Today was the first day back to school after the winter break. I was anxious about going back to school over the last week and it got to the point where my digestive system was off and I was experiencing weird back pain. Anxiety before the first day of school is pretty normal for me, but usually it doesn’t bother me so much because I know that I’ll get so happy to see my students that I’ll forget I’m back at work. Perhaps the anxiety this past week was due to the absence of this mitigating effect. But still, after walking on campus today it was nice to see some of my high school students; others… I can only pray for a bigger heart.
But I didn’t let that anxiety show. Teaching is part performance anyway. Since students have been away from school for three weeks, I started each period by reviewing some classroom rules and those myths about mathematics.
Today, I was again reminded by how students’ motivation is strongly linked to their beliefs about whether they will be successful at the task set before them. Since the tasks today were relatively simple tasks to help students review what they’ve learned, all of my students got to work with no complaints.
I saw another instance of this principle while helping a student with Algebra 1 after school. This student is not one of my students and was in a heightened emotional state today. Her worked involved graphing linear equations. She had learned an algorithm for graphing lines, but it was not clear that she really understood what she was doing. For example, to graph the line y=5x-2, she knew that she had to “start at -2” then “go up 5 and over 1” but she didn’t know whether the y-intercept of -2 meant to start at (0,-2) or (-2,0). I’ve worked with this student enough to know that it is better to let her try, give lots of encouragement and choose judiciously when to gently offer corrections. She was motivated to graph lines, perhaps because she knew the algorithm enough to be successful at the task. Once I started to probe more about whether (0,-2) or (-2,0) fit the equation, she lost the motivation to work. With this student, I’ve learned that it will take time for her to develop enough confidence to move out of her comfort zone.