Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

How I've spent my evening 

No textbook, and there's some possibility that my teaching schedule could change, and a need to plan what am I doing? I'm making 8.5x11 posters for each of the geometry standards. It's actually quite fun. My favorite so far, is using a platypus to illustrate counterexamples.

So what else did I do today? 

It was a pretty full day of presentations. Some good news about the school's performance on test scores and other measurements (we're above the state average in all categories), assorted miscellaneous presentations about the changes in the school and updates on the construction (a few buildings, it seems are going to be unavailable for weeks or months).

The afternoon was a presentation on the school's discipline system, particularly dress code, tardy and truancy policies.

What mystified me was how difficult so many of the teachers found it to listen, or at the very least not talk during the presentations. I missed large chunks of the morning presentation because I just could not hear. In the afternoon, I sat front row center which helped a great deal, but the talking was, if anything, worse. I've seen this elsewhere as well, and it always astonishes me. Surely, teachers, of all people, should empathize with someone speaking to a group and not talk if not listen while the speaker is speaking.


I cracked out a beer for this one.

I had an inkling that things might not go well when I found out on Friday (remember, school starts in one week) that the AP had not yet talked to the previous newspaper advisor/journalism teacher about being replaced yet,

Well he talked to her today. It apparently did not go well. She was in tears, according to him. So now they're rethinking the plan.


And he mentions that they sent her to a journalism workshop over the summer.


They were talking to me in March about replacing her and they not only don't give her any inkling, but they send her to additional training?

So now things are up in the air. There's some discussion about having me serving in some sort of consulting role for the paper, and frankly, I'd be happy with doing just the extracurricular part of it or somesuch, but come on, this is just not the best of signs. I'll do my best to cope though, however this turns out. More to come, no doubt.

Monday, August 30, 2004

I've got some 

It's not so sexy anymore, but I do have some gmail invites to pass out.

There are 6 5 4 3 available. Note that I'll delete this post when they're gone to avoid the lingering begging that seems to have befallen some of my colleagues.

Note: If you want one, please send me an e-mail at my gmail address. It's too much work to deal with the cutting and pasting for requests via comments.

Phone First 

So I drove up to my school to pick up my books as promised by the librarian last week. Alas, between construction cutting off the campus network and who knows what else, books weren't ready yet. I did get a chance to hear the end of a summer practice session for the marching band, though. Not too shabby for August.

Sunday Search: number of math teaching jobs increasing 

I've decided to add a new weekly feature here, where I'll take on a search topic that shows up in my referrer log and do what I can to provide an interesting, if not accurate response. (Yeah, I know, "Sunday search" is starting on a Monday. Next week it'll probably be on Tuesday since I'll be away for the long weekend.)

So someone was looking to find out about whether the number of math teaching jobs is in fact increasing. I can't say for certain, but I can offer bits of anecdotal evidence from my own job search this past summer:

First off, there were a lot fewer math jobs than I had been lead to expect, at least at the high school level. I think that a big part of this has been the Bush economy with its low job creation. During the dot-com bubble, smart mathematically inclined people could pretty easily find a programming job or something else technical that paid quite a bit better than teaching (from 1997-2001, I was never involuntarily unemployed for less than a week or so, and saw my salary increase with every new job (except for the last job hop, where I went from an overpaid contract position to a less overpaid salaried position).

But now, things are grim. After I was laid off from that last job, I looked for work for 6 months and only got one interview, let alone saw any job offers. Under these circumstances, I suspect that someone who might be thinking about leaving the teaching profession might be more hesitant to do so because of job uncertainties (anyone have teacher retention stats for the last four years? preferably on state-by-state break-downs since the economy has been rather uneven across the country).

For the one position where I had any numbers, there were 20 applicants for the position. That's more than the total number of job openings that I saw.

Where we find the big shortage of math teachers, at least in my metropolitan area, is at the junior high level. I had plenty of opportunities in that arena (in fact, had I been willing to teach junior high, I could have had a guaranteed job back in March). It also seems that the most troubled schools have shortages not just in math, but in all subject areas.

Is the total number of math teaching jobs increasing, though, without regard to the number of openings. On this front, I think that the answer probably is yes, if only because of upgrades to state and district graduation requirements. When I was a high school student in the 1980s, HS graduation required just one year of math (increased to two years when I was a senior). That same district now requires three years to graduate. The state requirement here is two years with many districts requiring three to graduate. This has, as a matter of course, forced an increase in the number of math teachers needed. Add in high school exit exams that dictate a proficiency in algebra and there is an increase in the number of positions required, but one which has been building gradually over the years. The days of math teachers being able to write their own employment tickets are probably over, at least until we see another economic boom period to echo what we saw in the 90s.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Finally, I see my classroom 

Today's orientation was a bit more nuts and bolts oriented. Lord knows about the new K-8 teachers in the district, but the HS teachers went to our schools and got things like keys.

