I agreed to drop my roommate off at a bar tonight thinking I’d grab something to eat and then head home to relax because I was tired from parent night and teaching a full week. Four or five teachers showed up and once the discussions got rolling I didn’t want to leave. One teacher had been teaching homeless youth for 10 years and thought that even taking them to the fair for a fun day was exhausting. Another had been teaching science for 10 years and had idea after idea about how to reform education. A third was a kindergarten teacher with 26 students in her classroom. I only have 16 high schoolers in Calculus. She lamented that she wouldn’t be able to afford sending her child to a private school. Just earlier that day I spoke with a colleague at lunch about why she’d decided to spend all of his college money on high school tuition so that he’d acquire a love of learning.
Today in class my students watched a video on You Tube which was a recording of a real customer service call at Verizon Wireless in which a man’s bill had been calculated incorrectly because of a confusion between .002 cents and .002 dollars. He was charged 100 times too much and the manager could not figure out the place value and gave up saying “I’m not a mathematician.” My students laughed and so did I but I know that I taught the students who end up not knowing to do place value and relate it to the world.
I remember being criticized by my former administration for my students not all understanding scientific notation and reflecting that I couldn’t teach that without them knowing place value and how could I do that all in a day? The conversations reminded me that despite the years of difficulty I’ve had in the classroom I really care about math education. I know that teaching is probably a stepping stone to having the knowledge that I need to really understand the issues well enough to make credible suggestions for change. It was nice to be reminded of the teachers who are out there teaching in public schools where classes are huge and you can’t assume that you’ll be able to get kids to listen.
The veteran science teacher talked about how her first year of teaching without any education experience she knew she was a good teacher. I wished that I had that confidence even my fourth year into things. I still wonder if I am “gifted at teaching as an art.” I’m going to be evaluated on that this year and I’m glad that I’m not the department chair trying to decide what that means. I’m certainly seeing myself more and more clearly. The kindergarten teacher had some fantastic advice for me while we were discussing my trouble engaging students who didn’t like math. She said “picture yourself at a football game. What do you usually do. Do you watch the game?” Well no, I don’t. I talk to my friends. I think about the world. I get food. I wander around. I stretch. I move. i don’t care what happens in the game. It doesn’t seem relevant to life. I don’t care. It’s just more moving around. And that kind of clicked. That’s what kids see in math class. Numbers moving around for whatever reason. It doesn’t really matter what happens as long as you know the answer at the end. I remember glancing at the score at the end of the football game in high school and thinking “oh, guess we won” or sometimes leaving not knowing.
I care about football when there is a personal story attached, or when everyone is talking about something. One time I bet on the Superbowl at a party and calculated the different ways the score could end up what I’d picked. I won 100 dollars. I still didn’t watch the game but I did ask people what was going on. If there are ways to make me care about football i guess that is a possibility with math too. It has to be about relationships. Excitement. The kindergarten teacher suggested setting off fireworks every 15 minutes to get their attention. It’s true. They need to be running around more than they are. Moving. I know that I can sit for an hour and learn. I know that works but it does not work if it’s something like watching football and I guess that is what math is to them.
It’s shocking to have these revelations at a bar on a Friday night after 3 years of teaching.
Also, my kids are not behind. It’s odd to read about reading about people who’ve taken the TFA coolaid and are so invested in getting their kids to learn because they are so far behind. I don’t think of my job in terms of changing kids lives. It’s not that I don’t care about people’s lives, but i still think of it all more in terms of a giant problem to be solved. How do you organize a classroom, assign grades, create problems that differentiate themselves, use technology effectively, etc. My brain operates in this different world. And since my kids are not behind maybe I need to figure out something that sounds really fun for Monday and try to make the class appeal to everyone and test out the “what do you do to entertain yourself during football theory”. I don’t have a lot to lose if I plan to make the day amazingly fun. My kids future’s are not really hanging in the balance. And I guess for everyone else writing here that is a strange thing.