Rookie Year: Day 131

Today was up and down.

My lesson plan was to have students try the Desmos Polygraph on Quadratics, then do teacher pacing for the follow up Desmos Activity that summarized the polygraph, and then do a paper investigation on the connection between factors of quadratics and their zeros. I didn’t push the last one too hard. I just asked the students if they noticed any patterns. Some of them did, some of them didn’t. Some of them noticed other patterns, but I just wanted them to notice anything at all.

Before that final investigation, I asked each class what I have told them mathematicians do. They all told me “Mathematicians are lazy” which is funny because I have told them that. I am always telling them we don’t want to work hard, we want to find the shortcuts. We want to understand so we don’t have to compute or work by brute force. So at least one of my saying has gotten into their heads. I just bridged it to the one that I wanted, which was that mathematicians look for patterns. I told them that finding patterns can reduce our work load because we know what to expect.

I think by the time they leave me they will have both of my sayings about mathematicians down. Which I am jazzed about.

My classroom management or lack thereof got in the way a bit today. Too much chatter between screens. I lectured sternly at first block and gave a lot of teacher looks to last block, but it was my middle block that was the most difficult simply because they didn’t want to do the work. They are the smallest and the quietest but they also complain the most. While the first and last blocks had fun playing polygraph, the middle block just complained the whole time. Which is a shame because in my last block I heard some excellent mathematical discourse between students.

“Wait what do you mean by that?”

“Okay so like the graph can be above the line or below it right?”

And so on. Desmos really had a great idea when they made the polygraphs. I need to reflect more on what kind of tasks I can choose for my students to foster that kind of atmosphere and I also need to figure out how to cultivate that atmosphere for when I pick good tasks but the students don’t respond to them well. For last block it was no work at all for us to get good mathematics out of the polygraph. For the middle block it was pulling teeth. When it isn’t my choice of task that is at fault, how do I adjust in other ways? I don’t have an answer to that question yet, which frustrates me. The only thing I know to do is just force the students to do it, which is miserable, and I hate teaching miserable. One of my middle block students asked “Mr. Belcher, why do you seem less cheerful than normal” and I didn’t want to give her the honest answer, which was that their class had an awful attitude, because I felt it just would have made it worse. I don’t know.

I was re-reading over some old blog posts and I noticed how long I’ve been saying that my last block has been an issue but I haven’t done anything about it yet. And my first block has started to get worse too. Part of it is just fatigue. Constant discipline is my least favorite part of my job and I run out of juice as the semester goes on. I lose the will to correct every problem and keep everyone in line and it becomes a negative feedback loop as this causes me to be more tired and therefore less on task with discipline. I know that makes no sense: If I just kept discipline up it would be less tiring in the long run. But that’s how it is for me so far and I’m trying to change it but it’s the hardest part of the job for me.

One thing I have been thinking about is how much I rely on student self-correct and built up goodwill to ensure behavior in my classrooms. I expect the students to behave because they should and because I have built a decent relationship with a lot of them, but then I get stressed when they disappoint me. If I discipline someone or ask someone to leave, the rest of the class straightens up. So clearly the answer is to keep up discipline. But I keep messing it up. It’s like I’m hard wired not to confront people, even when I am in a position of leadership and authority. I know this is a hard thing for many people to learn when they first start teaching but I find it extremely discouraging.

I’m feeling better than I did yesterday though. And I know I’ll keep working on it to improve. And I know the first year is hard for everyone. Not that much longer until Spring Break.

Thanks for reading.

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