Saturday, October 24, 2009

Math, Math, and Math...

Sometimes teachers do things that change the way they approach teaching. I've posted before how I am struggling with teaching math this year - that I've been blessed with a group that is weak in the very foundation of mathematics: number sense. Without number sense - math just doesn't make SENSE.

I've been involved in a math lesson study project since August. This week my group did the actual lesson at the host school. After observing the students and talking with my group, I walked away thinking to myself that I need to rethink how I approach teaching math to this special little group of children.

One of my instructors said these all important words to me, "Gracie, focus on what they are good at and go from there. Then, decide each day what exactly you want the students to walk away with." This may sound like first year teacher stuff...I should totally know this, right? Well...this little reminder was what I needed.

After a few years in the classroom, teachers often forget that they too have to learn, grow, and yes, change their teaching in order to become better educators. For me, this means I have to put all my past preconceptions of what a "math class" should be on the back burner and move in a different direction....this reinventing the mathematics wheel definitely wasn't in my plan for the school year - I love the irony, don't you?

The challenge for me is how to make sure my students master basic number sense, at the same time keep up with the curriculum that has been mapped out by my school district. This is my mission for this school year...and if it kills both the students and me, we will find a way to be successful. Success...something this group has been be told since first grade they will not achieve...well, I'm here to change that.

My administration has given me a Calendar Math kit. I incorporated this program into my classes at my old school. It can be a cumbersome endeavor and can completely take over the class, however, done right it can help students gain a sense about numbers they never thought possible...and number sense is where I have to start with this group.

Something else I've started in my class is constant practice with both mental math and multiplication facts. In the past I haven't worried too much about students memorizing multiplication facts - I mean isn't that what a multiplication chart is for? Let's be honest, knowing multiplication facts quickly makes math so much easier.

This group of students are getting good at mental math. Using a bribe - I mean incentive of homework passes I am hoping they will know their multiplication facts most of the time. . Focus on what they are good at, Gracie, and go from there....

OK...this is a start. My gut tells me this is the way to proceed, that this can work - cool...that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So, being a team player, I share my number sense thoughts with my co-teacher from special ed. Out of nowhere our little planning meeting turns...my co-teacher responds with a constructive critque of my teaching ideas. As we talk I'm having this other conversation in my head...saying things that would be completely inappropriate in this professional setting.

This educator says she thinks it is best if she takes her special education students out of my general education classroom. That she can't teach them because she has to pay attention to the general education students, and it's too many students for her. Seriously? You're a teacher who can't teach more than 8 students at a time?

I smile and tell her I respect her decision, and ask about the VGLA portfolios (what LD students do instead of standardized testing). You will love this: she says we can still plan together and she will use all the lessons and VGLA assessments I create....but the LD students cannot be taught in my classroom. Will I agree and support this decision? Are you kidding me? She's either stupid or has balls the size of Bolivia for asking me to do her work for her.

I smile again...tell her I respect her decision and she can do what she wants, but I don't agree it is good for kids to be pulled out of a general ed classroom. Not smiling, I said she will have to plan her own lessons. Good luck on putting those VGLA binders together.

Here's the bottom line: this teacher doesn't like my teaching style. She doesn't like that I teach LD students the same way I teach all students - as individuals. She doesn't like that I have the same high expectations for ALL students - I don't care about labels. She doesn't like that I put student learning first, and changeable words from an IEP second. She doesn't like that I don't want to give 5th grade students 2nd grade worksheets. She completly hates that I base accommodation on student need and not a text book. Know what? I don't dig your teaching style either. Your low expectations and constant hand holding will cripple these students.

I spoke with my assistant principal. She's not sure it is best to pull out the special education students. Her main concern: passing the VGLA...she knows I can get students to do binders that will pass advance...very good for the school's AYP score. Everyone has a fucking agenda...

My agenda? I just want the kids to learn...and the conflict with this woman will end one way or the other...It is killing my teaching...students aren't getting my best...unacceptable.

I don't know how this will pan out...the only thing I do know is that I just have to, "Focus on what the students are good at, and go from there." This clueless teacher can be my opportunity.

These are times when I wish I was still friends with HIM. He's an administrator, he knows education and the lame games we play at elementary schools. Yes, I would love his insight here...what would he tell me as my friend, as administrator? Ha!...wouldn't he just love GIVING his opinion...Come on, he would...

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