What a year it’s been
As I open up this draft page, WordPress prompts me to “Share your story here…”, and I immediately ask myself how much I want to actually share. I haven’t been writing much this year because most of what I’ve been thinking about and dealing with has been deeply personal and not laundry I care to air publicly (though I realize that allusion might in fact be hypocritical by definition). But Jennifer Fairbanks’s exhortation to write is irresistible today – I contractually have to be at school until 2 pm, with my only responsibilities to distribute caps and gowns finished at 10:30 am. What else do I have to do?
Professionally, I believe I did in fact achieve one of my goals this year – to see my students more clearly and improve my relationships with them. This isn’t an easy goal to measure, but I will use as data the name tents on which I left one slot open the first week of the term. I received helpful feedback from the students at the outset, and used the name tents to say goodbye to them on the last day of classes. The comments the students returned to me were like treasures – good wishes for the summer, thanks for playing music, gratitude for a good semester, accolades FOR deltamath, diatribes AGAINST deltamath, and most importantly to me, an acknowledgement that I care about my students. They felt it, and my goal was met to some degree.
So what about new goals? I became highly dissatisfied this year with my Algebra 2 curriculum. I’m pretty good at teaching it the way my school wants it taught (student learning as measured by the NYS Regents exam…a dubious standard but that’s a whole SERIES of posts), and keeping kids engaged in the process. But I haven’t been teaching in a way that I’m wholly (or nearly satisfied with), and I’m working on some strategies for next year.
The first relates to classroom culture; because classes and student schedules are juggled considerably during the first two weeks of school, it behooves me to keep up with the breakneck pacing calendar until equalization. But I’ve decided that there’s nothing to stop me from taking a ‘curricular pause’ AFTER equalization for some culture-building – think 100 Game, or Broken Circles, and Marshmallow- Spaghetti towers. It will be a welcome respite from the initial dive into procedural content as we settle in to the school year.
The bigger plan, and second strategy, I’ve been working on is entitled in my mind “Algebra 2 Going Rogue”. Even as I type that, it sounds way more dramatic than it may in actuality be. Going rogue, for me, means moving away from this (photo), and going BACK to teaching things the way I believe they should be taught – with inquiry, discovery, and with a deeply conceptual approach. I have a couple of BIG things I need to keep in mind while I am doing this – first of all, my school is not annualized, at least not for Algebra 2. This means my students will leave me at the end of the fall term, and I will get a mostly new crop of kiddies at the beginning of February. Second, they still need to take that darn Regents exam, and get a grade by which both of us will be evaluated – and that evaluation will stick with them (on their permanent transcript) longer than it will with me (I get re-evaluated each year, with every batch of scores). But here’s something else I know for sure – I can train people to do well on tests. Years of teaching AND tutoring have helped me hone some very fine test prep skills. If I am teaching for deep understanding, then test prep should be – well, maybe not a breeze, but it should follow the learning without too much trouble.
I need to re-examine and re-plan each unit as follows in order to meet this goal. I’m thinking I will structure the units as follows:
- Opening explorations for inquiry and question-posing
- Large exploratory task setting up need for content; discovery of content as applicable
- Instruction or rather ‘revelation’ of content
- Practice and application
- Assessment task
- Test prep and standardized assessment
I’m very excited by this model, and while it may not seem particularly revolutionary, it is for me, teaching in the traditional environment that I do. I’m confident enough in my knowledge of the curriculum that I can do this without doing my students a disservice on the state assessment. As far as my own evaluation – there are way worse things in life than disapproval for trying something new. I have the benefit of age and [sometimes unfortunate] experience to have shown me that. I’d rather be able to live with myself.
Speaking of living with myself, the elephant, for me, in this post, is my over-arching goal always- the Big One, the one that supersedes everything, and the objective that must be infused in everything I do, inside the classroom and out of it, and that is doing everything I can to disrupt systems of racism and white supremacy, particularly as they affect my students in my classroom. My summer plans include participating in (while facilitating!) a workshop on how these systems show up in my classroom and what actions I can take to undermine them in service of equity of opportunity for my students, past, present and future. Further, I hope to start a Critical Friends group at school in the fall, the goal of which would be to open up conversations about inequities at school, systemic changes which need to be made, and how to begin effecting those changes. I’m writing about it here to hold myself accountable.
In the meantime, I’ve got 4 days of Regents grading ahead of me, one more full day of classes (why, Governor, why???), and a homeroom day for distribution of report cards. Then summer, glorious summer.
I think I’ve got my work cut out for me.
I love your confidence and vulnerability. It is truly inspiring.
I’m excited for your new ventures next school year! I applaud you for realizing that change is needed in your practice and for being hungry enough to go get it. I want to learn more about how you structure your Critical Friends group. So sad that I will miss TMC in CLE (my hometown).
On a side note, I must say that every time I get an alert that you’ve written something, I’m always eager to read it.
Brian – I have loved reading about your Exeter experiment this year! And if I remember correctly, you have a very good reason for remaining at home this summer. I hope we get to be in a group together again next year at MFA, or at least catch up. I will try to post about the critical friends group as it progresses, although the work we will do will be confidential. Have a great summer!