Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself...

Being a math teacher is hard. Being a math teacher in third grade is like growing teeth and THEN pulling them out. Being a math teacher in third grade with a new math series sucks rocks. SERIOUSLY.

Most kids begin third grade with an abnormal terror of all things mathematical. Apparently, the stigma of having to memorize your times table is a ghost that lingers past my own childhood and continues to haunt GENERATIONS of children. The fact that we have a state mandated test that determines your promotion into fourth grade does not help.

Our old math series was traditionally heavy handed with lots of computation skills, a fair amount of reinforcement exercises and plenty of opportunities to provide homework after good amount of practice. Basically, it did the job, had adequate opportunities to practice, and had a good amount of resources for remediation and challenges.

The new math series is a consumable workbook, which means you can write in it. And that pretty much sums up all that makes it great.

I REALLY hate the new series.

Don't misinterpret me. I did not love the old math series. But I knew it. I knew how to circumvent the obvious deficits of academic types who have never actually taught third graders. I knew when to strap on my boots when the skills to be taught were going to drive me to drink. I knew what concepts my kids would literally sail through.

With this series, I got nothing.

Except that the kids can write in it and instead of 3 GIGANTIC teacher's editions, I have six small, lightweight teacher's editions.

Not much of a selling point folks.

For you naysayers, there is a huge amount of deep psychological reprogramming that has to occur in third grade to not turn off kids to math. I remember constantly feeling stupid at the beginning, middle and end of every math lesson from Kindergarten through 12 grade. Every single one. I NEVER left my classroom feeling like it owned whatever we had covered. I hovered between treading water or drowning. And I cannot say it was my teachers' fault. They were good teachers, but every year I struggled so much that they focused on keeping me with everyone else, rather than finding out WHY I was so frustrated.

And for the first 13 years of my 16 years of teaching, I NEVER felt qualified to teach anything above first grade math. Because even as an adult, I was still afraid of math.

Then, I decided to teach third grade. And my administrators agreed it was time for a change. And for the first time in my life, I knew I had to be okay with math so that I could make sure no student ever walked out of my class feeling like I had for so many years.

I took that damn math book home over the summer and I taught myself all the sh*t I could not understand when I was in third grade. I started to see that there were patterns. That is really wasn't all that hard, if you were paying attention. That numbers, dare I say it, were actually pretty cool.

After discovering, albeit too late to do anything for myself, this new respect for math, I knew that I had the power to help my math haters reform themselves while they still could enjoy it. I vowed to make those kids who so closely resembled my former kid-self learn from my mistakes.

Was I not, after all, one of them?

The first year in third grade was rough. I had an intern the first quarter of the year. There were so many days I left school with bite marks inside my mouth from trying to keep myself from interjecting in her lessons. When she finally left, my real work began.

My students were timid, afraid of making a mistake, unwilling to let go of this fear. I vowed to do my best and promised them that if they paid attention and asked questions, success was theirs for the taking. I told them that if they didn't get it after holding up their end of the bargain, I would have to do a better job of explaining it.

It worked. Two years in a row. Glowing scores. More importantly, children who LOVED math.

Once they knew, they had nothing to fear anymore. They knew that they were more than capable.

Flash-forward to this year. A whole new crop of eager brains. A new math book.

A monkey wrench.

Our first math lesson was a disaster. I actually had one little boy start crying and tell me he was stupid. As I looked around the room, it seemed like there were many eyes teetering on tears as well. And then I wanted to cry. But more than that, I was pissed off. That this stupid book, written by people who had never met these kids were making this poor kid think he was stupid. Just like I thought I was.

And so we had a little talk. About people who write books that are designed to trip up kids. About how we are in this together. About how we were going to GPS anyone who was lost and help them find their way back.

We kept on it. In the midst of these past weeks, they tried to hide in their seats, behind their neighbor's head so that they could deflect my eagle eyes, searching for those who didn't want to be found. The last few weeks have been more than a little rough.

But we have persevered. We have hung on.

And today, my students actually felt ready to complete math problems on their own, without me holding their hands. I had students eagerly waving their hands, waiting to be called, instead of students with sullen, shifty eyes that beg not to be called upon.

Today, I had success. My kids got it.

But I will make a confession. Even though there was some deep psychological drama going on in that classroom for the last three weeks, my students owned it today. They proved to themselves that they are capable. And that is going to fuel the fire in their belly to continue to succeed.

And if I were the math problems in that sh**ty, new math textbook, I would be afraid.

I would be VERY afraid.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tell me what you think...