Findings from Frustration

The roller coaster ride of a public school teacher brings moments of pure joy and sheer terror.  Frustration builds up over time, yet it brings a silver lining pointing out the key areas for improvement, both individually and systemically.  My hope is that I identify the key change areas where the most impact may be made to improve student learning before I am sapped of all of my energy.  My endeavor as a teacher is the most challenging of my life, but the most fulfilling as well.  I believe all teachers embark on this career path filled with similar thoughts of righting wrongs, helping all students achieve, or similar.  Reality tends to dampen spirits quite effectively, however.  Year after year, day after day, class period by class period, the overwhelming nature of fulfilling mandates that are unreasonable given the circumstances of today’s classrooms shatters the hopes and aspirations of far too many souls.  I feel the weight of these challenges.  They leave me dispirited at times.  However, I rebound when I reframe my situation, and revisit my intentions.  Finding ways forward from my frustrations gives me hope to continue yet another year, day, and period.

The following thread comes from a dialog with a friend after a recent post titled Celebrating the Small Wins.  In it, I detail one aspect of the challenge of teaching today.  It helped me see areas where I needed to seek improvement in spite of the enormity of the task I face.  This helps me become a better teacher.  It also helps me share the reality of teaching today with family and friends so that they better appreciate public education.

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While a 43% average test score may not sound like much to celebrate, its 5 percentage points higher than students’ initial average score. We’re not done with these topics either…Rather than move on with most students in the dark, I’ve decided to reteach concepts they should have mastered in middle school, and with some, in elementary school. It makes no sense to continue pushing students into deeper waters until they gain some sufficiency treading water, at a minimum.

Friend:  You’re last sentence demonstrates a lot of teaching wisdom, my friend. And I know that while you are doing so, you are giving the students who have mastered higher level concepts challenges that will keep them enganged and growing so they don’t get bored out of their minds.

Me:  Thanks, my friend.  Your last point is easier said than done, sadly.  Mini blog post follows…

Frankly, it is very challenging (bordering on impossible for a 2nd year teacher creating ALL of their own material) to keep all students engaged at all times with so much disparity across 30+ students per class section, times the number of sections per course, plus other courses and their number of sections each; these sum to 150+ students with individual abilities and learning styles.

Even triage techniques are difficult to manage given the need to create three different levels of assignments per topic (basic, proficient, advanced).  Next, since students rarely are aligned topically, or even pace wise, students are scattered along the curricular continuum, which is easy to describe, but difficult to manage.  The combinatorics of the challenge is staggering at the outset, and I expect even a decade into the profession. Perhaps over a few more years, I might be able to create properly differentiated material that is easy to distribute, collect, score, analyze, improve, etc.

Why this exercise remains at the feet of every individual teacher boggles my mind, too. Some means of leveraging pre-existing material must be made readily available and easily modifiable, as well as seamlessly integrated into straightforward statistical analysis and grading software if there is to be any possible way of succeeding in educating our diverse student bodies.

The one-size shoe fits all approach does not work; the mass customization approach is not feasible.  There is no simple solution, or set of solutions, as much as some may believe.  Hence, we teach a little to the lower, middle, and upper level students, hoping that the time spent for each is adequate (equitable), knowing that more is needed, but struggling to maintain the energy needed to manage the enormity of the challenge.

This must change or the concentration of adequately educated citizens will continue to be diluted, perhaps to a point that the majority may rebel at the immense disparity between them and the minority who likely will retain power, but perhaps not democratically.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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