We had a pretty good presentation from the AViD coordinators for the school. I first found out about AViD when there was a story about it in the paper in my old city (the program just branched there last year or the year before), and it sounded like exactly the sort of thing that schools need more of: Something geared towards making average students into college students. My school is working towards making AViD principles be implemented across the curriculum so we learned about Carnegie note-taking and SQ4/5R reading strategies. Funnily enough, I'd been researching all of this on my own the past few weeks. Back when I taught in the Saturday program, one of the parents talked about how the most important thing one of her teachers had done for her was teach her how to take notes, and I had decided that I was going to make some systematic note-taking system part of what I did with my students. It's nice to see that I'll clearly have institutional support on this.

But the big highlight of the day was getting schedules (I've got prep first hour, journalism right before lunch, and geometry the rest of the day which was close to my ideal (I'd've liked to have had a post-lunch prep period, but nothing's perfect). The school is still in heavy-duty construction mode courtesy of renovations which have been under way all summer and are being rushed to be ready before school starts in a week and a half. There are new doors being installed which will add to the confusion since there are no keys for the locks on those doors (how that happened seems a bit of a mystery). My classroom has its new carpet but the furniture is still piled around the edges of the room. More worrisome to me is that while I'm in this room for all five classes, there's another teacher there zero and first hours. And this is her classroom. She's teaching part-time because of a recent child-birth, but it's been her room for a while and the walls are all filled with her own decorations, etc. She seems a nice enough person, but it does mean that there will be some negotiation underway to make everything peaceful and I can't just put things wherever I want them. The other big revelation is that the AP hasn't told the former newspaper advisor that she's no longer teaching journalism and advising the newspaper. I was a bit worried about that sort of thing, and hopefully it won't be a big problem. I guess I'll find out on Tuesday when the veteran staff returns.

On Monday I'll finally get my textbook(s?). Word is that the geometry textbook does not really do proofs. Crud. It's state standard number 1 for geometry, so it can't be skipped, but I'll have no text support. Note to self: Lean on the veterans when you have to go off-book. Don't try and do it yourself. Anyone know good sources for cheap used HS geometry texts, preferably teachers' editions?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Orientation day 2  

Well, it was not quite what I expected, and it was, in fact, almost useful, but I think that we spent too little time on some of the issues of diversity, and had too large of a group to really do more than just skate on the surface of the topic.

Tomorrow, I go to my school and get some more substantive materials.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Orientation day 1 

(From the department of there are other computers in the house besides mine).

I got to do a dry run of what my schoolday commute will look like. I tried the freeway to school in the morning which worked out quite well. I could safely get up 10 minutes later in the morning and still make it to the school by 7.30a, so it looks like the drive in won't be too bad. I tried surface streets coming home and found that that looks to be about an hour. I'll give the freeway home a shot tomorrow and see how that does for me.

The orientation was filled with some minor useful information (mostly from the union) along with a jumbled mess of other stuff. I did get a credit union sign-up form and also filled out the form that lets my health insurance contribution come from pre-tax dollars.

We did get a free copy of The First Days of School which I had been planning on picking up myself so I saved some money there at least.

Tomorrow will be a county-mandated session on teaching a diverse population. Probably akin to today's sexual harrassment lecture, but longer.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Signing contracts and filling out forms 

(The laptop's not quite gone yet. I'm heading to the apple store this afternoon.)

So this morning I spent a bit over an hour doing my contract signing. Because of all of my schooling, I'll be starting in the upper right corner of the salary schedule. No experience, but as much education as they'll give me. The only way to boost my salary besides time is to get a PhD or teach bilingual. Both are possibilities, I suppose, although if I were to do a doctorate, I'd lean towards an Ed Leadership... I'll have to research what my options are in the interim.

The 403(b) information is completely confusing, although it looks like the option through the state teacher's retirement system offers me the low-cost mutual funds that I'd like. There's a whole page of annuity contracts in the 403(b) packet, and some names of investment companies, but no specific information.

For readers out there who might be wondering about this stuff, here's what I can tell you from my own life experience:

The 403(b) is the non-profit equivalent of the 401(k), a retirement set-up, similar to an IRA where pre-tax income is put aside for retirement savings. Unlike the 401(k), there's generally no employer match, and the investment choices are often pretty weak.

