What a Year
In so many ways this has been a year of growth for me personally and professionally. Personally my life has changed in ways I never planned on but I have learned to adapt and find strength I didn’t know I had. Professionally this year has been amazing. It has been an honor to co-teach with Joe Payne for the first time. I have had the opportunity to teach the most amazing group of kids that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Kids that hated math, thought they were stupid, that didn’t believe they could succeed and kids that have completely transformed since August.
I don’t claim that I have been a perfect teacher this year. Joe and I have learned so much over the course of working with these kids. We have tried things that worked and things that didn’t work. We have had ideas that we never followed through on, initiatives that we started and then fell to the wayside, and some ideas that were so bad that I won’t mention them out of embarrassment. However, through it all the kids have grown leaps and bounds. I’ll never forget those first weeks when on Math Talk Monday or Tough Pattern Thursday the silence was deafening. The days when the kids lacked not just the math ability but also the confidence to go out on a limb and try something without fear of being labeled a failure yet again. However we kept going and pushing and hoping that it would get better. I laugh at those days now when on Thursdays the kids fight over who gets to say the pattern or on Mondays when their ideas for Math Talk are so plentiful that I run out of space on the board to write them down.
Quantitatively the kids took the MAP test last week and I won’t lie I was nervous. I don’t judge my student learning based on standardized test but I also know that others do. In order for me to continue to think outside of the box and teach the way I know is right for these kids I needed them to give me some solid data to stand on. I’ll be honest, I told the kids that. I told them I needed them to show the world that a different approach to math could change lives and then I awaited their scores. They killed it. I was nervous I won’t lie but the kids were confident, they went in that computer lab and just nailed it. I left school that day pretty much feeling like the teacher of the year.
My high from the day quickly dissipated as I began to fully analyze the results. Don’t get me wrong as a class the results were amazing but taking another look I began to realize that I had to do more. You see the groups I did well with were not the groups that traditionally teachers fight over teaching. By far the greatest results were with my populations that were labeled as ELL, Special Education, and Socio-Economically Disadvantaged. In fact, every subgroup that we tested that is traditionally thought of as a “GAP” group out performed our non “GAP “ group. In a lot of ways this wasn’t surprising to me. I know that my heart lies with teaching struggling learners but for some reason this data hit me hard. It convinced me more than ever that these kids need us. I don’t think they need our content knowledge, or teaching methodology, or research. They need our belief and confidence that they can and will be successful in math. These kids aren’t dumb. They have had poor math experiences that have led them to a dislike of numbers and by beginning to shift that belief you are opening up a world of opportunity to them.
That leads me to where I am today which is a little confused about where I go from here. Our school schedule only allows Joe and I to teach one class together next year, which means I will have less opportunity to work with the students who have captured my heart. I know I want to have a larger impact that what I currently have but the question is how. Where do I go? What do I do? How can I help more than 30 kids, or 60 kids? I want to help all of them. I want to see every kids face light up when they figure out a pattern or first realize that 17 X 31 is really just 10 X 31 + 5 X 31+ 2 X 31. Where do I go from here?