Snapshot of a Mid-September Crisis

On September 19, 2012 I hit a wall. Having been inspired by Dan Meyer, I had set out to teach magnificently, using ideas and tools found on math-teacher-blogs, and resented that those supposed-to-be-brilliant ideas and tools did not always work as expected. I wrote an email to Mr. Meyer that I tried to make measured and professional, but which was really bursting with distress and anger.

I remember reading in one of your posts that you wondered whether it’s possible to shorten the amount of time it takes for new teachers to start doing things better. My two cents: shortening the improvement period makes it tumultuous and unreliable. I work at a small school with a weak math program and a student body made up entirely of students with IEPs. I blog, read blogs, and talk to teachers outside my discipline to enhance the instruction I give. My pie in the sky was to reduce the amount of time it takes me to get better to zero. That was obviously a long shot.

I crave the opportunity to work closely with an expert teacher, to observe and be mentored by him/her, but instead I engage in a constant trial-and-error method of implementing the ideas I find in blogs while crossing my fingers that I understood what the blogger intended and that the ideas are transferable to my unique student population. I guess the trial and error aspect would stick around even with an expert mentor teacher, but at least I’d have a leg up.

You spent two years (or so) establishing yourself as a teacher before you branched away from familiar methods. My situation tells me that those two years were invaluable to your success upon branching away. I don’t want to wait two years but I don’t especially enjoy the alternative.

Unguided trial and error succeed in making me (a newbie) a better teacher on some days and advances me toward being a consistently better teacher in the future, but the overall immediate effect is that my approach is inconsistent and unsure. Oh, I don’t like that feeling. I’m not sure it benefits my students either. So my working conclusion is that reducing the time it takes to get better can only be done by increasing the badness of the intervening time.

Have you found something different to be true among the teachers you know?

Mr. Meyer responded considerately, and I sought support from colleagues at my school. This isn’t the end of the story. Just a snapshot.

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