Life Thus Far

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.

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Who I Am and Why I Teach

I think there are really 2 key things in my childhood school experience that led me into the teaching profession. It may sound hokey and unbelievable, but I knew I wanted to be a math teacher when I was in the 8th grade. I always enjoyed math as a kid, but growing up in a K-12 Christian school didn’t provide me many areas of challenge.  When I was in 7th grade, my parents convinced the principle to let me skip 7th grade math and move into pre-algebra. Seeing that I made the transition ok, the following year 3 other 8th graders were allowed to skip pre-algebra and join me in Algebra 1. The high school math teacher was Mr. Ouellette, a man that I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to. He recognized that I still wasn’t being challenged in Algebra 1 and convinced the administration to let me speed through the curriculum at my own pace under his guidance.  I completed Algebra 1 in the first semester and caught up to and joined the regular Algebra 2 class midway through the second semester.

Seeing Mr. Ouellette’s dedication to and sacrifice for his students inspired me and gave me the desire to be a teacher.  He was always helping students outside of class time.  It seemed like he never took a lunch break for himself and never left school at the end of the day like most of the rest of the teachers.  I enjoyed helping my classmates with their work, and I knew I wanted to be like Mr. Ouellette and help others by teaching math. He wasn’t the only good teacher I had, but he is the one who first instilled in me a love of math.

The second contributing factor came from my high school experience.  My family left the school I grew up in after the 8th grade, and we transferred to a different, smaller K-12 Christian school when I entered the 9th grade. This school had teachers who cared about me and wanted me to learn and grow, but they did not have the resources or the teachers to really continue to challenge me.  The highest math course they offered was an “Advanced Math” class I took in 11th grade which was a semester of trigonometry and a semester of analytic geometry.  It was also a video course which meant we had a “supervisory” teacher responsible for us, but he wasn’t in the room with us because he was teaching another class during that period.  We went to his room when we were supposed to take quizzes and tests, but were on our own for the videos.  He was a great guy, but the math was mostly over his head, and he wasn’t really able to help us very much.  The 5 of us who took the course (4 seniors and myself, a junior) essentially taught ourselves the material.

That experience really solidified my desire to be a teacher and gave me a burden for teaching in a Christian school where quality math instruction is many times lacking.  I don’t mean to denigrate the school I graduated from. They did the best with what they had, and I did receive a good education and feel that I was mostly prepared for college.  Some of the teachers there had a great impact on my life, particularly my basketball coach. I wanted to be just like him. He is a big reason why I decided to teach and coach as well.  I am grateful for the experiences I had because they helped form who I am today.

In my next post, I will briefly recount my teaching experience thus far and explain further what has led me to joining the online community of math teachers in a more active way.

First day of classes tomorrow!! I am so excited for this new year.

Come on in, the water’s fine!!

Well, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge. I have been reading many blogs and following the conversation on twitter for a couple of years, but I have not been much of an active participant. It’s time for that to change.

I probably have 2 dozen or so education blogs in my reader, but Dan, Sam, and Kate are some of the ones that I have really taken a lot from over the last few years. I was very jealously following twitter math camp a month ago and wishing I was there for the experience. I really enjoyed reading all of the follow up posts (many of which can be found here). Hopefully I’ll be able to join the fun next year.

A few days ago, Sam threw down the gauntlet to new bloggers to join in the experience, and I guess it’s time for me to start the blogging process myself. I have 5 new classes this year, so charting my journey and development along the way will be helpful even if only for myself. I am mostly nervous because writing is not a strong suit of mine (hence, I’m a math teacher) and all of you veterans out there seem so well composed and full of witty and insightful thoughts to share which I know I’m not yet capable of.

My next post will be more of personal introduction and explanation of why I became a teacher. I’m sure that my writing won’t be prolific, but my goal is to post at least once a week. Our first day off classes is on Monday, so there’s a lot to do before then. See you soon!!!