While I know this is a bit early to post here since the year isn't over yet, I'm doing it anyway because I'm lazy and this is my blog.
My primary goal this year has been to create a safe space for my students. I want it to be somewhere that allows them to explore mathematics as well as other topics they find important. Academically, I’ve striven to emphasize 8 practices with all of my classes.
- I can solve problems without giving up
- I can think about numbers in many ways
- I can explain my thinking and try to understand others
- I can show my work in many ways
- I can use math tools and tell why I chose them
- I can work carefully and check my work
- I can use what I know to solve new problems
- I can solve problems by looking for rules and patterns
In an effort to put these practices to use as a modeling strategy, I have kept a daily reflective journal of my journey to become a better teacher. I have written about lessons that went well and ones that flopped. I have written about my philosophies of education and about interactions that I have had with students, both positive and negative.I have shared my struggles and my triumphs with other teachers from around the world and received their input. Dozens of teachers have reached out to me to express their gratitude for my writing, explaining that it sheds light on a very hard truth about teaching.Teachers are expected to be perfect. Each lesson is supposed to be amazing and ground-breaking. We are supposed to work miracles with every student in our care and, if for any reason, those students don’t live up to various expectations, teachers are always to blame. There is always something more that we SHOULD have done. When it comes to the struggle of a single student, it is often forgotten that that struggling student is in a room with 29 other struggling students.We are often Emilio Estevez, given a rag-tag team and expected to turn them into national champions.We do what we can, but we are not perfect.The purpose of my writing has been to share my failures and struggles in a public way that allows other teachers to know that they are not alone. I give a peek into my classroom and into my head in a way that very few are comfortable doing (including myself.) I offer a view into the daily struggles of a teacher who wants to be better.Why do I engage in this insanity? Why, over the past two years, have I written enough to fill 10 novels on the subject of classroom teaching? Why do I chronicle my struggle and put it out for the whole world to see?I believe in the growth mindset. I believe that in order to get better at something, we have to learn from our failures. I believe that it’s alright to fail and that there is more growth from failure than from success. I believe a student who starts the year with 50% proficiency and ends with 85% should be celebrated more than one who started with 90% and ended with 95%.I believe in the growth mindset.But I don’t practice it.As I look back through what I have written this year, I notice a distinct lack of growth mindset in my own work. I am terrified of failure. I want my lessons to work the first time and every time. By having two sections of the same class, I have an opportunity to test a lesson, tweak it and try it again. I admit that I haven’t done that as much as I’ve wanted to or should have.In addition, the journal has made me much more mindful of my actions in my classroom. In both my interactions with students and lesson development, knowing that I will be writing and sharing it publicly has forced me to take a hard look at my thoughts and actions. The idea of “I don’t want to have to write that I got into a screaming match with a 13-year old” has helped to keep me grounded on multiple occasions.It has also forced me to remember that my students are still children. They all come from complex and varied backgrounds. They have their own struggles, their own goals and priorities. Middle school is an insanely hard time to be a person and I’m not sure that we always do a great job of recognizing that. As educators, we often think that education is the most important thing is life.My journal, and the weekly chat that I moderate, has led to my being invited to speak at various others school and conferences, allowing me the opportunity to share my struggles and triumphs with educators, administrators and parents from around the country. In October and November, I will be presenting at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics on the topic of reflective practice.I have made many mistakes this year. I have had interactions with students and parents that I wish I could have done differently. I am unable to do so. What I am able to do is reflect on those interactions and learn from my mistakes so that I can have them be more productive the next time.Improvement can never happen until we acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses. In this way, I believe that keeping this journal has helped me to be a better teacher this year than last year. I believe that it will help me to become a better teacher next year than I was this year.I wish to continue to grow and improve.
Beyond that, I made paper unicorn horns today for a student game.