I was obsessed with evil Madeline from Revenge. She can smile through the most horrendous comments, and evil doings. Plus, she has that cool chair where she sips her coffee while plotting against everyone. Her dresses are flawless, and she always has good hair. I told my colleague that I kind of wish I could smile and be evil simultaneously. She reminded me that was not a normal goal.
I have put my energy into refining my 3rd grade guided math. The other day, I looked up from my “meet with teacher” group, and saw an amazing thing: Children were engaged, on task, and collaborating about math. No one fell out of his chair, or asked me to sharpen a pencil the 567th time. This class has a thing about sharp pencils. I’ve purchased two pencil sharpeners from Amazon; one already broke.
The following type of conversation happens daily:
Me: “We are going to do math journal, Number Talks, and then guided math.”
Student “Are we doing Number Talks today?”
Me: “Yes, we are doing Number Talks today.”
Me: “When you are done with your assessment, put it in the basket under the white board.”
Student 1:”Where do I put my work?”
Me:”In the basket under the white board.”
Student 2:-“Where do I put my test?”
Me: “In the basket under the white board.”
Student 3:”Do we give you our tests when we are done?”
Me: “No, put it in the basket under the white board.”
Then there is the stop everything, look at me, listen carefully classroom intermission.
“Everyone, hands on your heads. Look at me. The assessment goes in the basket under the white board. Thumbs up if you understand where the assessment goes.”
I’m working with my students to think outside the math box, or at least open the box and peek outside.
Student: “There is no math in this picture.”
Me: “Yes, there is math in this picture.”
Student: “I don’t see numbers.”
Me: “Is math always numbers?”
Me: “What about geometry?”
Me: “There isn’t one right answer. Look for the math.”
Students are looking for the one right answer. I want them to see math as a part of their worlds that cannot always be defined with one correct response. I ask them if there are other ways to solve a problem, and they give me blank stares. It has taken me a couple of months to show students that the process in which they are doing math is very important. Just because they know that 3×3 is 9, doesn’t mean that they understand the many ways this multiplication fact can be represented, or what multiplication means.
I am on a math committee for my county. We discussed how the traditional algorithms, we have always taught, are causing students to have little to no understanding of number sense. For example, if we are dividing 45 by 3, we ask the kids how many times 3 can ‘go into’ 4; place value isn’t considered in this standard algorithm. What we are really asking is, ‘How many groups of four are there in 40?’. Students have to explain their reasoning more than ever now. So how do we balance the right answer with the process?
I have tried to show students a standard in every possible form. I say it is the same standard, but in a different outfit. They need to apply the skills to various situations, which may or may not be the examples used and practiced in class. I have changed much of what I do as a math teacher, and it hasn’t been comfortable or easy.
I have been personally challenged this year. As the literacy coach, I have had less time in classrooms, and spent more time in meetings and out of the building. I begin teaching the gifted endorsement Monday. I’m in a small panic, because now I’m teaching a class to teachers. I am driving myself a little nuts. Should I bring cookies? Candy? Tell a joke? Do a little dance?
We have a new evaluation system. It’s amazing that I’ve taught fourteen years, but at the end of the day, I am reduced to a number between 1 and 4. I do understand the efficacy of a standardized evaluation system for teachers. But, sometimes I don’t want to worry about it. I realized that my expectations for myself are, at times, unrealistically high. Some days, we just feel like a 3. And that’s ok. Isn’t that what we tell our students, and better yet, their parents?
I remember my early years of teaching, where I felt invincible and that I could affect change. I hope that I inspired or encouraged a few students along the way. In those early years, I was able to advocate for children without meetings, emails, or glaciers of paperwork. I just did it. I’m sure there was protocol; I just didn’t think about it.
Now, I advocate for students in different ways. A test score doesn’t fully give the scope of a child’s potential. And if a child doesn’t qualify for the gifted program, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t brilliant. Children cannot be reduced to numbers and percentiles. There is so much pressure on everyone to perform. What happened to the utter joy of learning something new? What about taking risks in learning?
I believe that Drama Club has given students a chance to take risks without the fear of grades. I promised myself that I would only direct one play this year. We have ten boys in drama, and they requested Shakespeare. So, we are doing Macbeth. I really wanted to do Romeo and Juliet, but the suicide aspect is too heavy for elementary kids. So, I thought if I made them zombies, they couldn’t die. Yes, I’ve been watching The Walking Dead. Zombie Romeo and Juliet is a future project. It has to be written…
Teaching is very much like impressionistic art. The further away we get, the clearer the picture. When we are too close, everything is a blur, and unrecognizable. None of the parts are logical, and everything seems disconnected. We often get lost in the blur. I am thankful that sometimes, I have the awareness to step back and see the intended beauty of being an educator.