Thursday, July 12, 2012

My advice to the new teacher

Advice for new teachers.  How will you survive your first year?

Where to begin?  Where to filter?  What worked for me, might not for you.  What will work for you, I may not have even thought about.  After thinking about this for a few solid days, the best piece of advice I can give is to get connected.  You have been hired because you know the content and you have been given some training.  But what seems to lack in the current education training world is how to apply the pedagogy.  You will not have the years of experience to tell you where students are going to make errors.  You will not have the experience to use this phrase instead of that phrase to clarify the meaning of a topic.  You will not enter the classroom with the experience of handling everyday situations that become second nature to most teachers.  Yet.  This will all come in time.  It has taken me years, well okay, almost decades to develop into the teacher I am today.  And, I am not finished yet.  There is always room for improvement. 

The one single thing that saved me from running out of the school building at the end of week one and not returning was my connection to others.  The internet was still using dial-up modems when I started teaching, so I didn't have social media to help me.  I had to go face to face with other teachers.  I learned from them.  I watched them on my prep.  I lacked the art of the HOW.  I constantly asked them what would be the best way to present this to where it seemed I was a thorn in their sides.  However, it was precious to me that first year.  It molded me, shaped me, and prepared me for future years.  Throughout my 17 years of teaching, I have always seemed to have someone to bounce my ideas on, to dialogue about the best approach, or to share a disaster of what not to do in class.  Other teachers have been like lighthouses to me, always there in calm weather and there when I needed guidance during the darkest, stormiest, crazy days of teaching.

This summer seems to be very similar to my first year of teaching. I have become connected with others outside my school and district.  I have become a social media nutter.  I have connected with other teachers who are pushing me to challenge what is happening in the classroom traditionally.  I have read, and read, and read books, blogs, and posts to make me a better teacher.  I would like to lead my department of 22 math teachers into a world where students are engaged and learning instead of being bored to sleep by lecture all the time.  I even started this blog to have a place to reflect on my journey.  Some posts I make available for all to read.  Some are hidden just for me.  It's that connection I needed to take my teaching to the next level.  Get connected, stay connected, find new ways to connect.

Friday, July 6, 2012

When is enough, enough?

So, I am sitting here pondering what new things I want to incorporate into my school year this August.  (And, just as a side note, this summer has flown by as fast as a desert storm hitting my house.  Hmm, maybe there is an analogy here somewhere.  I'll come back to that one later.)  I keep festering over the one or two things to pick this year to try or fine tune. My mind keeps coming back to homework.  I have followed a couple of blogs and have been inspired.  The thing is, I am getting in my own way. 

I can't seem to wrap around my stinking brain the part about kids don't need a thousand homework problems a night.  How much is enough?  If they only have 15 problems, is that enough to cement the learning?  Is 15 problems too many?  How do I find the balance of enough?  Can I instruct so well and assess before they leave class to give no assignment?  If I give no homework, how do I know they will retain it?  With all these questions, one thing I know for sure I must do is at least give the feedback to the student on homework.   It seems students painfully sit at home in front of their books, glassy eyed, and praying to a higher power for some divine intervention on how to solve this thing with numbers and variables.  As a math teacher, I don't really want it to be painful.  I would hope that I have clearly explained it that it should be a breeze.  However, for forever and a day, math teachers have always assigned daily homework, checked only for completion, and complained about how kids don't do their homework.  My charge this year is to break that cycle.  I will be flying in the face of my colleagues by challenging their beliefs.  I more than likely will be standing alone in my endeavor although my wish would be a unified front from my department.

Here are some blogs I have been following for the last few weeks.  They are shaping my thoughts on the idea.  Oswald, Nowak, Cornally, and Meyer   All are great ideas and have merit.  (If you have the time, check them out).  I just need to find something that will work for me.   Let me flesh out some thoughts in my head here, let it sit for a day or two, re-read it, re-think it, and revise it.

  • I feel the homework calendar my learning team wants to use has too many problems.  
  • I don't think the book we are using has enough problems for basic practice where there aren't a few weird problems thrown in that are the exception to the rule. 
  • Do I want to generate worksheets everyday for homework, with the exact problems I choose to be on it? 
  • If I do create my own worksheet, I can give feedback better and faster because the worksheet will force some organization.  Some. 
  • How can I change my instruction so that I can assess and re-asses each day how well the students have learned it?  And I think I may have just hit the nail on the head here. 
  • Balance.  
  • I want my students to learn it in class and go home a few hours later and still demonstrate their knowledge without much struggle.  Maybe a quick peek back into the notes. Maybe I allow students to complete as much as they need to have it mastered.  Susy may be need 8 problems and Robby may need 12 while Travis needs 1. 

Time to let it stew for a few more days.

Any feedback would be appreciated. I need to eat my breakfast anyway.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I have to start somewhere

I have been teaching math since 1995, but my students haven't really been learning math until 2009.  Quite a difference in time I might add here.  I used to be the typical stand in the front of the room, expect all my students to understand by the time the bell rang, grade homework with no feedback, and thought I had it all figured out high school math teacher.  Well, I did.  But I clearly didn't.

There are several people I really need to thank.  I won't mention them here to save their spouses from a summer of ultra-puffed egos.  But I genuinely and sincerely appreciate the push in the right direction and occasionally a shove or two.

I have learned so much in the past several years.  I have really learned a lot in the last year.  And to help me sort through all the info out there, I needed a place to put my thoughts.  I want to share my success and failures.  I want to grow as a teacher.  I want to make a difference in my school.

This summer I have been like a sponge.  My summer reading includes isn't filled with the fiction I so used to cling to, but rather to professional development.  And yes, I highlight in my books and write notes to myself in them.  I have followed multiple bloggers and flooded myself with following others on Twitter.  I now need a place to share what I am learning.  I am a math nerd and always will be.  I look for the math in everything, which may be annoying to my husband at times.  My seven year old may think we are playing "McDonald's" when he actually learning about place value and number comparison.

I am a mother of four boys.  Yup, God does have a sense of humor.  When asked if I will have any more children to try for a girl, I politely say no and give the following explanation.  I love math so much that I even have my children in a famous sequence.  1, 1, 2.  The next number is 3 and I don't want to risk having triplets right after having twins.  I mean when I have a 75% chance of having at least one girl when I was having twins only to have 2 more boys...  See, math nerd.

So.  It was time.  I needed to start my blog.  I have to start somewhere.  And here seemed like a pretty good place to start.