Saturday, November 5, 2011

Reflections on Transition

This year I left my very small tightly knit but struggling community for a mega-sized comprehensive high school.  In many ways it's like a different planet - one on which I only know a few people - but there are some constants.  In my three term ['remedial'] Algebra classes, I recognize many of the same types of students I taught before - students who have struggled for years with math, never really understanding what was going on in the classroom, who have continued, for years, to try to understand, and who cling to rules, procedures, and acronyms that they can memorize in the hopes of performing well on assessments.

Moving through the beginning of the curriculum, my lessons were clear, a little on the traditional side (I figured the structure would be good for both me and my adjusting 9th graders), but still engaging through creative use of the SmartBoard, and well executed.  Feedback, attendance and homework completion were all positive.  But when my test results came back poorly, I began to second guess myself and started to go down that rabbit hole - what if I try this method, what if I group them this way, what if we use maniupulatives, on line quizzes (if there were enough technology, that is), am I differentiating enough, am I setting individual learning goals (for my 150 students).... and I find that the structure I set up is loosening.  My lessons are taking longer; I am allowing additional practice time, and extending homework due dates to accommodate the students' learning curve.  But I am not sure that their comprehension is any better, so, as usual, I am doing the mirror thing - reflecting.

I was observed by my principal this week (first time since I started that an administrator has checked out what I am actually doing in my classroom) and got specific, helpful and glowing feedback - which I was thrilled to receive, and did feel what was justified for the lesson he saw.  We were using individual whiteboards, which the kids and the principal loved.  But if I am to get credit for this wonderful moment, I also must take responsibility for the moments that don't go well, and I do.  So I wonder, how can I create these exciting moments more often - often enough that the students are willing to work through the less exciting ones?  He asked me if I used the whiteboards every day, but I know that familiarity breeds contempt, and boredom, and would rather keep the boards as a few times per week treat.   I endeavor always to make my lessons engaging, but do I need bells and whistles every day in order to get better test results?  (An aside - the kids did me proud when we were observed, but the following day I had about 1/3 of the class absent, and the day after that had to stop the class because of the foolishness in the room.)

I don't know if anyone is reading my blog, but I have posed the question, and would love some feedback.


  1. My pre-algebra 8th graders just all failed their state tests in math which made me pretty upset, but, and this is important for me to keep in mind, I taught the exact same curriculum last year and my 8th and 9th graders in algebra 1 all exceeded on the state tests this year as well. My pre-alg students didn't fare well this year because they changed the state standards for pre-algebra to emphasizing more geometry and also harder algebra that we haven't gotten to yet this year. But I know that my pre-alg curriculum helps my high schoolers succeed. I think it's important to keep in mind that it takes time to make any difference with kids. The results of good teaching aren't always apparent until years later. This is something I need to keep telling myself because I tend to second guess a lot, but I know that the way I teach pre-algebra prepares my kids for algebra 1 no matter what state tests say. I think the work you're putting into your kids will pay off, but you may not be able to see it until next year or the year after.
    On a side note- I am currently working at a really small charter school but I'm moving next year because of my husband's work and am terrified about having to work at a bigger public school. I would love to read more about your transition from a small to a large school.

    1. Lizzy - I just saw this comment; sorry for not replying sooner. As you can see, my blogging efforts have been inconsistent. The move to the big school was both good and disappointing. The big school has systems that function well, and a wealth of activities for the students - both good things. What I have had a hard time with is connecting with other teachers. I have not found like-minded individuals in my own department, but rather teachers who are very comfortable where they are, and who do not want to step outside their proscribed schedules/activities - not the way I was trained, or the way I teach. Also, the Assistant Principal who hired me is retiring.

      I actually considered looking for a new position, although I really don't want another transition so soon, but started to see how many students I had truly connected with. And this is, of course, the best part of teaching. So I will put forth more effort next year to carve out my own niche in the big place - I have agreed to advise a math club, and will be involved in an in-house teacher mentoring program. Let me know how your transition goes. And hopefully I'll be blogging more consistently.