When are you going to learn math?

And when am I going to find time to teach it?

This is the question I asked one of my classes the other day when they when no one was paying attention. It did not have the desired effect.

Currently I am feeling very frustrated and discouraged at my student teaching placement. (I believe I have been careful to conceal the location of this placement here on this blog.)

Some of this is in my own power to fix or is merely the by-product of being a brand new pre-service teacher. I am working on this and I hope I will get better.

Some of this frustration is being in the particular situation I am in as a student teacher. I can do some stuff about this issue but some is also out of my control.

Some of this frustration is the state of education. This is out of my control, but frustrating nonetheless.

Here are a list of things I am frustrated about. They are not unique to me. Some of them may not even be legitimate complaints. I feel frustrated about them anyway. This blog post is a way for me to express them.

Part of that is just the learning curve of being a teacher, but I am struggling a lot with good classroom management. The bells where class runs the smoothest is mixtures of kids who are willing to learn and do not disrupt class too often. Two of my bells, both 8th grade classes, have been very difficult to create an environment where students can learn mathematics.

I do not believe I am the worst teacher in the world at classroom management (in fact, the other day another teacher complimented me on how I handled my most difficult class, but I barely managed to teach anything that day and who knows if the students had a chance to learn anything) but my technique leaves something to be desired.

By something I mean a lot.

I am too reluctant to get on a misbehaving student.

I want to be liked. (Why?)

It draining to me to confront someone when they are off-task. I ignore too many behaviors. I need to be more assertive and less passive. I end up just wishing they would do what they are supposed to.

This is a completely unrealistic desire. They’re 13.

I’ve lost my temper once. I never wanted to do that.

I’ve yelled to get a point across several times. I never wanted to do that.

When too many students are misbehaving at once, I feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start to regain control. (Its like whack-a-mole. Except there are 28 moles, all of them pop up at once, the game board is 25 ft by 10 ft, and my mallet is the size of a pencil. I know that’s a bad analogy because the fact that it feels like whack-a-mole to me means something is off in my classroom.)

A detention with me after class doesn’t seem to really scare the students, many of whom blow it off–not that I’ve given out that many–and referrals to the office don’t faze them.

I’m told that my school is a very mild case compared to neighboring districts.

If I can’t handle this group of kids, how will I be able to even come close to being an effective teacher in more difficult districts?

I haven’t established a good procedure for calling the whole class to attention.

In very rare cases have I managed to foster the natural curiosity that people have and most of the time motivation for doing an assignment or working in class is “I’m going to grade this.” I hate that. And because I’m the student teacher it feels like I don’t have the power to change that atmosphere. I don’t know whether my feelings reflect reality but that’s how I feel.

Many of my students–even the ones that are in accelerated classes or are highly motivated–want everything spoon fed to them, and give up at the very first sign of difficulty while solving or learning mathematics. It’s very clear that many times they have not even attempted to read the problem, but just write down numbers or ask for help before even thinking about it.

The fact that as a class we have done more with algebra using the Connected Mathematics curriculum than in the actual Algebra I class boggles my mind. Seriously, my 8th graders did better graphing and identifying the parts of a linear equation than my 9th graders and advanced 8th graders.

Instead of being concerned about teaching math, I have to cover up to chapter 6 in the Algebra text by December. I do not believe these two things are the same.

I have the responsibility to teach over 100 students mathematics, but neither the authority nor the freedom to do either thing in a manner I believe is most effective.

I fear that situation will not cease when I move from student teaching to my first year and beyond.

The sheer amount of standardized testing I have administered to my students already is insane–already far more than I ever had to take as an 8th grader. The principal of the school says the students will take eleven standardized tests before they graduate. When I talk about this at work, a colleague notes that I am already cynical about my profession.

I am cynical and I am not even a licensed teacher yet! How sad is that? (This is one that I feel I can have the power to at least mask, and hopefully fix, even if there are still standardized tests.)

I am moving into a profession that is seeing more and more oversight by non-experts far removed from the classroom where the scores of my students on illegitimate assessments will be analyzed by an illegitimate statistical analysis method will determine if I keep my job and how much I get paid to do it.

Instead of planning engaging lessons that will challenge my students to learn how to solve, represent, and talk about problems in mathematics, I spend large amounts of time grading papers that students did not complete, did not understand, or did not even attempt.

I do not know if I am capable of creating lessons where students learn without homework, even though I believe that homework is a very ineffective teaching tool and that “skill practice” is not mathematics education.

I am afraid that I am not talented or trained enough to create a mathematics classroom that addresses many of these issues and creates an environment where students can learn.

I am afraid that my career will always demand more time than is healthy.

I am afraid that I as a teacher I will never move past survival mode from day to day.

I feel overwhelmed trying to balance the demands of my student teaching placement, TPA requirements, and a grad class.

I am afraid that if I am having trouble balancing these demands as a student teacher then I will not be able to succeed as a full time teacher.

I haven’t given up yet.

Pray for me!

Romans 8:38-39

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4 thoughts on “When are you going to learn math?

  1. First of all, I hope the blog post helped you deal with some of the frustration. I dare say we’ve all been there.

    Second, it’s human nature (I think) to focus on the bad, and minimize the good. You stated “The other day another teacher complimented me on how I handled my most difficult class” – so there are positives to be found. Don’t lose sight of them.

    Thirdly, try as best as you can not to dwell on hypotheticals… ie- “How will I be able to even come close to being an effective teacher in more difficult districts?” Maybe in those districts, detention or sending someone to the office is more effective. Maybe most of the difficulties there only happen on the school grounds, less so in individual classrooms. Maybe you’ll never even end up there. I don’t know, you don’t know.

    Or with regard to effective teaching and “I fear that situation will not cease when I move from student teaching to my first year”… every class is different. What’s effective on one group may not be on another – and for that matter, may not be effective on those SAME students the following week. You do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. Some days you have to fold. Other times, you go all in.

    Students learn best by making mistakes. We’re not so different. Glad to hear you’re not giving up. It may or may not get harder before it gets easier, but remember there are elements of teaching that make the job worthwhile.

  2. Roz Gallaspie says:

    Taylor,
    Thanks so much for sharing the link to your blog and allowing me to read about and feel your experiences.

    I recognize your frustrations as my own. I’m wondering how I might have better prepared you to deal with the kinds of issues you are describing. I know that there is no one way and the best we can ever do is remain true to ourselves. You are one of the most authentic individuals I have taught. I know you will keep in mind the man you have become and are becoming.

    I enjoyed reading your entry where you examined your being. I am reminded of the line from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses – “I am a part of all I have met.” Just as it is true for you, it is true for each of your students. You are now a part of their formation.

    And though you may be tasked to teach them math, I believe your real power lies in your ability to build their character – just as your Middle School English teacher helped shape yours. Marci Nichols taught you how to persevere, how to strive, how to think. Your description of her reminded me of a book I read over winter break – How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character – by Paul Tough. I recommend this book and/or the article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine on the same topic. You might find a perspective that will renew your faith in yourself as an educator who can and will make a difference.

  3. Pingback: SBG*: Everything Its Cracked Up To Be | The Barefoot Teacher

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