Monthly Archives: July 2013

First-Year-Teacher Blues

First, I’d like to start with a disclaimer. I am a Type-A personality – I like to know what to expect, I like to have a plan, and I’m a total perfectionist. I also read too many math teacher blogs. Seriously, it’s probably not good for my mental health to be constantly reading about these amazing math teachers when I know I will not even come close. (I started reading Mathy McMatherson‘s archives from the very beginning tonight, which was a little more encouraging.) Additionally, I’m an “Intern Teacher” this year. This is a fancy way of saying I already have my bachelor’s degree, and I’m impatient and don’t want to wait and do traditional student teaching. So I don’t even have that experience to fall back on.

Anyway, on to my problem. (It’s sort of like a first-world problem, and if I was planning on having a brand-new laptop and a fancy SmartBoard in my class, I might call it that. But I’m not getting that stuff.)

I’m really struggling to come up with a grading structure/testing policy/homework policy that serves my purposes, partly because I have so many purposes. First, I’ve spent too much time reading about Standards-Based Grading this summer (thanks to my friend Liz over at Thinking Too Hard About Teaching Math and Science, who I’m blaming for all of this). I wholeheartedly agree with the point Shawn Cornally made regarding working for points in the classroom:

Problem: Kids want to play games to get points in order to get an ‘A’. This is a problem because it puts emphasis on accumulating points and not on what the points are supposed represent: learning.

I did this myself. This is how I know it’s true. I was a straight-A student all the way through high school, and I’ll be the first to tell you I have very little memory of my high school Chemistry class, and no memory at all of Geometry, Physics, Trig, and Pre-Calc. Well, I remember stuff, but not the stuff I was supposed to learn. I did exactly as much work as I needed to get my precious As, and no more. Hell, I’m still doing this in my Calculus class and the classes for my teacher certification program. (I’m forcing myself to NOT do the math to determine whether I can still get a C in my Calc class without doing one of the projects. That would be very bad for my motivation.)

Therefore, Purpose #1 is that I really want to implement an SBG mentality in my classroom to emphasize the importance of actually learning concepts to my students.

(Note, if you’re not familiar with SBG, please go to this page on Shawn Cornally’s blog and read it all. All of the articles. I did, and I’ve never been the same. Thanks a lot, Liz.)

However, because I’m brand new to the school, I don’t want to make lots of waves this year. I don’t want to completely re-vamp the Algebra 1 class, I don’t want to use a totally new and foreign grading system, and I don’t really want to have to sit down and plan an entire curriculum from scratch. I report in a week, and school starts in 18 days. Not only do I not have the time, I’m also not the only person teaching Algebra 1. We need to be sort of aligned.

So Purpose #2 is that I don’t want to go all-in with SBG for the reasons I just listed.

What I really want is to be able to implement some of the main tenets of SBG, enough to create a mastery-based mindset in my classroom, but not have to introduce a new grading concept to my colleagues, students, and parents. I need a compromise.

Here’s what I’m thinking now:

  • I’ll keep percentage-based grades, which I think of as being “traditional”. I’ll still weight those grades by percentage as well.
  • I’ll give tests at the end of the chapter.
  • I believe that it doesn’t matter when a student masters a skill, as long as it eventually happens. For this reason, I’ll allow students to improve their test scores later, but I can’t decide between offering test corrections to do this or actual re-testing. I think I’d prefer re-testing.
  • I’ll give quizzes often, maybe once per week or even once every couple of days. These quizzes will be short and will focus on a small number of objectives at a time.
  • I’ll assign homework every night and go over it quickly every day.

Here’s what I’m not so sure about:

  • Should I record grades for homework? How often? Should the grades be based on completeness or correctness?
  • If I don’t record grades for homework, how should I break down my grading structure? And will the students actually do the homework? They are freshmen, after all…
  • Along those same lines, should I grade my students on their in-class work – bellwork, end-of-class learning logs, participation, in-class assignments?
  • How should re-testing work for the students? What will offer them what they need while still preserving my sanity? (Part of my problem here is that I don’t know my students – I don’t know what they will do about this.)

Over the next few years, I think it’s very likely that I will move toward a more full implementation of SBG, with scores reflecting mastery of skills and nothing else. I’m just trying to come up with a compromise that I can implement right now, and work toward something more ideal later.

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Job Update

Big news…I got a job! It’s been a bit of a roller coaster but I finally received an offer! I am going to be teaching Algebra 1 – and only Algebra 1. I’ll only have 1 prep my first year of teaching! This means, of course, that I can completely obsess over my lesson plans until either I believe they are perfect or I collapse from exhaustion. It’ll be interesting to see which of those happens first.

Of course, I still have lots of stuff to do. I have to convince someone at the department of education to give me an intern certificate so I can actually sign a contract. They’ve told me this will take 2 weeks to process but I’m hoping I can beg and someone will take mercy on me.

I need to get in touch with my department head (I have a department head now!) and find out what curriculum we’re using this year (I have a curriculum!) and figure out what I’m supposed to be teaching when the school year starts (I will have students!).

Interestingly, the school year starts on my birthday. I’m going to try to avoid telling the students it’s my birthday, because that is likely to lead to some of those questions I don’t want to answer, like “How old are you?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “How long have you been teaching?” Especially that last one. I really don’t want to answer that one on the first day of school.

I have to figure out what school supplies I will need, what I want my classroom to look like, and what I want to go over with my students the first day/week of school. I’ll be teaching freshmen, so there will probably be a lot of “Since you’re in high school now, you are responsible for your own messes” and “If you fail this class, you won’t just move on to the next one like you did in middle school”. That will be a rude awakening come May.

While I’m doing all this prep stuff, I have to finish my Calculus 1 class and Education Psychology class. The Ed Psych class doesn’t even end until a week after school starts.

I’m really excited about my new position, but that excitement is tempered by an increasing amount of oh-shit-I’m-actually-doing-this. Seriously? What kind of idiot puts someone who has no idea what they’re doing in charge of the academic success of 125 kids?

That right there is the real problem with becoming a teacher. I have just as much responsibility as the 30-year veterans, but I have no clue what I’m doing yet.