This has been a weird school year.
I have no idea what I am doing. Most of my class periods end with me thinking about what a mess it was and how I could have gone better.
I am very unorganized. I feel like I’ve tricked others into thinking I have it together, when in reality, I am barely keeping my head above water.
I’m teaching precalculus for the first time in a long time this year. Each student in my class has a unique path, they came to our alternative high school from a variety of other high schools, and they each have different gaps in prerequisite knowledge. It is a 80 minute class that runs from 2:45 to 4:05 pm. It is long and rough. If I am ever observed during this period, my administrator would wonder how I am even employed.
Yet, when I ask my students in the precalc class how it is going, they say they’ve learned more math in the past few months than they have in any other high school class.
How is this even possible?
For the past two years I have been voted as Teacher of the Year at my school. In August I was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. In September, the students at my school voted me as Teacher of the Month, a new recognition developed by our student council. I must be doing something right…but what?
Here is what I’ve realized:
There is too much focus on what is observable in a class period (bulletin boards, lesson plans, time management) and not enough on the culture and connections that teachers develop with and among their students.
For my first 8 years of teaching, I created a rigid plans of what I would teach each day for the quarter and then further developed scripted daily lesson plans and specific homework from the textbook. I then implemented the plan with fidelity. I made no effort to get to know my students, partially because I was overwhelmed making these scripted to the minute plans and then I was concerned about following the schedule during each lesson. While my administrator observations looked good on the surface, students were not really learning much.
Now, beginning with the first day of school, I intentionally work at building a unique relationship with each student. I make sure to find reasons to genuinely value each of them. This starts with weekly “How is it going?” type questions on their warm up sheets and continues by using their mistakes on “Find the flub Friday” and through feedback quizzes. I also share a lot of myself with them. When we understand each other, my classes are more productive. I still make plans, but I allow flexibility to meet my students where they are. I pre-assess their understanding and readiness through warm ups and then use this to direct our units.
There are (many) days where I have just a terrible lesson, but through listening to my students and leaving space to adapt to their feedback, it appears messy to an observer, but we all learn anyway.