(NBI) Shifting Paradigms

In some ways, I feel like a first year teacher again. I’m filled with a new-found enthusiasm for my classes because I’m enjoying what I’m teaching again, but I’m having a hard time so far getting students to buy in. I know that we are only 2 weeks into the year, but I’m a little discouraged by what I’m seeing from some of my classes, particularly some of the upper-level ones.

The majority of my students who are in Algebra 2 and above (they’re the ones who haven’t had me in math since 7th grade / Pre-algebra) seem to share a similar trait. They are either so petrified of “failure” that they won’t step out and even attempt to tackle a difficult or unfamiliar problem or they are so apathetic that they’ve given up on trying something new. For too long, they have just been taught rote procedure or “plug into this formula” type thinking. As their teacher, I desperately want to help them gain understanding and develop a spirit of learning and constant improvement. However, their idea of “asking for help” is far different from mine. They just want me to tell them exactly what to do next. My idea of giving them help is to try to guide them to the next step by probing them for current knowledge and gently directing them to the next step through questioning. I know that if I can get them to make the necessary connections on their own, it will stick much better than if I just tell them, “do this.” I almost always answer their question with a question. The most common initial response from me is “What have you tried so far?”  Their most common reply: “Nothing. I don’t have any idea where to begin.” It absolutely infuriates some of them to the point that they’d rather sit there frustrated and feeling like failures instead of coming up to me. I am having a hard time getting them to accept the idea of not getting everything right the first time (or even the second or third). How do you get students to be OK with the idea of making mistakes as the pathway to learning? What have some of you done to cross that hurdle with your classes. I know it is not a unique problem, but it seems like this huge barrier for me right now because I haven’t really experienced it much before.

More than anything, I want my students to develop a desire for and love of learning. I want them to be able to look back 10/15/20 years from now at a reunion and say, “Mr. Jolicoeur helped me begin to make learning a personal, active, and ongoing process.” I don’t care if they remember a specific lesson or whether or not they can derive the law of sines. But if they begin to realize that their capabilities are far greater than they think, then I will feel as if I am accomplishing my job as their teacher.

I know this probably has come across as a rambling, incoherent mess; but, as I stated earlier, I’m doing this for my own reflection. Getting words down on the screen is definitely helping me to process and order my thoughts.  If you’ve made it this far and would like to comment or give feedback, I definitely would appreciate it though!

Until next time . . .

Brent

**Disclaimer for those who come across this blog who know me personally or know where I teach.**  What I have to say is not meant as a personal criticism or attack of the teacher I’m replacing. I have nothing but respect for her and her almost 40 years of experience. There are just some things that I view differently. She was/is a good teacher and will always be someone that I look up to and respect.

(NBI) Improvements to Make This Year

As part of the New Blogger Initiative (NBI), one of the writing prompts for week 1 is to talk about one or two specific things I plan on doing this year.  I know that one of my biggest flaws as a teacher is in the area of communication, both with students and with parents. My primary foci of change for this year revolves around this key theme.

1.  Improve in giving prompt feedback to students in their grades.

The biggest battle I fight with myself is over letting things that need to be graded pile up.  This becomes especially harder for me once basketball season rolls around and I’m involved coaching every night.  I know that timely, personal feedback is essential to student success, and every year I have the intention of not letting things pile up, but usually 2 or 3 times a year it happens anyways.  I feel incredibly guilty when it happens, but it’s still a constant battle.  My primary personal goal this year is to not let anything go ungraded for more than 2 class days (with the goal of having it all returned the next day).  I have a good student aide during 8th period this year who can help with some of the grading so that all I need to do is check over those papers and see how kids are doing. So far, so good; but I know that the year is just beginning.  I truly feel that this year will be the one in which I finally conquer this battle.

2. Make my classroom resources available online for students and parents.

As I adjust to teaching all new classes and essentially creating new lessons and plans, I want to make it as easy as possible for my students and parents to keep informed and keep up with anything that they may have missed if absent.  To that end, I have a set up a public access portion of my googledocs account and set up a folder for each of my classes.  In each folder, I will store any handouts, worksheets, etc, that I may use.  Our school has been outfitted with new Mimio Teach hardware and software (which I am growing to love) this year.  One neat feature that I have found is that I can save anything done through the Mimio software as a pdf file.  That is such a huge deal for me because now I can post anything that we’ve done on the board easily online as a pdf so students who are absent can easily get it.

3. Communicate earlier with parents/guardians regarding struggling students.

Despite what the guys on my basketball team might tell you, I am not a confrontational person or someone who likes to discuss negative news. I have always hesitated and been unsure of how to approach struggles with parents.  Another key goal this year is to be more proactive in my communication with parents so that they are not caught off-guard once progress reports begin to roll out.

I know that these are all self-centered goals as opposed to student-centered, but I truly believe that they will be key to my improvement as a teacher and to my effectiveness in the classroom.

I never really know how to end these things, so until next time . . . .

Brent