Ok, being completely honest, raise your hand if you freak out just a little when given a little more complex math problem..... nobody? Just me? Liars.... and I even teach the subject!
This summer I had the privilege of going to a professional development (PD) that helped us look at teaching math in a different way as well gave us an overview of the the Gear Up program.
Being honest, when I sat at the table the first day and we talked about theories and teaching styles and class room management I was good. Okay well maybe frustrated because we can't measure problem solving skills and life situational skills on a standardized test like the ACT but that is a whole different conversation, but I enjoyed those discussions. I felt comfortable and felt like I could contribute.
Then in the afternoon, the math problem came out.....and I kind of wanted to puke. My stomach started churning and I started breaking down and "I can't do this" just like most of my kids do. That initial reaction that we have been conditioned to give is one of FEAR - which I was taught long ago is just False Evidence Appearing Real. And besides what was I afraid of? Failing? I can't fail a training. But it doesn't change the fact that the condition response is the same (thanks Pavlov).
So I tried to really pretend that I was a kid in my classroom and think about what I would tell them to do. I would first ask them where their notes where (Ha! Jokes on my I didn't have notes because I was at a training where I should know how to do everything!), and then I would challenge them to break the problem apart into pieces that they did know.
After a couple of minutes, the sweating calmed down and my stomach stopped churning and my anxiety eased - I knew how to do this! We did a whole section on it last year and it was one of my favorite sections! Why was I freaking out?
But that my friends is exactly what 99% of my kids do every day in class, except they give up before even starting. They don't think thru problem solving skills to solve in different ways and that is an essential skill that they need in life! Every issue or problem that we have in life does not have the exact same steps to resolution as the previous one - they have to be able to think outside the box!
This was outside of the box and problem solving thinking was conceptualized a little better for me one evening when I went to move some stuff into my classroom after a day of training. As you see below, I had a laundry basket (which was loaded down with reams of paper, and I mean heavy reams) and an organizer that I need to carry up stairs to my classroom......and it was about to rain. So I needed to quickly get these inside and upstairs without breaking my back. I looked for a cart to no avail and thought "what am I going to do?"
Then I saw the trash can! Some quick questimation told me that the laundry basket would fit across the top with out failing in and viola! I had a cart and I can take it up the elevator! Once I did this I thought? I wonder how many of my kids would have just carried these items upstairs, making several trips, instead of figuring out a more effective and efficient solution? There was no step by step process to tell me when you don't have a cart, look and try these other solutions. No it was outside the box and critical thinking skills that are super necessary but hard to quantify that we need to me teaching in the classroom!
Everyone thought I was crazy leaving me job and coming to teach math to Freshman....and I have to admit, I was afraid they may be right. I dreamt about what the hardest parts would be of this new adventure and how I would react and handle them.
I thought the hardest part would be dealing with your attitudes.
Sometimes it was, especially at the beginning of the year. You came in with chips on your shoulders bigger than Mt. Everest. Some of you had something to prove - that you were better than me and all of those around you. Some of you were proving that you were just worth something at all because that is not the message you received at home. All of you proved to be amazing kids - funny, sarcastic, smart, witty, kind, caring, and I would not trade your attitudes for anything in this world.
I thought the hardest part would be keeping you focused.
Let's be honest - you are freshman and most of you have the attention span that lasts through a 30 second Snapchat. So I know at times taking notes or working on worksheets or whatever activity I had planned required every bit of attention and focus that you had....and even then sometimes bribery by candy or promised cookies was involved. But most of you realized that everything we were doing was to help you, and by Christmas most of you bought in and buckled down to get where you needed to be in this class. Doesn't mean we still did not enjoy our random videos and off-topic conversations at times because let's be fair Algebra is hard for any of us to focus on all the time!
I thought the hardest part would be discipline.
At the beginning of the year, I was worried. Some of you challenged everything - CONSTANTLY! In the first couple of weeks, there were almost 5 fights in my classroom - I was afraid I would go home with some serious injury before mid-term. In addition to that, I cannot imagine acting the way or saying some of the things that some of you did this year....most who acted this way are no longer with us (and if truth is told, I still miss them too). Some of you still don't realize at times the words that come out of your mouth or how inappropriate a topic may be or how the eye-rolls and snickers can hurt me too, but that's okay I'm a big girl with big shoulders to carry that weight on. Some of the way that you act comes from the examples that you see at home but you guys are old enough now to know that there is a different path that you can choose to take. Learn from those positive influences in your life to make different choices - I hope that I have been one of those influences.
"Circumstance may dictate where you start, but determination decides where you finish."
I thought the hardest part would be teaching you Algebra.
While at times this was not the easiest, I taught the way that broke down the information into the simplest of possible terms to help you understand. I researched online resources and found a plethora of tools to attempt to make the subject mildly interesting. And for the most part, some of you tell me I succeeded. I hoped for mild success this year, being my first year teaching, much less teaching Algebra, but I have overwhelmingly been told that I'm the best math teacher you've ever had. I'm told the two main reasons are because I made the information easy to understand (once you decided to pay attention and take notes) and because I cared. If nothing else I hope that you learned this year that I do care about you and always will...
