Tuesday, 18 January 2011 | 12 Comments
Learning math is like learning to play the piano. First menial arithmetic and endless scales, but then Chopin and one’s imagination. @mathematicsprof
Having done both (learn maths and learn the piano) I love this quote. I hated scales when learning the piano. It wasn’t till I had got through my many years of formal piano lessons that I understood how fundamental learning scales was to everything I can do on the piano. As teachers of maths, we face that same kid, trying to convince them that what they are learning now will bring them greater understanding later.
It’s a tough job. As Dan Meyer says:
I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but is forced by law to buy it. I mean, that’s kind of — it’s just a losing proposition. Math class needs a makeover.
The following is a fairly practical (I think) list of advice and questions that I would share with a new teacher. Please, share yours in the comments.
What are your 4-6 expectations for how everyone will operate in the classroom? You need to be consistent with these, so choose well.
There’s a lot said in tertiary teacher training, education journals and on the web about how you should teach. People telling you best practice are often no longer teachers (I have noticed that in just 5 years, what I have to do in the classroom has changed from when I started) and they might be talking from the experience at the end of their classroom career when their practice was at it’s peak.
Makes me sound cynical (which I am), but I’m not discouraging you from listening and considering a variety of opinions. Just make sure that you remember there are a lot of factors (often invisible) that contribute to your classroom and you are only in your first year. This is not an excuse for not endeavouring to be risky and innovative, however, hearing the success of others should also not be a source of guilt.
Your first year is about classroom and behaviour management, teaching is a part of that, but there are so many other elements (consistency, expectations, rapport, survival). My opinion for a first year, would be to have very structured lessons, explicit, teacher-centred. Whilst this goes against what you may think, the reality is you need your class with you to do any of those better things. It’s easier to gradually “relax” and move the focus to more creative learning later than to try and toughen up if you go in too soft.
I think this ten-level scale of “the working atmosphere in the classroom” is an excellent basis for reflection on how things are going.
How will you structure your (maths) lessons?
The tried and true maths model – quiz, notes, examples, exercises, check – would be frowned upon by “those in the know”, yet I suspect most maths teachers use it and use it successfully. To me, this is a core structure from which you can adapt and expand as you develop your skills. Nailing this simple structure will make you a competent teacher, excellence will come with experience, taking risks, learning for yourself and being innovative.
Don’t underestimate the power of ten quick questions at the start of the lesson. This simple technique gives me a stable start of the lesson every lesson.
How will you stay organised? Some teachers love their “Teacher’s Diary”. I dumped mine in my first year, found that it was getting clogged with all sorts of stuff and wasn’t really keeping me organised.
I am known as Mr Organised and other less polite names in my staffroom. I can find that piece of paper handed out in a staff meeting 2 years ago. I know what time the next bell rings. I am “Mr Organised” because being organised keeps me sane and in control in a hectic and often seemingly out of control profession.
Some things I do…
(See… Mr Over Organised…)
How do students enter and exit the classroom?
How will your desks be organised?
Will you use a seating plan?
How do you send them to the toilet?
Do they get laptops out straight away?
How will you track your classes? Maybe your school has a system for recording class attendance (mine doesn’t). What about homework, forgetting equipment, behaviour? I used to make a roll book, in 2010 I started doing the same thing but on a computer.
Are they necessary? Absolutely, if your supervisor is not insisting on them I would be writing them anyway. A lesson plan is a valuable future resource, a means for recording reflections and a basis for improving in the future.
Do the students at your school bring the correct equipment? Do you need a collection of pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, paper? Hit the back-to-school sales.
I do pen bags in my classroom – a large zip lock bag with blue pen, red pen and ruler. Saves handing out individual items, improves returnability and makes it a little annoying to not bring the correct equipment – but most importantly, it allows students to get on with learning not borrowing pens.
Some handy things to have, even if your school won’t pay for them:
For some reason, many teachers don’t share their resources. Not sure why. Personally, I would be giving a new teacher all my stuff and simply asking that as they develop and improve upon it to share it with me.
New teachers often get asked to take on extra things (sport, musical etc). Being enthusiastic, new teachers often jump at the opportunity… and thne later regret it. There’s a lot to do in your 1st year, like teach. In NSW it’s also necessary to complete accreditation which requires some time. Leave yourself space.
What advice would you give to a new teacher? Maybe you’re a head teacher and have done this a few times and could share your wisdom. You might be a classroom teacher and wish you had been given some more insight before walking in to the classroom for the first time.
Are you a new teacher in 2011? Do you have any questions that you can’t get an answer to?
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Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
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