years prior) I had figured out exactly who's home I would be calling on a regular basis. I had already sent out several students with behavior reflection folders by now, and was fighting the urge to tell my husband that we had done our children a terrible disservice by bringing them into a world where they would have to live along side people like my students. I know, it sounds awful, but behavior problems in the classroom can really make a teacher feel beat down and can also cause him or her to lose faith in humanity. Well, this year I have not had to send out ANYONE with behavior reflection folders yet, and have only had to warn and/or isolate 2 boys (only for talking...not being nasty middle schoolers!). As selfish as this may sound, I am excited to think that this may be a year when I get to teach and care about my students, and just enjoy them! This kind of year is one of the things that keep teachers hanging on when we have four or five years of difficulty strung together.

I've had some funny moments, but none of them translate well into stories you can read, so I'll save the funny stories for my next post. Until then, I'm off to spend some time with my family and plan for doing the best job ever!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Way past time...

I haven't posted since February. I profusely apologize to any poor, unfortunate soul who might read this blog, because it's just way past time for a post.

So much has happened since my last post...I'm really not sure where to begin. How about a basic run-down of each month:

March-my math teaching colleagues and I worked hard preparing our students for PASS testing. We were at the point of having to hurry so that we could cover it all. If you remember I also had an intern, Brittany, who was teaching full time by March. Brittany progressed very well throughout her internship. In March I was staying with her a lot, to help her "off the record".

April-an extremely busy month. Spring Break was at the beginning of April, which was very nice. We stayed home and enjoyed our time. Brittany was finishing up her internship at the end of April, so we had lots to do to get her completely finished and ready to graduate. The second week of April, when we got back to school, I had a horrible allergic reaction to something and broke out in hives all over my entire body. It was terrible, and I missed two days of school per doctor's orders. Brittany ended up having to teach for longer than we expected because of the reaction. PASS was bearing down on us, and we were in full swing of getting ready. We also played "The Price Is Right" one day at the end of our probability unit. We combined all our classes and had them play probability games we had designed and created based on some games from the T.V. gameshow. It was so much fun, and the students were able to demonstrate that they understood probability the way we taught it.

My brother and sister-in-law were expecting their first child at the end of April, and we were getting very excited about Bella's arrival. My daughter turned eight on April 26, which was a very happy day for my husband and I!!! Bella, (my neice) was scheduled to arrive on April 30 and I was so excited! My parents and step-parents made plans to go to Knoxville on April 30 to be there when Bella arrived. My own children were performing in the church children's choir musical that night, and I helped direct, so we were unable to go to Knoxville. Just at the end of the musical my husband came to get me...he had been called during the performance and notified that my OTHER brother was in a motorcycle accident in North Carolina. Randy did not survive the accident. As we began to process this devestating news, Ryan and Lindsey's precious baby came into our lives...the same day as Randy died, about 2 hours after his death.

There are so many things that happened during that first week after Randy's death, but there were a few things which made a DEEP and LONG LASTING impression on me...possibly even changed my life. First, when I had no idea what to do or how I could help my parents who were still in Tennessee, my sister Ashley, brother-in-law Kyle, and Ashley's dad Marty DROVE from our hometown to Knoxville AND BACK in one day, to pick up both my parents and drive their vehicles back so that they wouldn't have to do that. My other sister, Becky, demonstrated some amazing thoughtfulness in having people at the house when they arrived who would wrap them in love. She even called me to ask me if I could think of someone who could be there for my mom, as they were all coming back to my dad's house. My step-mom allowed (even encouraged) my mom and step-dad to stay in their house during those few days. This is an amazing family I have and am so grateful for them all!

May-a very blurred month! I do not remember much of what happened in May. Of course, the month began with the funeral for our precious Randy. I missed about one week of school after Randy's death. I know that my students and I completed PASS testing, which I was present for. We finished the year with a unit of study on Mt. Everest and took our students on a trip to Crowder's Mountain where they climbed the mountain (about as close to Everest as we get in these parts) and were able to see an amazing view at the top. The rest of the month was filled with cleaning out lockers, collecting textbooks, signing yearbooks, final exams and grade calculations.

June-just as quickly as we got into the swing of school back in August, we left school for our Summer Break. Two weeks have passed since the beginning of Summer and we are enjoying our break. I hope that this finds each of you who read (do I have any readers?) enjoying the warm weather too!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sick Day

I stayed home today for only the second day all year. This is so not like me, but I felt really horrible and would be of no use to anyone at my school! See, I love my job. I love teaching so much that today while I've been home I've maintained internet contact with my team, checking on students, notifying some parents of concerns I have about their child, planning for what Brittany and I will do next week. I can't turn it off.

I've had to make myself say no to some things school related this year. I didn't keep score for one single basketball game this season...I didn't even go to one single basketball game this season. My family needs me as much or more than my students. But I would be lying if I said I was good at being a wife and mom at the same time as I'm being a teacher.

Anyway, over the last few weeks I've been thinking about something really great I can post on here. I've decided that I'm going to share with you about my school. We're an IB-MYP school. It's a pretty cool concept for teaching. So if you want to know about IB-MYP before I can post more, google it and let me know what you find out. :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Snow Day Projects

Occassionally, in education, we encounter these things called "Snow Days". Now, generally, here where I live these are days that we miss due to bad weather...but not neccesarily snow...more likely ice, which is the case with us this weekend. So since I'm from the south, I don't attempt to even get outside when we have ice days like we have this weekend. So I made good use of the time I spent locked in my house...I pulled out the sewing machine and made new curtains for my bathroom. Please know that the frosted sticky paper I put on the windows will be removed and redone in the near future.