I thought the hardest part would be making you care.
Care about math, care about school, care about each other, care about life in general - care about anything other than the drama that can swirl around you and what someone else's opinion of you may be. Over and over again, I tried to show you where you may use some of the skills that you gained in this class.... fair enough, I never found a good example for polynomials and quadratics. But at least the problem solving and logical thinking skills I think most of you finally understood and care why these skills may be important through out life. Some of you came to my class and maybe learned more about how to deal with life than how to solve an equation. And while I wish that you could have done both, if you stay persistent and don't give up you will master the math part next year....as long as you care enough to do so. Several of you I know care because you'd taken the time to ask about a classmate that you may not have known at the beginning of the year or shown your partner at your desk how to walk through a problem to make sure that they succeeded as well.
I'm so stinking proud of you guys for stepping outside of yourself and caring about others and the world around you.
The hardest part by far is saying good-bye.....
And now the tears begin rolling...
I have only cried twice this year, even though I was told as a new teacher I would cry daily (I promise, if this is your passion you won't!), and both times were as I had to say good bye to students who I was not sure if they were moving on to better places. You see, we see a lot that you maybe don't think we as teachers see. We hear a lot that you don't think that we hear. We know a lot of what goes on in your lives whether you realize it or not and our hearts ache and break for you - at least I know mine does. My mom was worried that as I came into teaching, I would want to save you all and that it would break my heart when I couldn't. Well I do want to save you all and it does break my heart to hear and know some of the things about your lives that I do, but I also know that someone swooping in and saving you all the time is not the answer. Life is hard and trust me, it gets harder, and you need to learn skills in order to survive and succeed. That is why I want a year with you to teach you those life-skills (and Algebra) and those that left too soon I'm not sure that they got it. Even those of you leaving now, I'm not sure if you are ready and that scares me to no end. But I have to send you out and on and know in my heart of hearts that I have given you all the tools to make your masterpieces, it is up to you to decide what to make of them.
Today my make-up is on lightly because the tears have started already - I will miss you guys so much. You cannot know the impact that you have had on me and the ways that you have changed me to become a better teacher and person and I hope that maybe in some small way I have made the same difference to you.
Did you ever hear about the Isle of Misfit Toys? If I remember correctly it was were all the broken toys went since they weren't perfect like all the other toys that Santa had. Eventually Rudolph and friends convinced Santa to take the toys to happy homes where they are all wanted.
Well I some what feel like many times some of the kids that come through my doors might be like those toys that ended up on the Isle of Misfits - just not perfect in everyone else's eyes. Maybe they don't know how to read, and I mean they really don't (some read at a 3rd grade level as freshman) but the compensate by smiling and working hard and cover it up real well. Or maybe they can't compute basic math problems - several of my kids need calculators to compute 9-3.
How did they make it this far? Don't know, don't care - at this point I'm tired of people worrying about who is to blame. Just fix it. Our babies deserve better than this. Many of these kids and I started out rough for the first part of the year. I've had my fair share cuss me out, I've been called a name or two, I've written several up for it....but with almost all of them we now have a very different relationship.
I won't forget one day, at the beginning of last semester I had two boys in one class continuing to goof off and do nothing. Not only do nothing but disrupt the rest of class and after repeatedly calling them down I wrote them up. After that they were a little better but I noticed them passing notes a few days later. When I walked over to see what was going, one wadded up the note and stuck it in his mouth, then took it out and threw it away, convinced I wouldn't touch it then. Well, I didn't in front of them. But after class, I went to the trash and found the note and pulled it out. Now, you might be thinking "EEEEWWWWW!" And trust me I did too but I was really struggling with these two and I believe you can't fix something if you don't know what's wrong so I was just looking for some clue for what to do with them.
When I unfolded the note and read it, I almost cried. I expected some really mean and nasty things about me and my appearance or whatever. Instead the note read something like "how can she expect us to learn anything when she doesn't know how to teach". And I remember thinking, your right I don't know how to teach, I'm learning myself everyday but what I'm doing with you isn't working at all. Since then, I've tried a different approach with those boys - less authoritative and more caring. They know I will still right them up if needed (I've told the kids while I love my babies at home, I also love them enough to punish them when they disobey and I will do the same with my class kids!) but this relationship is working so much better for me and them. I've gotten to learn a little more about them and what makes them tick and I can generally get them to work for me.
Today one of the kids, after a particularly hilarious start to class, asked me "Mrs. Snell do you like me being in your class?" To which I replied "Absolutley!" And he asked "Are you sure? I mean seriously?" And from the bottom of my heart the only answer I had was yes because he is one of my Misfits. And while we all may not be perfect in every way, I am loving every moment that God has given me to help these perceived Misfits to reach all the potential that is there for them to succeed!