You can put aside a maximum of $13,000 per year (increasing $1000 per year until 2006, then $500/year afterwards, higher limits apply for long-term employees who have not been contributing enough, or old folks in a panic). It appears that the 403(b) does not have the percentage limitation that the 401(k) does, so I need to talk with my wife about exactly how much we want to put aside (I've been bugging her to put money into a 401(k) with no effect).

Once the money's in, what to do? I'd recommend against the annuity unless you're really close to retirement. For young teachers, you want to look at the options and try to find something along the lines of a low-cost index fund. The more you pay in costs, the less you'll actually make. Furthermore, no actively managed fund beats the market on the long-term so you may as well just invest in the market. Most fund companies now have low-cost index funds. Vanguard is the granddaddy of this one with their index funds. It looks like I'll be parking mine in their S&P 400 index fund.

Older investers should consider diversifying investments a bit more, putting some in bond funds (although I'm personally not that enamored with bond funds... if it's at all possible, bonds are generally a better investment than bond funds since you can just buy a bond and hold it to maturity rather than deal with the fluctuations in the market that impair the returns of even bond index funds) and perhaps a smaller percentage into a money market. Anything that you won't be needing in 10 years should be in stocks (remember that we're not talking retirement date here, we're talking, the time when you'll actually be withdrawing the money to buy food, clothes, vacations, etc.).

One last thing, if your district is anything like mine, they barely even acknowledge the existence of the 403(b) plan. I've never heard of a district which didn't offer one. It's a great deal: Get in on it.

Update (8/23/04) There was a link provided in the comments to 403b wise that looks to be rather helpful. Also, if you click on the "link" link below you'll see this post on its own page, which may make the ads for the page a bit more relevant than you get on the big page that you're (probably) looking at now.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

A bit of a break from blogging before the school year starts 

My TiBook needs to go in for service so that'll be tomorrow or worst-case scenario Monday. I'll probably stay off-line while it's gone, so no new entries. New Teacher orientation starts on Wednesday and when my computer comes back I'll write about that, but in the meantime, there's likely not much to write about.

At some point, I'm going to do some housecleaning of my page template (I've started by clearing out the links section which I never did much with anyway). I'm also going to make the layout a bit more individualized now that I know a bit more CSS than before (although the basic color scheme will continue to be based around a green background). Also expect some housecleaning in the blogroll. There are more than a few worthy blogs there that are going to get knocked out while others get added in. What I'm thinking is that I want to limit by blogroll only to active K-12 teachers writing at least part time about teaching. Which means that Assorted Stuff and Nobody Knows Anything are going to go. On the other hand, my Safari bookmarks folder is full of others which should get added in. Sometime near the end of October, I'll do a quick check and anyone who hasn't written since the start of the school year gets the bump. Also going is blogroll.com's management of the links. I can never remember my username/password for the site, or to go to it at all, for that matter, and for as long as I used it, the blogroll has fallen static, so it's time to give up on that.

So happy trails for now, and may all your lessons be planned. Catch you later this week (Apple willing).

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Employment whatsits 

Stopped by the district office to get the exact same fingerprinting that I had to get for the state. (sigh). Same computer scan and everything, but they insisted that they needed to do it again. Oh and same charge too.

I think I understand why one of my mentor teachers took such a hard line on out of pocket expenses.

Speaking of which, it's worth noting that Bush and the Republicans have raised taxes on teachers this year. There had been a deduction available for teachers for out of pocket expenses for the classroom. It expired and apparently reinstating it would jeopardize tax cuts for the wealthy. The same thing is also in effect in California, with Schwarzenegger also overseeing a tax increase for teachers.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Job found 

After some negotiations between the AP and the deputy superintendent, funding was found to make the job at district R full-time. So I'll be teaching 4 math (which 4 to be determined) plus journalism. The long hard road is over.

Meanwhile today was another full day. I interviewed at district S after some early morning NPR volunteering. The position would have been all 9th grade algebra in a 65% white UMC district. I walked out thinking that this probably wasn't the job for me.

During the interview I got a call from a principal in district D and ended up making a detour to have an impromptu interview with him. It went well, and I really liked the strong offer of support that I got from him, and had district R not managed to make a feasible offer, I would have been happy teaching at his school. Very happy. But I guess it was not to be. There was another call from a different district D principal who wanted to know if I'd teach middle school, but I declined.

But hey, I'VE GOT A JOB!

