Reflection of a Week

Last week started off rough. I had an observation by my field coordinator from the GV COE, and it did not go at all how I expected. The conversation between myself and my students was dry and superficial. Deep learning and deep conversation were completely absent. The feedback I received was unintentionally discouraging. What I was told to improve on were things I already knew needed improvement…but there are some things out of my control. The following day, students had to do some online testing (not even sure the purpose of this, but we were told they had to). Wednesday brought another day of anxiety because I was observed again. My content professor was the one to visit, however, and he observes in a very different way from my field supervisor. The lesson, again, seemed to completely flop. But instead of being completely discouraged after the post-observation discussion, I felt relieved. I was able to express how frustrated I was feeling and why. My professor acknowledged my frustration and then helped me brainstorm how to deal with it. I went home and went to bed. After some rest, I was inspired the next morning. They way my placement works right now, I have the first three hours to observe my CT and plan for my Algebra classes. I was no longer feeling that I needed a great, elaborate lesson to engage my students. Rather, I needed to work on the questions I asked them and how I facilitate discussions. Thursday was such an encouraging day. While the discussion wasn’t as meaty and thoughtful as the ideal, it was a small step forward from the previous day. That was an incredible feeling. While the Independent practice was still not my ideal, I had students ASK QUESTIONS! Believe it or not, my students don’t like to ask questions. Thursday, they did.

It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to have an amazing lesson to make progress in my placement. Instead, I need to reflect and prepare questions that build better conversations. Building an environment that allows my students to ask questions is far more important and it can be done, even within the many restrictions I feel weighing on me. 

From here on out, I’m focusing on what I can practice and just rolling with the things I can’t. The time will come when I can take bigger risks and work on more things that I want to work on.

Reflection + Feedback = Success

The title of this post represents what I have been realizing a lot lately during the first few weeks of my Student Teaching experience, and this post is part of the reflection piece of my equation for success. So here is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

My first day of Student Teaching was filled with feverish note-taking while observing each class period. The day started out easy with Juniors and Seniors in the AP Calculus course, so my notes focused on the conversations the students were having about the math.  It appears that by this level of mathematics in high school, the students have intrinsic motivation to work hard and learn the material.

The fourth and sixth hour classes were a different story. As the students entered, the atmosphere of the classroom changed. Freshmen…one of the most confusing ages of adolescence. It’s a tough age. And that shows in the classroom. My notes switched focus for these two hours to classroom management.

Reflecting on these differences, I realize I have no control over the maturity of my students, but now I understand a little better why there is a standard in the College of Education related to having lesson appropriate for the development of each student. The lessons for AP Calculus will be different from the lessons in Algebra, not only in terms of content but also in terms of classroom management. Interesting. 

“What is equal is not always equitable.” – Jon Hasenbank Ph.D

Shifting gears…

In my second week, I considered a lot regarding curriculum and lesson planning as I worked on making notes for the second chapter of Algebra. First, I would like to thank my professors at Grand Valley State University, particularly every education professor, for training me to think critically about what the objective of each lesson is while in the planning process. The format of the Algebra classes is based on the outline of the textbook the school uses. As I worked on the notes, I felt discombobulated. I couldn’t see connection between some lessons and it seemed as though some lessons were thrown in for the sake of claiming they met the regulated standards. But will students really meet those standards simply because we had them do some problems that only skim the surface of the content? I am afraid that organizing the class in this way creates disconnection between mathematical ideas and only adds to the frustration students already have with math. There is so much more I could say about this, but it would turn into a rant, we’ll move on.

Another important observation I have made, particularly as we have moved into the third week, is in regard to communication among other math teachers teaching the same math content. I like that the Algebra teachers attempt to stay on track with each other, however, it concerns me that they work so hard to stay on schedule rather than working hard to make sure students are understanding the material and learning. The students recently took a quiz over the first few sections and the majority of students bombed the quiz. Shouldn’t this cause the teachers to review the pieces that students are having trouble with rather than worry that we’re “a few days behind?” I guess at this point, I am of the opinion that it comes down to whether it’s more important to us to “get through” the material or that the students learn the concepts. I know that these teachers want the best for their students. I wonder, though, if they my have forgotten about or have had the ideals removed so far from reality.

I have so much to learn, and I am so thankful for the school at which I am placed. It may seem from this post that I only have negative points, but really, I’m just questioning with the goal of improving for my own future classroom. I respect the educators at Thornapple Kellogg High School so much and I am learning a lot by being challenged by their expertise. This career of education is tough with so many intricate things involved. But it is all worth it.