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Reflections

We are now seven weeks into the school year and settling into a routine. This year, more so than others, has brought tears and frustration. I’m frustrated with things that are out of my control and saddened by situations out of my hands.

This year, I am teaching a cotaught Algebra 1 class. I am blessed to work with an amazing co teacher. She helps me and the students so much. The students in this class are so incredible. I’ve never had a group of students that crave affirmation and blossom with just a little encouragement. My tears have come as a result of hearing their life stories. So many of my students come from heart wrenching backgrounds. In my worst nightmares, I could not imagine facing what they have survived. The fact that some of them manage to get out of bed in the morning is miraculous in itself. Forget the fact that I have to teach them to factor a trinomial, I just want to teach them to function in society. Many tears and prayers have been spent on this group of teens. They have captured my heart.

My frustration comes with some former students and coworkers. Since I do teach a remedial or repeater class, I often have students who have never experienced any success in math. They come to me hating school and viewing me as the enemy. Through the magic of Standards Based Grading, I convince them that I am not out to get them, just measure their learning. Through Dan Meyer type activites, I get them to view math as a puzzle and somewhat fun. Some students have their first taste of success in my class. (It’s not me, it’s the blog world that inspires me.) I love the end of the semester when I hear things like, “I’ve never gotten an A in math,” or “I had fun in your class,” or my personal favorite, “I don’t hate math anymore.” (Once again not me, it’s all of you I steal from.)

These kids leave the safety of my room where homework is not graded and seldom required. They leave the world of retesting where tests are meant to measure learning and guide my instruction instead of punishing the student. Most of the students leave my alternative class and enter the traditional math classroom. (These are not students who aspire to go to college.) The students shut down in the traditional environment. They hate math again and stop working. Several come back and visit and we have heart to heart talks. I try to tell them that if they aren’t trying I can’t help them. I offer to tutor them and help them in anyway, but faced with 30 problems of book work every night and large chapter tests, these students revert back into a pattern of failure.

I am frustrated with them and their lack of perseverance. They have tasted success and it was not enough to inspire them. I am frustrated with traditional teaching. We are not getting this particular group of kids ready for college. We are trying to prepare them for life. This generation is different and requires new teaching techniques. Outdated pedagogy is not the answer. Most of all, I am frustrated with myself. Am I doing this group of students a disservice by trying to create an educational utopia in my room where failure is not an option and effort is rewarded? Is allowing a student multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery setting them up for failure in the future? Since I am the radical teacher in my building with my wild ideas about education I have few coworkers to ask this to, so my blog friends, here is the question: Have you encountered this in your schools? Are students who have been successful for you, failing for others? How do you justify this without labeling yourself as the ‘easy’ teacher? (I know this is several questions and not just one. Comments are not just appreciated, but desperately needed. Thank you!)

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Amber, it sounds like you have made the leap from teaching Math to teaching students. With all the hoopla and angst surrounding the new evaluation system, I think you had it right in a previous post: the reflective pieces of the new system will (hopefully) cause all of us to really think about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Why am I assigning 30 problems of homework? Why am I putting so much emphasis on this particular test score? When was the last time I really, truly connected with this student? You are doing great work!

  2. September 24, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Hello, I look forward to your posts each week and I have learned so much from you. I am new to teaching Math even though I have been teaching several years the economy felt I needed to use my Math certification so right now I am exploring ways to incorporate technology and be certain that everyone who puts fourth an effort is successful. Now for the answer to your questions–No you are not doing students a disservice by offering them success. I feel you are merely ahead of your time. In time, someone will discover (really already has discovered) that the old way of teaching does not work. We must use performance based teaching and that is what you are already doing. I feel I am alone in my school also. I have different ideas but I try not to judge others for their different ideas. I feel if it is working for them, great–If not in time the universe will speak and things will happen to bring about change that will help our students. I recently ordered his book, The Law of Attraction–by Michael Losier. I has really opened my eyes to the energy we all have within us. I feel positive vibes from you and I am sure your students do also.The book explains this concept and that is we have what we say or speak. You are having success because of your energy and you bring that to you by your attitude and belief. Continue to encourage students–Don’t be discourage by the acts of others for you cannot control the energy of others but in God’s time, he will fix that also. You say your students have a difficult life. I say life is always both difficult (challenging) and joyous–ups and downs and that is for all of us. The encouraging part is that we neither stay up or down in life we are constantly transitioning and I feel it is a great thing that you are there to encourage and inspire children when they are at their lowest point! Oh, what a great gift your have!!! .Yes, I have students that are successful for me and failing others. I have had students in my class that have told me that they retook a class because they failed with a 68. I tell my students you have to “work” to “fail” my class. What I mean is that you must have a persistent behavior of doing nothing and no interest in success. That is work to me. lol. (To decide every day not to learn).
    My school has somewhat a performance basic-ed grading policy. I teach in Texas and when a student fails a test they must come in during tutorials and get taught the concept and be given an opportunity to retake the test. The most the student can make on the retake is 75. I use technology in many ways in my class. I have a website https://sites.google.com/site/mmaahsscott/home- and on the website I have vokies that leave messages, video and audio tutorials and many resources. Many of the teachers use the school website, I felt lead to create a “google” webpage. You start with a templete but I made changes to incorporate my personality. I teach 10th and 11th graders and at our school we give the same homework packet for the class you teach. This policy has been in place each year so by the time I get them in the 10th-11th grade, they know they will have a homework packet with a calendar as to what will be done each day. I am trying the “reverse class” concept-in that I post tutorials and PowerPoint on my site for them to review before class. Right now I am trying to get ideas about increasing the rigor of the problems and having more teaching of application of the concepts. Since this is my second year teaching Math, I am learning concepts and strategies that work in teaching the content. I look forward to reading what my online buddies have to say about what is working in their class. I don’t have a blog but I do appreciate all who share. I do have twitter and I share things on that. I think we as educators have a great opportunity to for success. Failure is indeed not an option for us either.

