Monday, July 25, 2016

Recovering from "Hitting the Teaching Wall"

Last blog was about reflecting on my years as a teacher and what I have learned.  I would like to build my reflections more on something I said regarding student learning.   I said that sometimes no student learning took place despite my best intentions.  On this blog, I am going to reflect on the fact that there were also times when little or no student learning took place because of my lack of intentions. 

It was not purposeful of course, but my teaching soul had fallen into a very dark place.  There was probably a good 2-3 years where I was too tired and/or felt hopeless in making my classroom meaningful.  I am not saying I did nothing to plan or deliver instruction, but it was definitely lacking the creativity and drive I had experienced in the past.  This is a hard thing to reflect upon, but I think it is very important to share as I think many teachers probably go through this on some level in their career. 

In Georgia, we have implemented 3 new math curriculums since 2008.  Any curriculum change involves a lot of work and transition, but 3 changes in 8 years left no time to fine-tune and enhance resources before having to change again.    At first I enjoyed the challenge of the change in finding ways to help students approach and learn content in in a curriculum that definitely demanded more of students in math.  I think we did need a jump in standards, but I am still not sure if it was too much or not.   I do know my students walked away stronger than they had in the previous curriculum that had been in place for a long time, but that was just in time for the curriculum to change a 2nd time.    I think if we had not continued to change curriculum, I would not have hit the “teaching wall” so hard.    What did happen though was two more rounds of curriculum change along with lack of resources, and I wore out trying to keep up and teach.  

For my colleagues and I, this time of change and constant scrambling to find resources, re-order pacing and delivery of concepts, and create new assessments all the time wore all of us out.   I also believe all of this isolated us from one another in a sense.  It is true that we worked closely in PLC’s in an attempt to share the load upon us, but we had little time or energy left over to talk much about teaching strategies and ideas or even observe each other to get ideas.    We did have professional development in our schools, but it was mostly mandatory and often was not helpful.   Most of the PD provided was not content-rich, and time to implement and try new non-content specific strategies in math seemed impossible on top of everything else on our plates.   We were stuck in a vicious circle that we are still trying to come out of.  I know we all wanted to do more and be more creative, and sometimes we did, but we were also in survival mode.   Looking back, I am proud that we accomplished as much as we did with limited resources for many years, but it came with a price to all involved. 

The ultimate victims of this type of change are always the students, and that affected me a lot.  This made me feel hopeless as an educator, and there were many points where I did not believe I could be an effective educator again; that I would never grow again.   Because of this, I lost energy or desire to connect with other math educators outside of my district as I had done in the past.  Attending professional conferences takes money and time away from a classroom, which is not easy to make happen when you are loaded down, worn out, and feel like you have nothing to show for yourself professionally.    It was hard to think about thriving with new information when I was barely surviving in my own classroom.    I became disconnected from a group that had inspired me so much as a pre-service and new teacher for so many years; it took a huge toll on my desire to want to teach.  I wanted to walk away from teaching more than once in this time, and in the spring of 2015 I almost did.  During the 2015-2016 school year it was still debatable for me whether I would return the next year, but it became less so as I re-connected with the math education world in a more global sense. 

Early in 2015, I finally went to a PD session at school that stuck.  It was given by two of my school colleagues that introduced us to using Twitter professionally.  This was a breakthrough for me, but not an instantaneous fix.   It was a general faculty volunteer participation session, so they did not know specific Twitter resources for math; this I would find on my own.  Still, they got me on Twitter, which eventually led me to the MTBoS, and I am thankful to them for that. 

Being communal by nature as a math educator, my next motivation is to help other math teachers in my district become a member of this community.  I want them to experience the great PD resources and professional learning choices it provides for teachers.  Best of all, all of this can be accomplished on a self-paced and continuous basis.  It is not always easy to meet with other teachers in our district let alone get to professional development conferences.   Just as we are expected to differentiate learning for students in our classrooms, so must our learning experiences be as teachers.  Just as we are expected to personalize learning and choice for students in our classrooms, so must we have the same learning opportunities in our professional development.   

I firmly believe that we, as teachers, cannot create a valid model for practices such as differentiation or personalized learning if we have not been afforded the chance change up and choose learning that helps us to connect our knowledge and improve our practices.  We need meaningful PD in our own schools, our district, and globally.   I believe focusing on instruction and helping students learn is what most of us endeavered to do when we entered the classroom, but we just did not focus on the names of the practices; we let our passions drive us.    Over time these passions need to be renewed and sustained, and that means to share ideas and practices with each other and gain global exposure to other math educators.    

Through MTBoS I have re-learned that many issues in math education remain the same no matter the district, state, or mandated curriculum.  Math teachers must have the chance to immerse in a community that can deliver a common core math education to our students    I firmly believe that online resources such as MTBoS can serve to do just that and hopefully help to cushion and protect us in those times where we do still “hit the teaching wall”. 

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