# Conundrum

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I spent the day sifting through piles of papers, rediscovering lost gems (my favorite Onion math teacher article), tossing things I’ve never used (though I once was certain I would), just generally weeding things out, recycling old folders and binders.  After the positive meeting at school yesterday, I thought for sure I would be able to focus on the imminent start of school, envision and map out the first days in my classes.  But the hours slipped away this afternoon – amazing how time passes when your goals are unclear.  By dinner time, all the loose papers had either been sorted into binders or recycled, my files had been thinned and streamlined, and my planner for the fall organized.  I was troubled, though; I knew that this time last year, I was enthused and excited with my plans for the start of school, and that even with the good work I’ve done this summer, I’m not there yet – I can’t specifically conceive of how it’s going to go, in just one short week.

After dinner, I took a walk; the evening was lovely – breezy and cool.  I found a quiet place to have a coffee and try to establish clear goals for myself – the foundation of any successful plan.  I started with the same goal I have had for the last three years:

• BETTER BALANCE IN MY LIFE:
• Time for the gym 2 evenings/week and once on the weekend;
• Time to quilt at least 2 full weekend days per month, and evenings;
• Time to relax in the evening 3-4 hours/week;
• At least 7.5 hours sleep each night.

Optimistic?

It all sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  Yet I haven’t been able to do this yet in the last 8 years.

I moved on to my goals for Geometry, which came pretty easily – after all, that is the class I’ve been thinking about all summer, the course I’ve already mapped out.  But Algebra 2 is the problematic course for me this term.

Following the Regents Passing Rate saga last June, I need to better ensure that my students master the content according to my department’s goals (this was made quite clear to me yesterday by my Assistant Principal), but the volume of content required to be covered in the fall term is formidable.

A list of the daily “Aims” from our curriculum

The only way I can see completing the required curriculum successfully is by abandoning many of the conceptual activities which make so much more sense to me for creating deep understanding, in favor of procedural teaching and practice.  This goes against a lot of how I believe math should be taught, and the work I have done to transform my practice in the last few years.  But ignoring what’s been asked of me by my administrator is not in my best interest (nor necessarily in my students’ best interests, either).

It is actually easier to teach this way than to craft [even when borrowed] engaging inquiry and problem-solving activities that elicit productive conversations and deeper understanding, isn’t it?  But not nearly as interesting, for sure, and not why I teach. Following this train of thought, however, I was able to map out the semester, and sadly was able to see myself barreling through the content with lots and lots of worksheets, driving my students to continually practice those problems which will appear on departmental exams and the Regents in June.  Maybe this is what I need to do for a year to improve my ‘results.’

Or do I?  Sigh.  I welcome and seek your feedback.

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1. Teresa Ryan

As I read this and reflect on your writing, I find myself wondering if the activities for Algebra II really need to be tossed, or just re-evaluated for tweaking? Your instincts of what is better learning are solid, I know over the years I have found that many of the activities I have used have needed some change, improvement on process, and different students have different needs. The fact that you are reflecting and re-thinking means that you are doing what you need to do.

Have a great year.

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3. Marsha Hutzell

Thank you so much for sharing your reflections concerning your “conundrum”. I really appreciate your honesty with the less than desirable regents results and your desire to do right by your students. I’ve always faced similar issues. From all of the research I’ve read, I know that developing a curriculum that allows for deep understanding is the direction we as teachers need to move. However, I teach in a district where the teaching style is very direct instruction and “drill and kill”. I’ve tried to move our department in a more exploratory, student centered way that helps students develop conceptual understanding. I felt similar frustrations when the great things my students do in class don’t translate into high passing rates on state assessments. It’s hard to convince others to move in a new direction when you have a lower than average pass rate. I look forward to reading how you resolve the issue for yourself (and hope to get some direction myself).

Thank you and have a great year.

4. Wendy Menard

Marsha, thanks for stopping by and reading. It’s good to hear from someone in a similar situation. What I didn’t mention in the original post is that my AP had everyone’s pass rates up on her bulletin board – the only discretion was using our initials instead of our names. I would love to suggest we approach the entire curriculum from a functions standpoint (way more Common Core-aligned) instead of a string of disparate topics (our current pacing), but I have no ‘cred’ right now. I’m committed to streamlining my approach, but staying true to what I know is a more effective way to teach math. Looking forward to reading your posts as well.