Sunday, November 18, 2012

Losing the Love

One of the things I most love about teaching is pondering the kids who don't yet understand (whoever "those kids" are on any given day). What visual model, physical representation, or whole-body experience would help them build their own understanding? What questions should I ask? Over the years, these questions have brought me much joy. I love meeting kids wherever they are and taking them forward gently.

Figuring this out takes time. I usually have to teach something for a day or two, see who is struggling, then do some thinking before I try a new method. I may be slow, but even after many years in the same grades, it takes a while to figure out what will work for each student. Taking the time to do that creative thinking and teaching brings me great pleasure.

This year, as what I'm supposed to teach becomes more externally controlled, I am losing the luxury of time to dive into each child's thinking.

I've always had a math curriculum to use. I've followed it loosely at times, and severely departed from it at others. It's not a bad curriculum, as curricula go. But my favorite months as a math teacher have been when I left it behind and we took off on some wild, unpredictable math journey based on what my students discovered and were excited about each day.

This year, I'm being asked to stick to the scope and sequence, which is the district's outline of what we should teach when. They have also provided us with a pacing guide, which tells us what lesson to teach on which day.

Why do we have to follow the pacing guide this year? Well, for too many years, teachers have been teaching what they think their kids need instead of "sticking to the scope and sequence." They've been using their own judgment, and our achievement data isn't good enough, so teachers should stop using their own judgment.

This seems like a possible misunderstanding of correlation and causation, but then again, most changes in education are based on someone's theory about what is wrong, rather than a known fact backed up by evidence. In this case, this is the theory: that sticking to the curriculum will improve our data.

Who knows? Maybe it will. I've certainly sent kids to third grade without having taught them something they were supposed to learn, which probably wasn't good for the data. I did this because they didn't understand the concepts that came before whatever they were supposed to learn, and I thought a solid understanding was important. But that's just my theory.

This week we've been learning about odd and even numbers. After a few days, there are 4 or 5 students in my class who aren't solid on odd and even yet, but we need to move on to problems about equal groups. I spent some time thinking about what might help them make sense of odd and even, but it wasn't pleasurable. Instead, it was panic-inducing. My stomach knotted up as I thought, do I spend one more day on this and fall more behind? Or do I move on and trust that they'll have more experiences with odd and even later?

I'm working very hard to ignore the pacing guide as much as I can. I'd rather use my judgment about what to teach when, which students should have a little more practice, and which ones should move on. But I can't ignore it completely. And I'm worried, and very, very sad, that one of the things I love most about teaching is being lost.

1 comment:

  1. Ugh. I know that knotted-stomach feeling :( It's awful.

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