Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Day 6: Unprepared

I have always been a "wingin' it" type of teacher.  One of my huge strengths as a teacher has always been my ability to adapt my lessons on the fly based on the needs of my students.  Apparently, the fancy name for this "formative assessment" but I call it "teaching."

It is also one of my greatest flaws.  I rely on it too much.  Over the last few years, there have been many days where I've gotten up, come into work, sat down at my desk and only then started thinking about what I was going to do for the day.  I say "too many" because I feel like this is something to be ashamed of, but in reality, I can't think of a time when my lack of preparation has caused me any major problems.  It may have lead to more boring, less rich lessons, but I have always been able to get by.

This is the first year that I can recall actually stressing about prepping for my classes.  I spent some of the weekend thinking about what I wanted to do, but apparently not enough.  My lesson plans are not what they should be because I've never used my lesson plans before, except as a vague guide of what topics I wanted to cover.

In graduate school, we were required to write absurdly long and detailed plans that were supposed to read like a script.  They were to include what questions we wanted ask, as well as anticipate student questions and reactions.  I think this is an excellent idea in theory.  The problem for me was that writing a plan for a 45 minute class took me 2 hours.  It was too much and I found myself going WAY off-script as "teachable moments" happened.

As a result of this practice, as well as my own laziness and that I've never seen the importance of the various items in a required plan, I've fallen out of the habit of writing effective lesson plans.  That's assuming, of course, that I knew how to write them at all.

On top of that, I discovered last year that the more time I spent planning a lesson that I thought was killer, the less receptive the students were to it.  I think that could be because my expectations were higher, knowing how much effort I put into the planning.

All of this is to say that I, apparently, don't know how to effectively plan for my classes.  It has never been a problem, but now it is.

I am feeling the pressure of planning rich, deep, meaningful lesson coming from three different sources.

1)  My Students
I have been granted stewardship of the 8th grade geometry classes.  This is how I see my assignment this year.  I haven't been given this group of advanced, knowledge-hungry youth.  I am merely their custodian for the year.  I must do everything in my power to make sure that I don't squander that trust.  I can't be the teacher who kills their desire to learn by not providing them with the environment in which they can thrive.

2) My Colleagues
I don't mean the people in the building in which I teach, although, I do frequently compare myself to them for both positive and negative traits. I mean the educators I have met through Twitter and various blogging sites.  I have become highly active on Twitter in the last few months, using the medium exclusively for professional development purposes.  The resources and people that can be found there are invaluable and have changed the way I look at my profession.  This blog itself is a direct result of my interactions with them.  I feel as though this group will be there to help me, but also hold me accountable when I fall down.

3) Myself
The other two groups are exerting no pressure at all.  I'm just transferring all of my internal pressure to them in an effort not be filled with self-loathing.  I want to be good at my job.  I want to love my job again.  For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I can do both of these, but I'm clearly going to have to make some changes.

In preparing for Geometry today, I almost completely forgot to plan for my pre-algebra class.  They have workbooks with all of the required materials and word problems and grunt work, but I HAAAAAATE resorting to that.  It's what they expect and I want to shatter their expectations for math class.  I know I can do better.  I don't know how.

Preparing for something beyond the next day or two seems like such a daunting task.  I need to find a way to break it into smaller pieces that are more manageable.

With that said, today's geometry class went well, but felt very haphazard to me.  I didn't do a good job of connecting the various tasks in a meaningful way.  Part of the reason is that I changed my initial talk upon hearing the news that a London skyscraper is apparently a giant parabolic death ray!

Seriously! How could I NOT talk about that?

I gave them an activity to start them thinking about equi-distance and they did very well with it.  As with most of my ideas now, I got it from someone on the internet.  I need to develop it a little more, but I'm not sure how.  Must consult...

After that, we began working on a logic puzzle.  One of my goals this year is to improve the problem solving and critical thinking skills of my students.

But it still feels like I'm BSing...

I'm ashamed to say that most of pre-algebra was filler today (or felt that way).  I gave them some problems for homework over the long weekend and we went over them slowly today, working through whatever problems they wanted me to cover.  I need to send more kids to the board, putting the onus back on them and getting them to justify their answers and questions in a more coherent way.  This was almost the entire class.  They clearly needed the practice and clarification, but as in the norm with students, when I wasn't answering their specific question, they tuned out.  I gave them a sudoku at the end to try to trick them (and me) into thinking it was an interesting period.

My kids in 8th period were much more engaged in the same tasks.  I spent more time circulating through the room, redirecting students back on task and offering guiding suggestions.  I frequently picked a random problem off of the page that they had completed and asked them to walk me through it.  In these cases, kids picked up on their own mistakes and ushered me away so they could fix them.  A student who has spent the last 4 classes with his head down worked his butt off today, grinding away at problem after problem.  I made a special point to tell him how proud I was of his work.

I find it fascinating how an activity can work so well with one group of students and go over so poorly with another.  Positive reinforcement has never really been my M.O. but I could get used to it.

I REALLY need to find an interesting way to practice the order of operations.

I'm beginning to worry about how I'm going to hit the required content and still do interesting things.  I'm planning to start two lessons from Mathalicious next week.  The geometry classes will be exploring the non-linear nature of pizza pricing while the pre-algebra classes will be discussing burning off calories from an extra value meal.

If I want to keep these kids with me, I need to teach myself a better way to plan and prepare.  This isn't working for me this year.

I don't feel like I've adequately communicated my feelings in this post, but if I go back and read it again, I'll end up deleting the whole thing.


  1. Like you, Twitter has really impacted me over the past few mos., a great source of professional development...

    1. Absolutely! I am daily amazed at how wonderful and supportive the people are.


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