School ends June 8 and it is good and appropriate to look back at this year. My experiences are obviously colored by my training (I started as an engineer and I have been teaching for only ten years), my education (Europe and US) and my experience as a teacher (same high school, in a relatively small district with two middle schools and one high school).
First and foremost, I need to reconcile myself to the fact that the students I get are (by enlarge) poorly prepared, uninterested in math and sorely lacking in study skills. The latter deficiency extends to most academic subjects, but its consequences are perhaps more acutely seen in math. As I have blogged before, I do not think that we as a nation are very much attuned to academic success and especially to mathematics.
Second, I need to reconcile myself to the fact that my math colleagues are not very much interested in innovation – I would call them lemming-like. They accept the state tests as a measure of student knowledge and would not dream of challenging that notion. Their exams and their pacing -guides are literally by the book, and they do not bring extraneous or innovative material in the classroom. Their “projects” are infantile. They accept the guidance of administration that lessons should follow an identical plan (given to the school by a consulting firm), and that they should not deviate from that format. The scariest part is when they come to me and ask me math questions that a teacher should know! Yikes!
Third, I need to reconcile myself to the fact that I work in a district where parents have a lot of power. If they do not like a teacher, they will successfully demand that their child be transferred to another class that is “easier” (i.e. where it is easier to get a good grade) or the teacher be changed (it did happen to a colleague this year). The counselors, and the school administrators cotton to the parents because they know that if they do not, those parents will go to the board. The yin and yang of a small district!
Therefore, the things that I want to do and that I think are worth doing, I need to do on my own, with little or no discussion with my peers or administrators. I need to steer my own course and if they don’t like it they can slap my hand later.
What are the things that I want to improve on? First, I need to stress a lot more the conceptual components of math than I have done so far. I need to move away from the standard, current algorithmic approach to math teaching (“Here are the steps to learn if you want to solve this type of problem”) to a more big-idea type of approach (“What are the key elements in linear functions? How do they differ from, say, exponential or quadratic functions?”). One of the great challenges will be to balance the need for algorithmic-ease with the need for conceptual understanding.
This ties to my second goal, which is to check for deep-understanding, i.e. understanding the principles. My thinking currently is that peer instruction (PI) and Just in Time Teaching (JITT) might be the best ways to accomplish these goals. I have watched Eric Mazur’s You Tube videos and they were eye openers. Adapting these techniques to high school teaching seems a worthy if challenging goal.
Of course, all of this depends on the courses admin will give me – if I get Algebra I, it will be more about classroom management than about teaching math. PI and JITT lend itself more to Math Analysis or AP Statistics, but I may not get those courses.
To be continued…