It’s not enough to be smart.

I remember last year, how my principal said that one of the reasons she hired me was because I was “smart.”  I smiled weakly not just because in that context, it wasn’t necessarily a compliment, but because what came rushing into my head was grad school discussions of how intelligence in no way, shape, or form made up for training and experience.

I especially feel that right now as I stare at my loathsome Algebra book (copyright 2000).  At least last year, for Pre-Algebra, I had a more up-to-date book (copyright 2004, I believe), and it made a huge difference in terms of graphics and extra resources.  In general, for math textbooks, the textbooks themselves aren’t very strong.  I didn’t really begin learning from a textbook until high school, and I definitely never read those lessons – I just focused on my notes.  These textbooks are difficult!  In junior high, I learned directly from my teacher.

Now, I’m the teacher.  And I’m having a hard time because my textbook problems don’t match the format and focus of the tests that I’m supposed to give.  They also don’t necessarily jive with the format of standardized tests that I still have to prepare my students for.  I look at this, and I know the formula for successful grades for my students.  Want to know the formula?

  1. 15-minute warm-up.
  2. 30 minutes reviewing the previous night’s homework and the warm-up questions.
  3. 20-minute lesson
  4. 25 minutes of guided practice.
  5. Give them 20 minutes after lunch to start on the homework as I walk around the classroom.
  6. Rinse. repeat.  Every two days, give a quiz.  Review for 2 days before the test with problems that are in the exact format of the test problems they will most likely get.
  7. Do cumulative chapter reviews every 3-4 chapters.  Have quarterly and semesterly exams.
  8. At the end of the book, review 2 weeks on as many CST-like problems as you can.

Congratulations; with this method  100% of your kids will now score 60% or higher on the CST test meaning according to California, they are now “Proficient” in math.

Unfortunately, most of your students will probably forget half of what they haphazardly learned because there weren’t too many connections to applications and synthesis (because word problems aren’t necessarily application, it’s pulling out the right numbers, crossing out unnecessary words, and again, plugging and chugging).

At the end of the day, I don’t feel too hot.  Repeating and drilling is brutal.

Is this enough for geometry?  Trig?  Calculus?

What the hell is a Comp Lit major doing here?  Can’t we give them anyone better?

Last year, I went to a cool math workshop on differentiated math instruction.  All I can think about now, as I prep my notes is how if I had enough time, I could create more resources to engage my students at different levels.  My heart’s also sinking thinking about one girl who just transferred into my class – she’s definitely a grade level or two behind.

I wish I had organized math resources (instead of a folder of PDFs of xeroxed worksheets).  I wish I had a real Master’s guide (instead of a document of worksheets with handwritten answers in them).  I wish I actually had more than high school math instruction in my own academic background.  I wish I had a teaching mentor who would give me specific advice on how to teach math well (instead of giving me lame ideas that I already know (ie: have students grade each other’s quizzes so that you can have more time.  ALREADY DO THAT.  okay then.  How about this worksheet here?  WAY TOO EASY)).  I wish I had great math training.  In fact, I wish I was focusing on the humanities or something and the other teacher could focus on the math and sciences.  I wish we had more of a system in place where teachers work together.

I mean, my school is getting better and using more teamwork.  I appreciate that.  But old habits die hard.  And the fact that currently, my students do best at math just sucks.  Because it doesn’t mean I’m a good math teacher, it just means that I’m good at teaching how to best the standardized test.


And one last PS:  If I’m considered “smart” in math, then our future generation is screwed. 


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