Yesterday I accepted a new position with my division. Starting Friday, I’ll be the Vice Principal at Lindale, a K-8 school in our division. I’m excited that I’ll be with kids everyday. I’m looking forward to the energy & enthusiasm, both mine & theirs. I’m also going to be teaching grade 6 & 8 math. And it terrifies me.
Partially I’m struggling with how to come into a classroom that isn’t mine & start over, essentially. It’s not like I’ll be picking up where they left off. I only teach one way — an inquiry, pbl, tech-embedded classroom. So we’re going to need to imagine, together, what learning can look like. We’ll need to unlearn a bit, and figure out what independent learning looks like in grade 6 & 8 because the truth is, I have no idea.
And then there are the questions. What if I can’t replicate what I’ve done in the past? I know I’ve created this environment for learning before and my kids thrived, but what if I can’t do it again?
Secondly, and likely most ironically, I was terrible at math in school. I hated math. It made me feel incompetent & unintelligent. And as soon as I could stop taking math classes in school, I did. For many years, I thought of myself as someone who was not “a math person”, then I became a Chemistry teacher and realized I could probably do “normal” math. The truth is, I still have no idea what the purpose of the Pythagorean theorem is, and now I’ll be teaching it. How do you teach students to think mathematically, when I’m not sure I even think mathematically?
I’m incredibly thankful for serendipity & the network that I have. This morning I read Shannon Smith’s post Minds on Math. And it’s helped me realize there are a number of things much larger going on in a math classroom.
Math is as much about identity as it is about math. This is especially true of middle school students who have such a fragile and confused identity to begin with. While we learn math, I need to give my attention to how students construct their identity as someone who can solve problems and become numerically literate.
Secondly, I need to learn how to foster curiosity about problems, while helping kids think about their thinking and identify where they are struggling. It’s about patterns & relationships and developing curiosity and understanding about them. In truth, I never thought about math like that in school. For me, it was about memorizing the equation.
Finally, it’s important that my students do a lot of the talking & discovering and I listen around the edges.
As a teacher, I know what it’s like to hate math & to struggle with it. While I want my students to struggle, I want them to understand that struggling is good. It means your brain is trying to create synaptic connections & pathways are trying to mylenate. Beyond this, I want them to love learning. I do. Even if it’s math.