    Renee

  3. September 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    The big question is not “did the students taste success?” but “did the students learn math?”

    If the students really learned math in your class, then you were successful as a teacher, even if you made no lasting changes in their attitudes. If you made them believe that they were successful without them actually learning the math, then you cheated them. Only you (and perhaps they) know which of these actually occurred.

    I agree that 30 problems a night is not a particularly effective way to teach math, even for kids who love math. (See my post http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/trig-and-anal-geo/ for my views on the futility of that approach and http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/good-online-math-classes/ for what we found to avoid it.) Unfortunately, too many teachers see math as an exercise in rote memory work, for which drill is an appropriate pedagogical tool.

    Teaching understanding of math is more difficult, and many teachers have not figured out how to do that. If you are getting your students to understand what they are doing, you are helping them, even if their future teachers appear to be undoing your good work.

    • October 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

      Thank you so much for the comments and the links. I like your suggestions to avoid long assignments. My son currently brings home 20 problems of 5th grade math daily and my frustration level is high. Twenty long division problems without a calculator make me want to hate math.

      I agree that success without substance is not truely success. I don’t want to hand out A’s or give out ‘Great Job’s” without merit. I am definitly not a fan of the idea that everyone deserves a medal. I really do want my goal to be that students learn the math. I think I do this differently in each one of my classes. My first block is special needs students and I know that graphing quadratic functions (which I do have to teach them) is not in their best interest nor practical for them, so I’m not sure if my goal is to teach them this or help them pass the state test. On the other hand, my grade level and honors courses are taught with the idea that you must learn and master the math. You are right, teaching understanding of math and not an algorithm to follow is much more difficult. Thank you again for the encouragement.

  4. September 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    What your are doing with your students will stick – you may not be able to see it while they are still in those traditional classes – but its inside their mind – you’re inside their hearts – it will have an impact on most of them at a point in life when its most needed. Keep on keeping on! You can only be responsible for yourself and what you’re doing for students in your class at this point in time – and someday, your work will seep into others’ point of view. It is crushing to let them go, when you feel you’ve taken them so far and see them revert into their old ways…but for a moment in time – they experienced success and didn’t have that bad taste of math…and they will remember it…thanks for sharing – I really enjoy reading your posts!

  5. September 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    eh. I’m not too worried about future crappy teachers. That’s not reason to crapify yourself. Haters gonna hate. However, I do wonder how much I should prepare my kids for just what you describe. The tricky balance for me is how do that without poisoning them entirely but still not water down the message. I’ve been working on helping them separate the subject from the teacher teaching it. You can still enjoy the subject and hate the teacher. It’s tough though. I don’t know how many times I say that I’m not fun (interesting, challenging,etc), science is fun. But really what I want to say is that the content is always interesting, just that the teachers/textbooks/standards get in the way and if you’re not enjoying your class, blame the other stuff not the subject area and not yourself. So I guess the only strategy I have is to minimize “me” as much as possible.

  6. September 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Amber,
    I am in the same boat as you! I can’t do SBG like I want to because we have to be the same across the board in my department on our course teams. They don’t like re-testing and using rubrics to grade. They just say we will drop a test grade to balance the averages out.

    Just keep doing what you are doing and change will come bit by bit and encourage your former students to learn to adapt to every teaching style as best possible.

  7. Betsy Gilbert
    October 6, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Amber,

    I started doing standards based grading last year and I think it works for each individual objective. However, I have found when I give formative (or cumulative) assessments which I do after each unit my students always do much worse. I really believe that they are only “learning the standard” for that short test. I don’t believe they really are retaining the information. That worries me! I know for a fact that math is learned by doing…..that is why teachers give math problems for homework. Practice really does make perfect! Do football players only “practice” a little while each day and then feel they have “mastered” the sport. NO, they practice hours daily. I believe that we are just trying to make it “easy” for everyone and life is NOT easy. College will not be easy. One of my best math students came to visit yesterday, he was a straight A student and he told me that he was not prepared for college. This is what worries me about our whole “new” education system. I believe it is a response to our whole “society” which now wants something for nothing. Hard work and determination are a thing of the past. We live in an instant society and I don’t believe you can really learn math or any subject in short “snippets”! It scares me. As you know, I have been teaching for a long time but I always try to change with the times. I am doing what I am suppose to do…….but I don’t believe it is best for students and I don’t believe it is best for society. We are creating lazy students who want something for nothing. Sorry to be Debbie downer but you wanted to hear both sides! And by the way, I think you are an amazing teacher!

    Betsy

    • October 7, 2011 at 1:57 am

      Betsy,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree that we are catering to students. I do not feel as if we prepare them for college. There is something wrong with our system when students with GPA’s above a 3.5 can’t earn a 24 on the ACT. I’m just not sure how to fix it. I did start giving summative assessments every 3 weeks this year. I think it helps. They are 40 multiple choice question tests that model our EOC. By no means is it the answer to my problems, but it helps. Students can not retest this assessment.

      I have started giving more practice in my grade level classes. I do believe they need to practice. I’m not sure how to encourage them to do this in a manner that benefits the student and doesn’t involve cheating or copying out of the back of the book. My answer so far has been shamefully short assignments so they have no excuse. (Really, you couldn’t do 5 problems last night?)

      Surely there is a blend of methods that reaches this new generation without sacrificing the discipline of the past. Please let me know if you find it. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your honesty. I always want and value it. You are an amazing teacher. I wish we had more time to collaborate. Please feel free to share comments anytime.
      Amber

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