Once upon a time, I was not a teacher. Yes, it is true. I began my professional life as a business person. My major in undergraduate school was business administration and my minor was in economics. The way that teaching found me was one of my first professional a-ha moments. It was such an intense realization that I literally changed everything I was doing to become a teacher as quickly as possible. 14 years into immersing myself in education and I still feel that excitement, anticipation, and rush at the beginning of every lesson.
As true as that may be, I don’t always end a lesson with exhilaration as though I rocked the material in a way that allowed my students to own it. Perhaps I am overly reflective, but there have been those lessons in years past that I have looked forward to teaching because they were guaranteed to leave my students in a better place than they began. These lessons were not rote material; they were hardly about memorizing procedures, because they had something more, much more. Have I mentioned that I am a math teacher?
After making a move from the elementary school to math in the middle school a few years ago, I have arrived at a cross roads along with the rest of the country. There has been a shift in the way teachers are expected to expose students to mathematics. It is met with a mixture of emotions from students, parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, and test makers. As true as that may be, I see tremendous opportunity in this shift. Math has not been about simple procedures in a long time. Yes, the rote procedures are necessary and efficient, but the concepts, the puzzles, the real situations in familiar and unfamiliar settings, that is not only a snapshot of what math instruction should look like, it is also what real problems in our world look like as well.
I have had the honor of learning directly from math star Ban Har Yeap, and it provided an epiphany in the lesson structure. This change has without question been for the better. My greatest problem (and this has remained consistent in my teaching career) is I am obsessed with finding that one great lesson for every single solitary objective in my classroom. (In all honesty, I prefer a plethora of lessons to choose from, but that is just me being greedy). I have been dedicating any spare time I can steal to try to invent and/or borrow those lessons. Some days I have a seedling of an idea, other days my husband comes up with something for me to use, but there are many lessons that have not yet achieved the Holy Grail status I am in search of every single day. With superstars like Andrew Stadel and Dan Meyers inspiring me, the frequency of the great lesson has increased and it shows through my students’ reactions and performances. (More on that in another post) It is not enough. I want more.
Here I am, one middle school math teacher trying to re-invent the wheel, but I don’t want to when I know I could quite easily “steal” lessons from the very best and adapt them to our district’s standards and my personality. The toughest challenge at this point has been finding something for every concept. When teaching students ratios or geometry, there are so many great lessons, it is tough to choose which ones to use in a given year. However, concepts like rational numbers are sorely lacking. It could be that I just can’t find the great lessons out there and they exist. A real possibility is that I need to pay for one on a site like teahcerspayteachers.com, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. You have to pay for the lesson before you see it and I just can’t risk spending money I don’t have on a lesson that may fall short of my great expectations. So I am asking, no, begging the math world…Can we as professionals pull all of our resources together in a camaraderie movement? Is there a network for us to do this? I invite your suggestions, responses, and advice.