What I’ve Learned About Teaching

Tonight is the eve of the last day of school for me, it seems like a good time to reflect on what I have learned from these past two years.  I have learned a lot of lessons.  I could have done a better job of reviewing and reteaching.  Challenging the kids to do it right, and sending them back time and time again until they get it right worked.   I should have given the kids more opportunities to see unrelated problems at the same time so that they could learn how to differentiate, because on the final, a lot of kids applied incorrect methods because they didn’t properly recognize the type of the problem.

This semester, I broke things down to the very lowest level.  I taught them to deal with exponents by turning them into multiplication, and then I taught them all of the shortcut rules.  That way, even if they got confused on which rule to use, they could always fall back on their fundamental knowledge of what an exponent is, and solve the problem in a longer, but still valid way.  What I wasn’t able to fully teach them was how better to utilize formulas, heuristic methods to check answers, and how to derive the rules on their own, on the fly.  Most people don’t realize it, but these are the little tricks are basically all that separate those who are “good” at math from those who think they aren’t.

It really is sad in one sense that I won’t have the chance to do better.  It hurts to have all of this knowledge, earned with two years of blood, sweat and tears (well, sweat and tears, for sure), and know that I will never have the chance to use much of it.  But on the other hand, I have wanted out for so long now.  I am so tired of the daily feeling of being ignored.  I am tired of the frustration of knowning how much these kids learn on the rare occassions that they apply themselves, but 90% of the time being completely unable to get that to happen.

I have had the opportunity to teach brilliant kids, respectful kids, and hard-working kids.  Occassionally, I have had the pleasure of teaching children that fall into all three categories.  This semester, the simple difference between kids who performed and kids who didn’t came down to who listened.  I feel like I have honed my ability to teach a skill or a concept to a kid to the point where I was pretty successful, even with students who don’t have strong background knowledge.  But I can’t teach a kid who won’t listen.  As I’ve graded the final exam, which is basically a selection of math problems from each objective we went over, it’s so obvious who got what material.  I can actually see who listened, who actually did their homework, who was absent for an extended period of time, and who slept in class.    I just hoped the kids learned as much as I did.

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