UPDATE: This was posted two days ago, and because of some feedback, I had made the decision to pull it down. Today (10/11/12) I blogged about the fact that I “blinked”. However, I had some great feedback given, and because of it, I’ve reposted my initial blog. Thank you to those who set me straight. A good kick in the rear is never a bad thing! 🙂
This is the first year in three years that I’ve “taught” math in the classroom. As math teachers go, I’ve had my fair share of “how in the world does that work” moments in class. However, I like to believe that I’ve moved my students forward into the next year’s class with a solid, if not unexciting grasp of how math works, ways to do problems, and the ability to solve problems.
This year, I’m struggling. I’m looking at a math curriculum called GoMath! and using bits and pieces, so I can’t really blame that. I struggle with the idea of efficiency vs. understanding. I love math and the ability that problems have to make us scream out in frustration, yet, keep us hooked in for more. I love that sense of accomplishment after figuring out that patterning that happens inside of a set of number. My students, they don’t have that love right now. They struggle with basic computation, not seeing those patterns, and reverting back to blocks and pictures. I have no issue with this, none. I know that students will develop at different rates, I get that.
My issues come from two areas:
1) Test scores: If we are being judged (and we are now a SINA school) by our students and their ability to score well on tests, am I doing them a disservice by allowing them large blocks of time to figure problems? Shouldn’t I be working not only towards that understand, but showing and expecting efficiency on problems? Should a two digit by two digit multiplication problem take a half sheet of paper to solve when it can be done much more efficiently with the standard algorithm?
2) 7th and 8th grade: My second issue comes from knowing what lays in front of them. A very close friend of mine is in 6th grade, and I know she’s working furiously to prepare students for 7th and 8th grade, just like I am for her grade. For her, when they leave 6th grade, this where they are split and work from a much more difficult text. It’s a dividing line between what is elementary and what is secondary. Again, am I doing my students a disservice by NOT preparing them for that classroom? I know they must have efficiency going in because if they don’t they will be swamped, period.
This something that keeps me up at night (along with finding other math materials). I feel like I’m an excellent math teacher, but I struggle trying to work within our ideals of problem solving in the elementary, yet, preparing students for what 6th grade and beyond will look like, a land with much more work, no blocks, and less time.
Efficiency or understand? Is there a happy middle ground? If you find it, please show me the way!
October 12, 2012 at 11:26 am
I’m not sure there is a happy middle ground. As a student that has always been struggling with math up until two years ago, I know how frustrating it is not to able to solve the problem in the given time. I reached a point where I couldn’t see the difference between numbers and letters in a test. My teacher at that time was cruel, and while he was a genius on his subject, he was a failure as a teacher. He lacked empathy, among other traits, and he was shortly suspended from teaching our class. I build up a wall against any attempt of help from my second teacher. It was then, that my parents decided I needed special help in this subject and signed me up for additional math training. I was shocked to see my first teacher sitting at our dinner table, where I was supposed to work on my problem. He was a completely different person at this table and I never understood why. I was able to solve the problems when he was around, but I couldn’t do it in class.
I guess we both shared a deep dislike for the school (for me it was school in general) and that’s what made us both frustrated. He showed no more empathy than he did in the classroom, but it was something else entirely to just sit there at our old dinner table, munching cookies and talking about music when I pulled up my walls again. Now that I’m older and train to become a teacher for children with special needs, I can see what caused this frustration:
Our educational system has some major flaws. While there is no more violence involved, it lacks discipline and rules. Every teacher has a frame that he can move and work in. At the end of the year, certain aspects of one subject or another should have been taught – but HOW? That’s unimportant! During my training I discovered that there is just one person you can rely on, when it comes to input and teaching: yourself!
It doesn’t matter that you paid for text-books and that teachers get paid for teaching. It’s just a facade. The truth is: if the students don’t want to learn, they won’t. So who cares? All I have to archieve is merely a D – and that qualifies me to take care of children with special needs! I’m deeply motivated to get the best marks on each subject. And really, I feel quite alone with that decision.
And then there are the exceptions: teachers that work night and day to plan a lesson that would really spark the interest of the students. Problems that are challenging, but not impossible. Projects that are fun, but full of important information and morals. These are the teachers that probably won’t last long. Because they will be taken advantage of. If you are too friendly, the students won’t take you serious. If you are too strict, you are evil and cruel. A happy middle way will eventually make you sick, because the happy middle way includes giving up the line you drew between work and free-time.
Then again, this is Germany. It might be different in possible in other countries. (And that’s no sarcasm. I’m sure with a different culture and a different history we could be better people.)
Oh, dear. Another rant 😀 (It seems I write more in comments than I do in my own posts.)
P.S.: Thanks for visiting! 😉
October 18, 2012 at 5:17 pm
Rant away! I’m finding that I need to write more just to pull your opinions in here!
One of my own struggles (and one of those who I work with) is keeping that line between work and free time. Many of us work long hours, longer than most I’m sure. I’m at home tonight because one daughter needs to be ready for practice, but otherwise, I’d be at work until 5 – 6.
As for your other comments, each person we as teacher interact with are different. We play that game of trying our hardest of find that trigger, that button to push that will engage all students. I agree to some extent that yes, if a child doesn’t want to learn, they won’t. Yet, I’ve told my classes before, you can come willingly with us, or you can come kicking and screaming, but we are going! Not always the right attitude, but yet, sometimes that’s what we have to do!
Enjoy your time learning and earning those marks. We need more motivated educators in the field like yourself! 🙂