Math = Love: The Intersection of my Grand Plans and Reality

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Intersection of my Grand Plans and Reality

Honestly, my first year of teaching is going pretty well.  Throughout my education program in college, I didn't really feel like it was preparing me all that much for life as a teacher.  We read about classroom situations and discussed how we would handle them.  We practiced writing tests for imaginary classes and imaginary students.  We wrote 6-10 page lesson plans for lessons we never intended to teach.  We observed teachers in their classrooms and wrote about what we saw.  I excelled at these things, but at the same time I knew that these would not necessarily correlate to success in my own classroom.

Student teaching was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.  At my first placement, I didn't learn a lot about teaching, but I did learn a ton about working with at-risk students.  I saw first-hand what happens when the pace of teaching and the method of teaching doesn't match what the students need.  These students were years behind in math.  Some didn't even speak English.  One student I worked with had never learned what "divide" meant.  Working a few examples on the Smart Board and giving the students their homework assignment wasn't working.  By the time I got there in January, these students were even more behind.  On top of that, they were frustrated.  They believed that they couldn't be successful in math.  The homework completion rate was extremely low.  And, test scores matched that.

At my second placement, I still didn't learn a lot about teaching.  All of the 8th grade math topics had already been covered.  Instead, it was my job to prepare the students for the 8th grade state math test.  There, I learned about decision making in the classroom.  I learned about classroom management.  I learned the importance of reflecting on my lessons and revising them.  I found out that it was okay to scrap something that isn't working even if I spent hours on it.  For weeks, I prepared those students for a test that would greatly determine their future.

Since getting this job in April, I've been planning.  What will my classroom look like?  What will I teach?  How will I teach it?  And, thanks to my many blogging friends, I began making grand plans.  I bookmarked their ideas.  I scoured pinterest for hours.  I read 4 different books on the best way to teach.  Each book contradicted the other books.  I had all these ideas floating around in my head, but I didn't know which ones were the right ones.

This summer, I started actually using twitter.  It's been life-changing to say the least.  I can't imagine life now without my twitter friends.  Being one of only two math teachers at the high school can be lonely.  The other math teacher is right across the hall from me, so we compare notes about our Algebra 1 classes during the passing periods.  We talk about what worked and what didn't.  He listens to me vent, and for that I'm most thankful.  But, on twitter, I have access to so many experts.  They've been teaching for years, and they know how to teach math.  Ideas I would never dream of coming up with on my own are shared.  They've helped me transform so many of my lessons.  I always leave twitter feeling inspired.

So, what actually goes on in my classroom?  Some days I feel like such a fraud because I have posted all these things on my blog that I planned to use or do and they just don't happen.

Bellwork.  Originally, I was going to do an ACT practice question each day.  Then, I changed my mind to doing Stella Stunners.  I did these brain teaser type puzzles for two weeks.  I wanted to develop my students' problem solving strategies.  That failed.  A few students would try.  The others would declare it was too hard and wait for me to give them the answer.  I still do bellwork.  But, I've started doing review problems from the previous lesson or reviewing a prerequisite concept for the current day's lesson.  Amazingly, my students come in my classroom and start on their bellwork without being asked.  (Well, most of them do.  I have a few who still need to be reminded.)  They can't wait for me to check their answers.  It's a beautiful thing.  I'm the only teacher in my school who uses bellwork, and I can't imagine my classroom without it.  The first few minutes of class are not wasted.  In fact, I am often ready to start teaching before the bell even rings.

Exit Tickets.  Yes, I said I was going to do an exit ticket every day.  The teaching books told me I needed to.  I write them in my lesson plans.  But, I may only actually do one every two weeks.  I like to use them when introducing a new concept for the first time.  I've found, though, that I really don't need them.  I teach really small classes.  I only have 7-17 students in each of my classes.  We use our dry erase boards to solve problems every day.  The students solve the problem and hold it up for me to check.  I don't need the exit ticket to tell me who has it and who doesn't.  I already know.

I am a work in progress.  I work to become a better teacher every single day.  Some days are more successful than others.  It's hard.  There are so many variables in my students' lives and my school that I can't control.  But, I'm learning, with the help of my amazing twitter and blog friends, to do my best at what I can control.   


  1. I like how you described your experiences as a student teacher and what you *really* learned from them. I think a lot of future teachers get hung up on lesson plans and what they're going to teach, that they don't realize what it's like when you're in front of a diverse group of kids.

    I also like how you described the benefits of blogging and using twitter. I wish I had used these resources when I was still in the classroom. I've learned so much in the past month and a half of using both that it makes me wish I was in the classroom right now. I've gotten so many ideas! It's energizing to be part of this community.

    I'm happy to hear that you decided to change things up with bellwork. Sometimes we want to stick with something because we see the value, but I'm glad you "listened" to your students and changed the activity. It sounds like it is more successful now because the difficulty of the work is more within their reach.

    Finally, I like how you "listened" again with regards to exit tickets. Sure, there are lots of great reasons to use different teaching strategies, but the important thing as a teacher is to evaluate which ones best meet the needs of your students. In your case, you have found the best time to use them with your students, and at other times you have other ways to assess their understanding throughout the class period since you have small classes.

    Thanks for an insightful post!

  2. I think I've reached the 41st page on the search results and the most notable ones are khovanova and yours (but khovanova is more at the research level - she makes up puzzles so she can get to MIT) and the "mathbabe" of course notable because of the name but I quickly slided off because it's a set-up to sell her books

    so 41st page is for all intents and purposes the end of internet or things start getting a little off track after that - if you wanna hit the right spot you hit it with the right spot