And that means that the school year is starting again. When people say that teaching at a new school is a lot like starting over they are probably speaking with experience. It’s now year two at my new fancy private school and year four teaching math. Things are certainly getting easier. I’m not quite as worried that I’m way too young to teach and I don’t get mistaken for a student as often.
I know exactly how I like to have papers passed in and that I get stressed out when my classroom is too loud. In face my department chair told me the other day that my classroom is the calmest one in the entire math department. (I worry that she thinks it should be more lively, but that’s a long story.)
I’m proud to have incorporated some really sweet Geometer’s Sketchpad lessons into my Calculus class for the first time and to be delving into the creation of a Geometry text for the school. My kids say thank you as they leave the class each day. Some would say this no matter what because they are so polite but I think that some say it only if they found the lesson useful. I definitely think that more are saying it this year than ever before. My students who took the AP last year scored 5,5, 4,4,4,4,3,3. I know it was only a small piece of the class but given that it was my first time through and that I hadn’t focused on the AP test very much I thought it was a testament to the fact that I knew what I was doing. I was really excited to see that the 11 brilliant juniors in my class had averaged 722 on the Math SAT 2. I feel kind of a huge weight at the knowledge of how much work I have ahead of me to get this years crop of nervous, mathematically inexperienced students to that same point but I have a greater faith that I can do it again.
Until I started teaching I hadn’t experienced an incredible amount of failure in life and it makes me deeply unsure about my choice of work that I keep running into difficulties. I can’t even call it a career because i didn’t get my masters in education because I’d wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I did it because it’s what all Teach for America teachers did.
I’ve already been observed twice and feel frustrated by the comments that I know are meant with the most helpful of intentions. I was criticized for not noticing a mathematical mistake in notation in Geometry during a fast paced game. I was criticized later for not having an engaging enough homework review. I feel like I can’t really live up to the standards that are being set for me and don’t know if these are the reasons they are considering not having me back. It’s frustrating to think that it might be because of minor mistakes when I know how well my kids did on my assessments as well as national ones. It’s less frustrating to think that it might be because of students not being engaged because i know i get tired of coaxing excitement out a group of tired, stressed out students who are in Calculus sometimes just to get into a good school.
I’m wondering about heading back to graduate school or finding a job in curriculum development. What I do need is a place to vent about how teaching feels personally. Unlike a lot of jobs you really must put yourself out there for criticism by so many people. There is the unrealistic expectation that the teacher is always right and is capable of making fair judgments in much less time that we give a jury or judge. We must be masters of our subject area and masters of teenage development and popular as well. I can tell that I’m good at math because it’s more objective. I can see that I get the right answers most of the time. It’s much harder for me to know if I’m engaging, or interesting, or fun to listen to, or caring, or understanding or any of those other soft qualities that somehow mixed together make a good teacher. In any case, there will be more to come as I try to figure out my path and wonder if this is my last year running around wildly trying to make math interesting. (I mean, math is interesting, but what high schoolers normally see isn’t really math.)