Friday, August 13, 2004

My cup runneth over 

Hmm, here's the current situation: I've got the offer from district L. Then today during my district D interview, I got a voice mail from district R offering me a 60% position. I could potentially get two more classes as "period instruction" which would, in fact, bring me to a full teaching load, but I'm not sure how that would effect things like benefits. Doing a bit of quick arithmetic, I found that at my salary entry point, I would make about the same amount of money with 60% + 2 periods as I would at 100%. And this would include the journalism class.

On Monday, I need to call the other two schools in district L (or at least "Calvin"). Plus there's one more interview.

As for district D, I felt good about the interview, and I was apparently one of only 3 candidates being interviewed. I met one other who was an elementary teacher with a little experience who wanted to make the move to middle/high school. No idea who the candidate behind door number 3 was. But I will know where I'm teaching on Monday.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A bit more about Hobbes 

That I forgot to mention in the last post...

The latest latest 

After pledge drive I drove over to district L's placement fair. I interviewed with three high schools (names changed to protect, well, me):

Meanwhile in other districts, I had a call last night to schedule an interview at district E on Monday (right after my early-morning shift at the radio station) and a call this morning to schedule an interview at district D tomorrow. District D, which I think might be close to my first choice among what's available now (although "Calvin" gives it a run for its money) appears to be in a situation where they have a sudden unexpected math teacher at one of their schools, so my flexibility works to my advantage there. More tomorrow.

Hello, may I take your pledge 

So today, for the first time, I volunteered at the local NPR affiliate's pledge drive. It was a surprising amount of fun (I was seated two seats away from a professed "layabout") and lower pressure than I had imagined (I had envisioned non-stop phone answering which really wasn't the case). I go back again early Monday morning. Next year, I may well be there every day.

Friday, August 06, 2004


Hmm, I have a vague recollection of setting this up once upon a time.

No idea what any of it means of course. Maybe it's time to sleep.

Oh that'd explain it 

Rather than write, I thought, let me look at who else is blogging in the middle of the night. I notice Diário Semenal and click on it. My first thought, my God, my Spanish has gotten awful. Then I realize: It's Portuguese. Nevermind.


No matter how hard I try, or how tired I seem sitting on the couch, I go to the bed, and suddenly I'm wide awake.

Perhaps I should work on that novel

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I had one rule and I've broken it 

My original policy in my job search was to accept the first job that I was offered.

So much for following rules. There has actually started to be an increasing flow of jobs on the regional job posting site, so I'm feeling a bit better.

Thanks to Arch of assigned seat who made the comment that helped tip the balance for me (see the comments on this post).

I do now know that district G hired someone else but district R is still deciding.

Who else is out there 

I got a bit of information on how many other people are out there (at least as of last week) from one of last week's interviews which didn't yield a job: There were 20 applications submitted on-line. I was one of 7 paper-screened from that subset. It worries me a bit because I haven't seen 20 math teacher jobs posted on-line yet.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


I just hit my 10,000th post (actually a bit more, since I started keeping records with nedstat on September 20th of last year, but the weblog began on July 28th of last year.

The 10,000th visitor came from "@Home, United States".

Number 9999 was my wife who realized that it had been a long time since she'd read this.

Also in that last 10 were Purdue University, Comcast Communications, Earthlink, and a visitor from the Philipines.

Thanks to everyone who's come by over the last year and a bit (I managed to miss commemorating my blogiversary), and I hope I can make things a bit more interesting.

Job offer--but do I want it? 

I got a call today from district B offering me the position with the continuation school. Now I need to decide if I want the job. Anyone who has experience with continuation or alternative schools who cares to offer some thoughts, I'd appreciate hearing from you. Nowish.

The latest 

I had an interview at district B today. This was for a position at the continuation high school. I'm of mixed feelings on this. I can see it being very rewarding, but at the same time, to be dealing only with the lowest-performing students could get very draining very quickly. I suppose should they offer employment, I'll probably take a pass.

Meanwhile a position that I've known was coming open at district D is finally up. The catch: I need to be able to submit all of my materials on-line. They want three letters of recommendation, but my third letter is in a sealed file and I don't have access to it to scan it. The people at the district office were singularly unhelpful, telling me only that I could try to submit an app with just two letters, but I might get paper-screened out of the position. Sigh.

Monday, August 02, 2004


Sigh, still no job offer. It appears that the district R job which I thought I was a shoo-in won't be happening (I'll call at 9 this morning to check on this, but I have big doubts about it having not heard from them all last week). I had two interviews late last week which might still lead to something, but at this point, I'm assuming that I'm starting from scratch again. My plan for the day is to start cold-calling schools and districts. Mostly district N today (which is close and pays more than anyone else, but has not expressed any interest in me previously.

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