Still Struggling as a Second Year Teacher

Earlier this year, all teachers at my school received a t-shirt as a thank you from our administrative team; we also received a cool Nike Dri-FIT polo shirt in the school colors and sporting our logo.  I appreciate each gift and each admin, for they have challenging jobs interacting with teachers, students, parents, non-credentialed staff, district office employees, and more.  Their gifts are well-intended and well-received.  However, I felt compelled to customize my t-shirt today, for private wear around the house, as I have not yet attained the state of being shown on the back of the shirt.

Ironically, I recently re-realized that I must reach that state to keep my batteries recharged sufficiently to engage with all my energy and compassion the next school day; while I know better, and even wrote as much in my ed program, and last year in this post, the nearly insurmountable reality facing a teacher with three new preps gets in the way of idealism, or necessity for that matter.  Worse yet, I helped create my current dilemma.

My attempts to circumvent disconnecting from my teaching responsibilities while away from campus have left me feeling burned out and disheartened.  The sad reality of teaching is it is nigh impossible to work at a sustained level of energy both while in the classroom, for a nominal eight hours, and outside for anywhere from an extra one to four hours, without losing the passion that drives one to teach in the first place.  It’s the paradox of teaching, which few understand if they have not taught at the primary or secondary school levels.  Heck, I have not yet fully understood it, or more precisely been able to address it since I still struggle most days to create lessons the night before each of my three courses.  But as I said, living in that way depletes passion rapidly.

So, if just for a laugh, I customized my t-shirt as shown below.  It speaks to the reality of my world at present.  I hope I can evolve over time to attain the necessary state of play needed to recharge my batteries for the next day.

To that end, I see the shore periodically, then the enormity of the next wave blocks out the view and I lapse into paddling like mad to make the next crest.  Let’s hope my efforts are orthogonal to the current, so I make shore soon. I see a hammock, book, and a drink with an umbrella in my future.

For those who may wonder why my second year is as challenging, if not more challenging, as my first year, there are a few factors that you need to know.

1.  Three Preps This Year:  I have three preps this year instead of the two and a half I had last year.  I say two and a half for last year since one prep consisted of algebra 1 for three periods, one consisted of AP Calculus AB for one period, and the half prep consisted of a modified, non-AP Calculus course for students who could not handle the pace of AP; while they required different material, it was easier than a full prep since I could modify what I already created for AP.

2.  New Curriculum in Each Prep:  For my three preps this year, AP Calculus AB, algebra 1, and algebra 1 math lab, I am creating entirely new curricula that limitedly leverages last year’s lessons, activities, or assessments.

For AP Calculus, I received approval from the district and principal to switch the class from a Stewart text, Calculus: Concepts and Contexts from 2001, which was too difficult for them to read, much less understand, to the Finney Demana Waits Kennedy (“FDWK”) Calculus: Graphical, Numerical, Algebraic, 4th Edition text from 2012.  This change entails creating all new homework assignments, in class activities, and assessments, since I believe the material I develop should map back to the text for ease of student reference and use; I’m essentially starting from scratch.  The bad news is all the work I put in last year developing assessments is for naught, for now at least.  The good news is the FDWK publisher provides several resources I can leverage, but it still takes time.  Next year will be better, for sure.

For algebra 1, I volunteered to prototype a curriculum based on the new Common Core State Standards Mathematics (“CCSSM”) standards and practices.  I overextended myself considerably here.  While I am excited to incorporate the mathematical practices defined in CCSSM, as they are rooted in the practices and standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), as well as the National Research Council, the lack of existing activities, worksheets, lesson plans, and assessments makes each day daunting.  There are many days when I regret making this commitment; yet, the district will require all teachers to adhere to the CCSSM standards and practices next year, so this gives me a head start for next year, which I hope is worth the investment.

For algebra 1 math lab, I’ve decided to take one day at a time attempting to lift as many students as possible one rung at a time further up the ladder of mathematical understanding.  Many of these students could not subtract single digit integers.  I believe the time we invested raised many students closer to mastery of this skill.  As of this writing, we are working on mastering addition and subtraction of rational numbers.  While I do not have data yet to support the following statement, I believe several improved their understanding here as well.

