My teaching experience thus far has probably been very different from the majority of any of you who may read this blog. I am now beginning my 13th year of teaching, all of which have been at the same K-12 school in West Virginia. My bachelor’s degree is in Mathematics Education with a minor in Composite Science. When I was hired, this school had a full-time math teacher and full-time science teacher. My original teaching job was basically to teach the classes that weren’t covered between them. When I was hired, the administrator told me he wasn’t expecting the math teacher to be around for too much longer, so it probably would only be a couple of years until I had all the high school math classes which is what I really wanted.
My first year’s teaching load was as follows: Honors Chemistry (11th/12th grade), 7th Grade Math, Pre-Algebra (8th grade), Earth Science (8th grade), Consumer Math (11th/12th grade), and Accounting (11th/12th grade). The first year was rough, as is expected, but I made it through. I was in a completely new environment on my own without a lot of support around. My family was about 750 miles away. The one major blessing out of that first year was meeting the woman who would become my wife, so that made the transition a little easier. To make a long story short, the science teacher left long before the math teacher did, so I’ve been viewed as a “science guy” for most of my career. I ended up teaching a total of 17 different courses in my first 8 years. I was starting to get frustrated with what I was teaching and felt like promises that had been made weren’t being kept. I could have left and gone somewhere else, (and many argued that I should have), but my heart (and my wife’s family) was here in West Virginia.
*Fast forward a few more years*
After 38 years of teaching (29 of which were at this school), the previous math teacher decided to retire last spring. Finally, in my 13th year of teaching, I am now teaching the classes that I have wanted to all along. I have 5 new classes and 1 old class this year: Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-calculus, Calculus (all new) and 7th grade math.
I am so excited to teach this year and beyond. The first week went great. One of my calculus students asked me after class on Thursday, “Mr. J, do you enjoy teaching more this year?” I told her that I enjoy what I’m teaching more this year. I’ve always enjoyed being a teacher, but truly enjoying what I teach has made it so much better. This past summer has been a lot of work in preparation, and I know I still have a long way to go, but I can’t wait for the challenge.
More than anything else I want to be a good teacher and impact my students the way that my teachers impacted me. For so many years, I truly didn’t care about improving as a teacher. Two summers ago, I came across Dan Meyer’s TEDx talk entitled “Math Class Needs a Makeover.” I had really started to understand that I needed to make effort at improving as a teacher, it wasn’t just going to be the result of passivity. I spent that summer devouring all of the content on Dan’s blog and then began branching out and reading many different teacher’s blogs as well, some of whom you will see in my blogroll (once I get that aspect of my site updated, that is). I never really commented much, but I started to actively seek out resources that I could use to be a better teacher. I signed up for Twitter and became a lurker there, following many of the same people who I was reading. Slowly, I’ve started to dip my foot into the waters of active participation in this wonderful community. My goal in becoming a more active member is not for any sort of self-promotion or recognition, but to chart the steps that I take in improving my teaching.
The one major drawback to teaching in the environment that I do is the lack of collaboration with other math teachers. I am the math department here. The online community is my only place to go for other ideas, and I would argue it’s the best place to go because of the many varied perspectives and people involved. I have a strong feeling that I will still be much more of a consumer of content as opposed to someone whose ideas get used by others, but that is fine. Hopefully if there is someone who is in a similar situation to me, they will realize that there is help out there and that they are not alone.
Thank you for being a participant in this journey with me. I hope that you might benefit by it in some small way.