One of my biggest problems is that spend most of my time “teaching to the middle.” I would say that in my Algebra 1 and Geometry classes, about 10% are skilled and motivated, about 50% are somewhat motivated but lack language, mathematical, and learning skills, and about 40% are not motivated at all to learn and actively ignore the mathematics that is happening around them. I find I spend most of my time engaging that middle 50%. With enough practice and repeated explanations, I can get this group to learn most things. However, the problem is that I don’t move forward until this entire 50% “gets it” and so the whole class ends up going much slower than I would like. The 10% that are skilled and motivated are probably bored out of their minds.
One thing that helps is to get the skilled and motivated students to help explain things to the other students. Another strategy is to spend most of class time on individual and group work and less on lecturing, so I am freed up to walk around the class and give assistance to individuals. Yet another strategy is to create enough tasks to keep everyone busy, but that strategy only works if I can find enough energy and time to plan that much. Even with all of these strategies, I am not moving through the curriculum as fast as I am supposed to.
But it’s not just feeling rushed to cover content. I wish I had time to really go deeper. I feel like I barely have enough time to get students to master the basics of each topic and then it’s time to move on to the next thing. I don’t have time to make connections to other topics or to tackle more interesting, deeper questions. For example, I recently taught my Geometry students how to use trigonometric ratios to find the lengths of sides in a triangle. I hate that I was only able to teach them a procedure for doing it and that we didn’t get to do anything deeper with the trigonometry. Most of my students will probably remember SOHCAHTOA and little else.
Recently, one of my bright Geometry students asked me for extra work. She told me she doesn’t like Geometry, so I’ve been giving her work that I’m preparing for my Algebra 2 class. She’s been eating that up, but I wish I more time to prepare work to help her change her mind about Geometry. Geometry is so cool!
I’m trying my best to meet the needs of all my students but I’m nowhere near the perfect ideal of differentiated instruction, in which everything is tailored to students’ interests, skills and learning styles. I need way more time–more instructional time and more time to plan. This is one the biggest reasons why I find this year of high school teaching to be so frustrating.