Friday, April 6, 2012

Teaching Math - Pt. 6

I was taught very early on, by a mentor, to take ownership of problems in the classroom. There is nothing more tiresome than hearing teachers complain about unruly students, unhelpful parents, and unsympathetic administrators as if they were the reason that the classroom is a disaster. 99% of the time, if your kids are running amok, disrespecting you, and learning nothing, then it is the fault of no one else but you. My first year was horrible and it was all my fault. Taking this to heart is powerful because that means that if the problem lies in my own professional shortcomings, then the only thing I need to focus on improving is myself. Changing oneself is leagues easier than trying to change the entire state department of education's policies, or the district's bureaucracy, or the parents' lack of support, or the students' lack of resources, knowledge, and discipline. In fact, your job as a teacher is exactly to overcome those things through changing yourself, for the purpose of accomplishing an education for your students.

Practically, this means things like the following:
  • If your students do not respect you, then you may not be carrying yourself in such a way that merits respect.
  • If your students are not doing their homework, then you may have failed to make it clear to them what their motivation is for doing their homework, or maybe you were not clear that they were supposed to do the homework, or you failed to adequately explain the material in class so that they would actually be prepared to do the homework.
  • If your students are not cooperating during a class activity, then maybe you failed to clearly explain to the students what precisely your expectations were for them, or maybe you failed to remind them of those clear expectations.
  • If your students ignore you when you tell them to do something, then maybe it is because you have repeatedly failed to correct them every previous time that they ignored you, thus teaching them that ignoring you was an acceptable response to your commands.
  • If your students are falling asleep during your class, then maybe you are boring, or maybe you just talk too long, or maybe you don't give them enough to do.
These are just a few examples, but each of them are common complaints that are easily fixed by greater self-discipline on behalf of the teacher. With every lesson, activity, module, I am constantly evaluating my own performance, looking for shortfalls and weaknesses on my own end that I will change in the future so that I can do a better job. And there are always shortfalls. Being honest with yourself only helps here. The alternative, placing the blame elsewhere, distracts from the real problems and, thus, prevents them from ever actually being solved.

The obvious objection to what I'm saying here is that it may seem as though I'm ignoring the fact that there are still other problems that the teacher cannot be faulted for. Maybe the students simply are a disrespectful bunch, maybe they don't do their homework because they are lazy, etc. This point is obviously valid, but finally unhelpful. Being a teacher takes for granted all the shortcomings and obstacles outside of the classroom. The task of the teacher is to meet the students where they are (warts and all) and take them beyond that, in some cases with greater ease than in others.

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