Six years ago I left a community I cared about, an awesome group of math teachers, and students I loved to find out two things: 1. How do humans learn mathematics? 2. What constitutes a "good" teacher?
To answer my first question, my journey has allowed me to work with students from TK to 12, from age 4 to 19, from the most studious of learners to the most resistant of learners, where each moment provides learning opportunities. I cannot say it has always been easy, but few things worth knowing are rarely easy; however, I have caught glimpses of how we learn through being able to work with this span. Understanding when we are exposed to different concepts and tracing how those concepts evolve through the grade levels, connecting this to why students still seem to show up year-after-year acting like each concept is brand new, and finding ways to combat that process. While I am so very, very far from a satisfactory answer to this question, I have developed a solid foundation for how and why.
My second question I originally thought would be the easier question to answer, but I have found that I still do not have as solid a foundation as I do with the first question. As a new teacher, I thought a "good" teacher looked like the photographs below:
The teacher at the front of the room, every student quietly hanging on every word I say, because the students were hungry to learn, and I was THE TEACHER, the dispensary of knowledge. These images quickly faded as I got into working with kids because they didn't have this same image of what their classroom should look like or that this is how I envisioned their learning.
Making a long story short, I found that my journey changed when I could have fun with students, I could be myself with them, and we could still have some sort of learning environment moving forward. After five years, I felt I was ready to really dive into answering my two questions. I didn't consider myself a "good" teacher, which is why I had the question. I knew that I cared about kids, I knew that I developed connections with them and I was always curious how they were doing. I knew that most of the time I was listening and dealing with helping them get past their "friend drama" or other types of drama in their life, which is their reality and they wouldn't, no couldn't, learn math if they were in the wrong mindset. I knew that I could laugh with kids and those disruptive, not afraid to be themselves, loud, and challenging students were my favorites. I like authentic people, people who tell you that you have something in your teeth, who call you on your BS, and who challenge you, but I didn't know what a "good" teacher looked like, sounded like, or did. My perception at this time moved from the images above to something amorphous and unclear, but with one important characteristic.
The message I was receiving said that the only thing that made a good teacher were the results the students were getting on whatever the measurement tool was, and it was almost entirely related to some sort of test. My effectiveness and worth as a teacher, my only criteria to determine if I was a "good" teacher, or not, was based on a single number. What's worse is that this single number only had to be high enough as compared to my colleagues to make me stand out as a "good" teacher. Not only does this not set the stage well for collaboration because I don't want any of my colleagues to know the "secret sauce" because they'll be just as "good" as me (I have to pause and say how much this sucks for our kids sitting in your's and mine's classrooms).
Although the notion that I was judged based on a single number didn't feel right to me, the gravity of importance related to the sacred number indicated that my notion was misguided at best. This process led me to seek out what makes a good teacher, and what might we pay attention to, because I was convinced there has to be more...that being a "good" teacher was more than determining if my milkshake was...well...you get it.
As my understanding about the learner grew, I noticed that most students respond to and desire their teacher to care about them, the individual, and seem to care less about the effectiveness of strategies or the preparation the teacher put into their lesson plans. Kids care about their relationship with you, they don't care about the learning you want them to master. From a kid's perspective, a good teacher is:
The educational system has this other focus which is results based on various measurements, but mostly based on a standardized test that inevitably is used to mark if a teacher is a good teacher or not. From this perspective, all the relationship and people side of things only matters if this helps produce better test scores, if we are machiavellian about our approach here then really any ends will justify the means provided our results meet whatever criteria we meet. Now granted, it is as dire as all that, but our current state I already see that approach coming back as the thing that matters is scores. It may be obvious by this constructed narrative where I stand on this issue, but personal belief aside, I am not really closer to answering my second question.
Granted that a balanced approach seems the most logical in terms of wanting measurable results from students that exist in an educational learning environment that promotes and cares for them. I believe all reasonable adults would agree with this middle ground, and the problem I still have is that this feels a like a great compromise, I don't see it as a meaningful answer to my second question. Perhaps input from others would be helpful in parsing out some sort of truth from this conversation:
Copyright © 2018