This is my 5th year of teaching so I am relatively a new teacher, but I hope I am never done learning. Here are some ways I’ve grown throughout these 5 years:
Shift in homework – During my student teaching experience, the homework would be about 15 problems a night and I would go around the room and stamp it if they just did the homework. I honestly hated myself. Students probably spent 30 minutes to an hour on that homework, only for a 3 second glance and a stamp. That was when I knew that I was grading compliance, not mathematical ability. Now I know to only focus on 3-5 problems a week and make sure they really dive into those problems. I got this idea from Diana Herrington when we co-taught together. She would rather do fewer problems and spend a lot of time on those problems.
Formatively assessing multiple students – In my first semester of student teaching, one student would dominate the class with questions and solutions. I thought that she was a great student, but I focused a lot of my time on her rather than the other 35 students. Now knowing about equity in the classroom, I feel extremely bad that I didn’t give as much attention to others. Now I try my best to not have one student dominate the conversation by asking the “front tables” or “back tables” to answer, or randomly picking groups. Just because one student knows how to do it doesn’t mean that everyone knows.
Less emphasis on math tricks – I used to love and show math tricks to students. For example, I can square numbers ending in 5 in my head. For 65^2, you take 6 and multiply by the next number up (7) to get 42, and it’ll end in 25, so 65^2=4,225. Though this is cool, and this did make math fun for me when I learned about it in high school, I never taught students why. I won’t promise that I will get rid of tricks entirely, but I will definitely tell students why these tricks work and to emphasize that math is the study of patterns.
Hating technology in the classroom – While I was a math major thinking about my pedagogy, I thought technology in the classroom was unnecessary. I’ve been taught with just whiteboard and markers, so why do I need to teach differently? Well, I was totally wrong. It’s taking a few years, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with tech in the classroom. I think the problem was twofold: I wasn’t aware of the apps that were out there and I didn’t want it to feel forced. Some tech apps/tools that I found that truly enhance my lessons are: Desmos, Google slides, online geoboards, Kahoot, Flipgrid, just to name a few. The awesome thing about these tools is that they got students excited about math in a way that I couldn’t alone.
Not being as nit-picky – I think it stems from being in band for most of my life that I expect no one to be off-task because we are all working on the same goal. It’s been something that I’m still continually forcing myself to not care about, but if one person is off-task for a couple seconds, I need to let it go. For example, I am taking an Asian History class at Fresno State for fun, and I would go on Twitter just for a couple seconds at a time. It wasn’t a personal attack on the professor; I actually really like him. It just was that there was some free time in between topics. I shouldn’t embarrass a student especially if they already did what was asked of them. It’s also hard to engage students for the entire 50 minutes, so I need to let these things slide.
Emphasis on memorization – In my undergrad, I thought that to be successful in math, I just need to memorize formulas, theorems, and definitions and know how to apply them. That mentality got me through my undergrad, but it would be a disservice to math as a subject if I taught my students that that is all math is. Now I know that we shouldn’t test on memorization. Test them on big concepts. Check out one of my previous blogs on test anxiety for more information on how I go around memorization as a key to success.
Emphasis on speed – I loved timed tests when I was a kid. I love the competitive aspect. But as a teacher, it’s not about what you like; you need to cater to the students that you have. Being quick does not mean that you are smart.
Different approaches to lesson planning – My lesson plans in the beginning sucked. Let’s face it. I just looked at the book, wrote down definitions and necessary theorems, then did a couple examples with the class, then had students start their homework for the remainder of the time. Diana Herrington helped me see that math is creative and teaching is an art. How can we creatively teach this to where students can discover formulas? How can we be creative so students are making precise definitions rather than just writing something down? I’ll explain more of this in a later blog.
Changes in assessments – All I’ve had growing up were multiple choice and short answer tests, so when I had to give an assessment, these are the two that I go towards. However, I learned that feedback is extremely important as a teacher and multiple choice tests hardly allow for any feedback. I don’t know how they got B as their answer. How do I know if they just guessed or if they were torn between two answers? Check out my blog on Test Anxiety to see what kind of assessments I do now.
I can think of more but this blog is already long enough. Overall, even though I’m still new to the teaching profession, I have already learned so much, and it is really exciting to see how else I would change in the coming years. To new teachers: I highly recommend reflecting. Reflecting constantly is how we grow. The constant questioning of “Why am I teaching this specific way? Why am I giving this specific homework? Why am I doing this?” will help mold you to the teacher you want to be.