Since I had the machine out I went ahead and made a new cover for the head board. I had bought the fabric about a month ago when I was out with my mom one day and hadn't even tried to work on it. It was not nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be and I feel so good about accomplishing this!

I will be shopping for a new comforter for the bed soon, but I just wanted to show the world that I can do something besides teach! :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Introducing Brittany

Last week I posted about having my second good intern. Brittany has really shown me what she's made of...she's still very quiet, but I think she will do really great when it's time for her to take my classes full time.

She's a beautiful girl who has allowed me to use a photo of her on here...please welcome Brittany to my classroom! :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm doubly blessed

So if you have been reading my blog for at least a year, you will remember that last year I had an intern named Shannon. Shannon and I had the best time teaching together. She was a wonderful teacher and I was so blessed to have her in my classroom, and to get to know her and be her friend. Shannon was so successful, and did get a job teaching, and is currently doing just that, and being a great mentor to her students!

This year I have another intern. Her name is Brittany. Brittany has been with me for two days, now. At first, Brittany appeared to be very quiet. But I have learned very quickly that she is not afraid to speak her's more like she only talks when she has something important to say. Not necessarily quiet, just thoughtful. On her first day with me, I told Brittany I was going to the restroom (SO nice to have an intern and finally be able to do that), and when I came back, she had already figured out how to use the flipchart I created for the lesson, and was encouraging the students to work the problems! She was using a really great teacher voice and was interacting with my students! Already! That is so awesome!

When we get back to school on Tuesday I will ask Brittany to write a letter introducing herself to the parents of our students, and she'll start doing other things like taking attendance, going over warm-ups, etc. The girl already graded 4 sets of papers! I'm telling you...I don't know how I've been so blessed to have two great interns, in two successive years!

I'm doubly blessed!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My head meets the wall...

We've all said this at some point in our teaching career: "I feel like I'm beating my head against the wall!!! What more can I do to help them understand this concept?!" Well, this week I think this statement has become my theme. I have taught my students how to simplify fractions (which they learned well), how to convert improper fractions to mixed numbers in simplest form, and vice versa. Then I began teaching them to add and subtract fractions. That beginning was about 4 weeks ago. This week, I began the daily torture of waking up at 6:00 a.m., preparing myself for my job, dressing professionally, putting on a happy face, and coming into the school simply to endure the pain of my head meeting the wall for 60 minute periods, four consecutive periods a day! My students have an exam on these concepts...TOMORROW!!! I have taught these precious children a myriad of ways to solve these math problems. I have given them fraction burgers, fraction tiles, fraction circles and had them make their own fractional doolollies so that they can hold and maneuver the fractions we're working with. I have put interactive fraction games on my big Promethean board and had them play these games. I have given them homework, checked it, worked problems from it, brought apples into my classroom and cut them into fractions, had them count beans, had them color blocks...I think you understand what I've done in order to try to be sure that my precious students understand fractions.

Today, I gave them the last practice problems before the exam on a piece of paper. I told them to work on them on their own. I walked to my desk to begin grading some papers I have had stacked for about a month. One of my precious students raised his hand. I acknowledged him and he asked if he could come ask me a question. I said yes. He walked over to my desk with his practice problems and pencil in hand and said............................................................................

"Can you show me how I'm supposed to do this?"

Once head and the wall have become good friends!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Twenty Ten

I couldn't bring myself to write "Happy New Year" as my title. It's just a little too cliche for this hip woman. Tee Hee!

My family and I went to the home of some dear friends last night for a wonderful celebration of the bringing in of the New Year/New Decade. Honestly, I'm a little amazed at how many decades I've lived through. I wonder why it never struck me like this until this year? Who knows...maybe it's because when I was a child I never thought I'd live to see the 21st Century at all. I was not being morbid or thinking I would die young; it was just that it seemed impossible that I would ever be old enough to see this century (remember...this was when I was a child).

Now, on the other side of those thoughts, I'm certainly glad that I DID live through the first decade of the 21st Century, and hope that I live to see at least four more decades before I leave.

ANYWAY...I'm so excited to be a part of this world, doing what I'm doing for 2010. Just the thought that I have the opportunity (because of my profession) to change someone's life is overwhelming! I know lots of other teachers who are changing lives and I hope they know it and believe in what they're doing. Take my sister, Ashley. She teaches kindergarten in my hometown...she's in her 3rd year of teaching and she is AMAZING! I only wish that my children experience a teacher who loves them like Ashley loves her students. Or my sister-in-law, Lindsey. She teaches third grade in TN and is an amazing teacher...she writes grants, and touches those students in her class! Or my mom, Judy. She teaches math in a program here in our school district for students who need an alternative learning environment. Her students LOVE her...she gives them her phone number and you would be amazed at the number of calls she receives.

The only resolution I'm setting for 2010 is to be like one of these teachers I've mentioned above, to my students AND to my own children...a teacher who's students know beyond doubt that she loves them and believes in them and pushes them hard enough to get their very best!

Happy New Year!