Saturday, January 12, 2013

Good Teaching

When I first looked for a teaching job outside the one that I had at a residential program, my sister told me to join professional organizations in my field.  So I joined NCTM and have been a member ever since.

I got their monthly magazine on teaching middle school mathematics and devoured it every month.  I also scoured their archives for lesson ideas.  Some of my best units came from other teachers who submitted their great lessons and units for publication by NCTM.

I also read a lot of books- especially those by Marilyn Burns.  I brought manipulatives into my classroom.  I brought writing.  I brought reading.  I brought whatever I could.  I spent a lot of time planning lessons and a lot of energy delivering them.  My students loved my class.

But I got jaded.  And older.  Standardized tests and increased scrutiny made me nervous.  I worried so much about covering all the standards that I was scared to try new things.  I didn't have as much energy.  I found things to do in my spare time that didn't involve grading papers and planning lessons.  My effectiveness suffered.

Eventually I moved to a new state and left the school where I had earned respect, collaboration, and support.  I walked into a new school that had only seen outdated methods.  I tried some things that had worked for me in the past, but they didn't work with these kids.  The working conditions sucked.  I wasn't doing well.  So I looked for something else.

I wanted to get out of teaching.  I was becoming one of those teachers that had lost her spark.  I looked into other professions.  But my family encouraged me to stay in education so I looked there, too.

I found a job opening advertising a position for individual and small group instruction.  Perfect.  I do a great job working with small groups of kids.  This was a support math class so I wouldn't have a set curriculum to follow.  I could find out what the students needed and deliver my best instruction on those topics.

I left my job in February to start this new position.  I was taking over a class that the school's math coach was teaching so he could be a math coach full time.  The kids loved him.  It was high school which I had never taught.  I observed him and decided not to change what the kids were getting.  It wasn't NCTM style, but maybe it was just as good.  I loved the math coach, loved the school, and had a great few months.  I didn't take any risks, though.  I stopped looking to NCTM for inspiration.  Also, the job description lied.  These were full-size classes not small groups and definitely not individuals.

During our professional development before this school year, a consultant was brought in.  He had consulted with the school the year before, but he left me alone.  He comes in from out of state.  He travels all over the country training teachers to teach struggling students.  Great, I thought.  An expert.  I was doubting my effectiveness and was willing to try anything.  Also, I was no longer teaching a support class.  Due to budget cuts and a change to block scheduling, I was going to be teaching regular high school math classes.  The only part that stayed the same was that I would still be teaching the struggling students.

So, he trained us on how to teach math.  Quick, crisp review.  Prescribed note-taking.  Direct instruction.  Carefully created tests.

I implemented his methods faithfully.  Both he and the math coach said I was the math teacher that followed his methods the most.  They said I was doing great.  I got nothing but gushingly positive feedback.

But I knew my kids weren't learning.  I knew my class was boring.  I knew I wasn't reaching the kids.

At the end of the semester, they changed their tune.  The feedback was no longer positive.  In my private meetings with the math coach, I questioned the consultant's methods.  I tentatively spoke about current research.  I told him that this consultant's style didn't match what the experts were saying.  The math coach gave me the green light to do whatever I wanted.

So I went back to the NCTM website.  I ordered more books.  The math consultant likely won't be rehired for next year.

I've asked the math coach what the other math teachers are doing.  Note-taking with guided practice.  I want to try new things.  But it's scary.  I'm revisiting my books.  I'm revisiting the blogs of the teachers that inspired me way back when.  But I haven't changed anything yet.  I'm working in a school that embraces direct instruction.  I'm working in a school in which the administration thinks Kagan structures are the way to improve instruction.  Yes, they have their place. Yes, they get the kids moving.  But Kagan structures don't address the issue of teaching critical thinking.  Our math coach is only now educating himself about inquiry-based, engaging, and non-traditional teaching.  How can I be the change?  How can I try new things when the people evaluating me are stuck in the past?  How do I know they're not right?

So I've promised change that I'm not yet delivering.  I want to be in a school where I can collaborate.  I want to be in a school that embraces the kind of teaching current research supports.  I want some guidance from an expert.  So I'm frozen.  And I don't know what to do.


Dave Marain said...

I am so moved by your candor and passion for helping your children learn. If you would to dialog, just send me an email through my blog MathNotations. No, that was not intended to be a shameless plug! I enjoy conversing with dedicated educators who are willing to take risks for their students.

Poor_Statue said...

Thanks! Feel free to shamelessly plug. It's been so long since I blogged regularly that most of the education blogs I have linked are no longer current.

artzone said...

I think what you are saying must be very true I would love to know how you are doing now. Mary Nelson

Anonymous said...

This is really inspiring. You have such a passion that even when you felt like leaving you stuck with. I am aspiring to become a middle school math and science teacher and this makes me want to work even harder at reaching that goal.

Poor_Statue said...

I ended up getting an instructional coach position in another district. I had a difficult first year, and unfortunately it was not specific to math. Due to budget cuts, the position was eliminated. I will be teaching sixth grade next year in the same school. I have never taught sixth grade, and I think I'll also have to teach science, but I just don't have it in me to go back to seventh and eighth grade which is where I spent most of my career.