Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 02 2011

Ohh, we’re one-fifth there

Overheard in the suite common room
CT Corps Member: “I’m scared about teaching fourth graders… I don’t even know what fourth graders look like.”

Well, I’ve emerged from week one of five at NYC Institute, a little tired but for the most part no worse for wear. The “here are the minute-by-minute details of my 18 hour days at Institute, oh woe is me” posts are a little overplayed on Teach For Us, so I’ll spare you. (Fun fact: I almost typed TFANet instead of Teach For Us. Sigh.) I’ll also spare you complaining about all the in-session discussions, surveys, and self-reflections that we’ve had to complete. (Though honestly, they are endless.) Instead, here’s an excerpt from a note card that my CMA (Corps Member Advisor) wrote to me as part of our getting-to-know-each-other exercises:

I am so glad to have you as a CM at BP. Hearing your concern on teaching students why and how to teach rotations in a meaningful way makes me feel assured that you are so invested in making math accessible and meaningful for your students. In your survey, you mentioned a concern about your introverted personality turning kids off. Kids can tell when their teacher is being authentic with them and genuine and that’s how they are going to connect with you.

My CMA is so encouraging and awesome, yay. Two observations:

1) I can’t fathom how any teacher would not be invested in making math accessible and meaningful for students. All the secondary teachers attended a session today on setting a math vision in our classrooms, and three of the myths that the facilitator attempted to debunk were that: 1) Math just isn’t for everyone. 2) Only really smart people know math. 3) You don’t need math in real life. Is this for real? If even some TFA CMs, with all our indoctrination about malleable intelligence and high expectations, believe that math is neither appropriate for everyone nor useful in the real world, what hope do our kids have when they get to school expecting a quality education? I want to talk to the people who say that math just isn’t for everyone, and figure out if they’ve ever wrestled with the concepts and practiced the techniques as hard as they’ve worked to learn a new language, become familiar with a love interest, or pick up a new hobby. I want to talk to the people who say that only smart people know math, and ask them if only smart people know how to read or write. I want to talk to the people who say that you don’t need math in real life, and challenge them to think about the last time they paid their bills, or described a length or angle, or split the check at a restaurant, without using math. Our kids need to learn the basic math skills that will enable them to be functional members of society, much less the advanced math skills that will make them competitive in college and the workplace, and these attitudes about math, while seemingly innocuous, are actively harmful when they enter the minds of teachers.

As a side note–but not really, since this is far from trivial–even if math were only useful for the abstract, high-level formulas that describe the workings of the natural universe, I believe that it would still be worth learning. After all, “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). God’s invisible qualities are paradoxically clearly seen in the creation of the world, so that those who do not see God in the the world around them are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20); and yet, for someone like me who does see God in the natural universe, learning more and more about how perfectly rational and quantitative it is only reveals more and more of His glory. (As a true side note: this is the real reason why I studied astrophysics in college, but it’s too long and formal to repeat when people ask me in casual conversation.)

2) No matter how many times I’m told that kids recognize sincerity in their teachers, regardless of personality type, I can’t help but worry that my eighth graders will spend five minutes in my classroom, decide that I’m boring or unengaging, and start wreaking havoc. How do I invest students in a lesson about adding and subtracting integers without the showmanship and charisma that so many of the exemplar teachers in our “virtual” classroom observations display? Why should I use the Behavior Management CycleTM for classroom management when it feels so contrived and foreign to me? Will my students be able to tell that I spent six hours scripting my lesson from start to finish, and if so, will they appreciate that fact? These are concerns that I’ve been struggling with and praying about, and while I don’t have all of the answers (or any, for that matter), I will hopefully have some of them by the end of next week, when we start teaching.

But until then, happy Independence Day weekend! I plan to spend the next couple days catching up on rest and alone time, enjoying the beautiful weather that we’ve been having lately, and bracing myself for the upcoming week. We’ll see how that plays out.

4 Responses

  1. Memphis 11

    I just finished my 4th week of Atlanta Institute, and I know how awkward the BMC feels especially at the beginning. In my experience, it works SO well, but you need to take the time to make it your own. If you’re narrating students sounding like a robot they’ll laugh at you, if you sound genuinely excited about them being on task, they’ll be excited about it too.

    • Thanks for the advice! My voice is pretty monotonous as it is, so I guess I’ll just have to practice narrating enthusiastically. Good luck with your last week of Institute!

  2. G

    I agree with Memphis…the BMC evolved into my own version as the year progressed, and it worked very well. As far as the scripted lessons, I didn’t find them sustainable for very long, but that’s just me. You’re going to be fine…enjoy your long weekend!

    • Yeah I’m already starting to see that I’ll have to strike a balance between scripting everything I do during the lesson and having a life outside of lesson planning.

      Thanks for the encouragement. Sadly, NYC Institute doesn’t get a long weekend, but our day is abridged tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll have some time to relax and brace myself for Tuesday.

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About this Blog

New city, same vision

Region
Rhode Island
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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