Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 26 2010

Community Conversations Seeping into Calculus

Today we participated in student-led discussions on controversial current issues during our flex period. My group discussed abortion and had a great, respectful and interesting discussion. This was the fourth or fifth community conversation of the year and I find that the really interesting conversations happen during fifth period when everyone returns from their respective groups riled up and ready to keep the discussion going.

The students said that they wished that they had more information on the issues they were discussing and they wished they had learned more about current issues in history class. I asked them if they felt like they had gained the skills they needed in history class to analyze sources and arguments. One student pointed out that we need to learn history in history class too and not just current events. Another mentioned that it would be especially hard to teach current events without one’s own opinions biasing the situation. I pointed out that teacher’s opinions always color their classroom. They choose the reading, the assignments, the grades, and guide the discussions. Even in math my opinion heavily influences my decision making. I decide what to weight in a grade. I decide what to take points off for. I decide which random tangents to pursue and which to nip at the bud. I influence how people sit and how they interact. Of course I’m not always successful but I know that the decisions I make are important. Or at the very least if I make a really bad decision it has a strong negative effect.

The conversation turned to a discussion about the point of history class. Are we learning to think? Are we memorizing facts? Are we learning from a textbook about things that happened years ago or are we learning about the news today? The right answer is probably some of all of that. Facts matter. We need context. Thinking matters. Today matters and so does yesterday. I hope that I represented the history department well because I think that they do a great job, care a lot about their work and could never possibly cover every thing. And I know if they tried the kids would just be annoyed at having too much work!

Study hall today was particularly interesting because I found an anonymous note in my box about how students are reading my blog. I’m not very stressed out about it but I am really curious about what students read and what they find interesting. I found out that there are facebook posts linking to my blog and that one student thinks it’s “hilarious.” You know who you are! Maybe so, but I’ve never fancied myself as a comedian. Not unless you count math jokes! I looked up the visit statistics and one day this week 96 people visited my blog! It must be a new record. And it also tells me that the comments were almost all from Seattle. I also heard that someone was reading my blog during class on their phone. I am starting to wonder if I should try to put some cool math websites up to take advantage of the audience. Or ask people to write comments to me about teaching math education? What did you really think about my class? Or I could tell my students the top ten reasons why they are amazing and awesome. I’m sure in another day or too this will all be boring and people will be back to US Weekly, facebook, Lost and any other interesting captivating, much-cooler-than-math-education topic. I would suggest you read the other blogs on this website and get a picture of what it’s like at struggling schools across the country. Some of it will surely be shocking when compared to what we enjoy at our school.

As the year draws to the close I find myself incredibly curious about how students perceive the point of school and how they interpret teacher actions. For so many years I felt like it was strange to have really frank discussions with students about what their opinions about school were. It was almost as if telling me their true opinions about what really happens was not appropriate. But I think that it matters that we share at least some of the time if we are going to grow and reflect. I don’t think the idea of students knowing what goes through my head when I plan a lesson is a bad thing. Maybe they will start to see me in a different light-more fallible, more arbitrary, more human. And hopefully they will see that even though I’m not perfect I care a lot and have put lots of thought into what I do.

Because honestly, I do get to make up and choose so much of what goes on in the room. There are fights about math curriculum and pedagogy all the time so on some level it’s a big intuitive guess about what works and how it should be done especially at a school with no fixed curriculum. And teachers don’t always know the right answers or the best way to deal with or resolve every situation. But typically they have a pretty good idea, especially if they are as experienced and dedicated as the faculty here. And I think that even if kids could listen in on faculty conversations they wouldn’t be shocked or surprised. They would hear a lot of people who really care about preparing kids to go out into the world and be successful good people. They would hear a lot of discussion about lesson planning and pedagogy and the cool new thing we read in the newspaper. And sometimes we are tired and just want to take a nap. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

I suppose I should be counting down the days to summer like I have in previous years but this time it’s different. My kids are so awesome. And I’m sure my kids were always awesome but I’m finally relaxed and happy enough to really, truly appreciate each day. Senioritis, I’m not going to lie, can be annoying. But I understand. We are all about to meet new people, make new friends, have new adventures and it’s exciting and scary. More exciting than infinite series perhaps. But anyways, if you are reading this and in my class, I sincerely do appreciate you and love being your teacher and will miss you next year. Keep in touch!

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    Learning more about life than math…

    Las Vegas Valley
    High School

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