Making the Desert Bloom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 08 2012

A Balanced Path to Success?

I try to live most of my life on a very balanced path somewhat along the lines of al-Razi. This Medieval philosopher based in Baghdad focused on living a life in between the excesses of hedonism and the solitude of the monastery life. While my upper and lower limits may be defined a bit differently, I feel as though his message is still applicable today especially in the realm of teaching. In my first week of teaching, I have already had numerous successes and numerous failures. Therefore, I want to draw upon them equally to let them guide my path forward into the next week and the rest of Institute.

Let’s start with the failures as they tend to stick in my head for a longer period of time. On Friday, none of my students mastered their objective for the class. I was assigned to teach them to divide 3 and 4 digit numbers by a 1-digit number in a 40 minute block. The lesson the day before was on dividing 2-digit numbers by a 1-digit number so this step seemed like a natural progression. However, the students already knew the first objective based on math facts where this objective truly requires knowing numerous math facts and the process of division. To model the process, I had planned to do 6 problems during our guided practice. However, the students were truly struggling with the material, so I only had time to give them 2 of these problems. Therefore, when the assessment came after just 30 minutes, there was no way students could be expected to demonstrate the mastery of this material.

Coming into TFA, I had been telling people left and right that I knew I would fail at various points throughout the program. However, I didn’t realize how much this small failure would hurt so much. But, overall I think it’s a good thing that this failure hurts. First off that means I already deeply care about how my students are progressing after just 3 math lessons with them. Second, it shows that I have high (and maybe unrealistic) expectations for my students. Third, it showed me the balance between more traditional teacher training and TFA. In TFA, everything is high pressure where you have to learn very quickly on the spot compared to a traditional program where I would have more time to learn from my mistake. The quick timetable has forced me to change my plan of action for tomorrow, so hopefully we will get better results on the next assignment involving division word problems.

On the positive side, I feel as though I am building up real relationships with my students and their families. A number of my students missed class the day after July 4th, so I called their parents that afternoon. While I was only able to talk to one parent, her son was the second student in the room the following day. In addition, I have the pleasure of eating lunch with about half of my students who stay at school for the free lunch program. We have talked about a variety of topics, and I have found out that my students and I share a deep love for roller coasters. I never expected that would bring me closer to my students in Watts, but it has. Finally, after my tough lesson on Friday, one of my students, Xandra, called me her best math teacher that she has ever had at school. While I hope that’s not actually true (since I am still a pretty awful math teacher), it was deeply gratifying to hear that the students appreciate my lessons.

Ideally, these lessons will help them be ahead of their peers come the fall. Even if I don’t improve the tangible skills of my students that much in 4 weeks, I hope that I can see some attitude shifts that could be the harbingers of future success. Over the next few weeks, I want to expand on our classroom theme of the keys to success to include the idea of balance. A key that is either too small or too large will not fit in the lock. Through this idea, I hope that students will learn that putting the right amount of time and effort into their work will lead to success. It’s a lesson I have learned over the past few years, and I hope to impart onto my students in the coming weeks.



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