3.  BTSA Year 2 is More Involved:  The second year of BTSA involves one and one-third to one and one-half times more effort than year one.  While the tasks themselves are not overly demanding, they are close to the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

4.  Teach Where the Students Are At:  This saying evokes the paradox of teaching in today’s standardized test obsessed world.  I agree with the essence of the saying, it just makes sense, especially with respect to meeting the needs of each student, so I continually adjust the pacing calendar I originally envisioned for each course.  At the same time, it makes no sense with respect to the mandates placed on states to have all students reach proficiency in mathematics and English language arts when many are two, three, or more years below grade level.  As I’ve written, many of my math lab students, who are concurrently in an algebra 1 course, struggle with subtraction.  This significantly impacts their ability to solve systems of linear equations or factor quadratics.  Adjusting pacing for AP Calculus students has its challenges, too.  The AP Exam is date specific.  If students are to pass this exam, they must be taught the entire College Board defined curriculum well in advance of the test for two reasons: 1) so they know the entire curriculum on the test, and 2) so they can practice test taking techniques, which is a must in today’s standardized test driven world.  Many of my students cannot afford specialized tutoring or test preparation programs, so we need to make time in class to give them the chance they need to succeed.

Lastly, I believe the potential of online adaptive testing coupled with in classroom support could radically improve student learning sometime in the near future; the largest challenge here will be the cost to implement and maintain the technology, as well as ensure equitable access for all students, some of whom may not be able to afford in-home internet access, software, computer, printer, paper, or other technological necessities many take for granted today.

5. Implementing Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI):  Since I am new at implementing the EDI method, which is far more than direct instruction, including considerations for this method in my planning and instruction requires more time and effort from this second year teacher.  I like many aspects of EDI, however, I also question certain aspects as well, especially if in the eyes of an observer the implementation must rigidly adhere to the method.  I will not elaborate at this time on my doubts of the claims made by EDI’s creators; suffice it to say that their claims are questionable, and possibly not as applicable as its advocates, and adherents, might wish.  But such is life.

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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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6 Responses to Still Struggling as a Second Year Teacher

  1. xiousgeonz says:

    Please keep investing. “High-risk” investments can still pay off…

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  2. Dave ( also a career changer Math teacher ),a few years ahead of you. says:

    You’re very ambitious as you are a warrior but like Napolean you may be overextending your supply lines. I looked briefly at your EDI link and for an experienced teacher like myself ( I didn’t say the best but experienced ), it is well organized but not much new stuff. You have to modify to what you can do well, both from your point of view and time as well as what the students can assimilate. Better to do less more thoroughly than be forced to cover everything in a sketchy manner. Also, why can’t you incorporate test taking techniques while you teach the related material in AP ? Also did you ever check out the graphic novel style book on calculus I mentioned to you a while ago ? let me know, if necessary you can buy it from me.

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    • Agree less is more. Almost always. I need to revisit that book you recommended. Can you repost the link or title? I do some test prep, specifically timing related with assessments, however, there is much more nuance required that can get in the way of the content, so I’ve decoupled them at present. Also, I’m not an “AP expert” per se, but know my calculus and differential equations, so it easier for me this way, at present. And good one re: overextending supply lines…I have none! which is one of my criticisms of ed in general…it places EVERYTHING on the classroom instructor / teacher. 😦 I find that grossly inefficient, overly burdensome, shortsighted, simple minded and ridiculous, just to list a few descriptors…

      On Sun, Nov 18, 2012 at 7:53 PM, Reflections of a Second-career Math

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      • Dave ( also a career changer Math teacher ),a few years ahead of you. says:

        I have an edition from 1977, the latest is 2002. Authors: Howard Swann, John Johnson ( Los Altos ! ) Prof E McSquared’s Fantastic Original and Highly edifYing Calculus Primer. Groovy, man. has to be seen to be believed. I imagine you could have mine for $25. ( like new ) Check it out. my email os adjlevin@aol.com

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      • Thanks, Dave. I just ordered the 2002 copy from Amazon. I’ll see how that might lighten things up a bit for struggling students.

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  3. Pingback: How hard is teaching? | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

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