What I like most about teaching high school

The end of the school year is in sight. Though I’ve complained in this blog and to my colleagues, friends and family about my experiences this year, I know I will be completely depressed at the end of the year. What I like (and will miss) most about teaching high school mathematics are the challenges and joys of working with students of this particular age group.

To my colleagues at my home institution: Don’t worry–I’m definitely not considering a career change. I know now that I lack the stamina, perseverance and patience to work with high school students. However, I am starting to see why I love working with high school students. It is so rewarding to be around students who are right in the midst of developing their self-identity. These students are starting to struggle with some of the most difficult issues of lives RIGHT NOW and I have a chance to push them in some direction to their benefit or detriment. This makes it thrilling to go to work everyday. And, high school students can be pretty entertaining; they say and do some of the most ridiculous/funny/dumb/intelligent things.

Many of my students have gone through very difficult circumstances and done all sorts of things that I never did at their age, but they still have an innocence that makes you want to coach/cheer/mentor/scold/encourage them. A lot of them don’t yet know how to interact well with each other and with adults, haven’t yet had the thrill of accomplishing something they thought was impossible, don’t yet know what possible paths lay in their future. So, the thought of being able to affect the life of a young person while he or she is in such a formative stage is both scary and inspiring. As my colleague says, these students almost need us to be life coaches more than they need us to be math teachers.

Of course, I will miss my colleagues at this school and I’ll miss the students themselves–I feel like I’ve made a strong connection with many of them. But then again, I have many more colleagues and students at my home institution that I miss terribly now. And while the math that I’m teaching now is profound, I am really itching to teach mathematics that richer and more complex. So, what have I learned after this year? The job of a high school teacher is bewilderingly difficult and rewarding at the same time.

District assessments

Every time the district’s periodic assessments come around again, I always get so stressed out. I am reminded by these tests that my classes are way behind according to the district’s plan for what needs to be taught and when.

Part of the problem is that I have not been able to make up for the lost three to four weeks at the beginning of the school year. I constantly feel like if I just had another few weeks, we would be able to handle these periodic assessments easily. The other part of the “problem” is that I refuse to rush through material without giving my students lots and lots of chances to understand it and become proficient. I find my students need lots of time and lots of practice–that’s the way it should be with really learning something deeply, I feel.

Instead, I always feel a mad rush to cram students’ heads with facts. For example, I haven’t gotten to the quadratic formula in my Algebra 1 class. The CPM curriculum does not get to this until the very end, but the district’s periodic assessments don’t jive with the CPM curriculum’s pacing. What should I do? Should I just tell my students to memorize an arbitrary formula and use it? Or should I just tell them that the test will cover things that they don’t know yet and to skip them?

Furlough days

My apologies for the lack of updates on this blog. Today was our first day back to school after having a wonderful week of catch-up-with-other-responsibilities (a.k.a. Spring Break).

A colleague warned me today that this will be the longest and most difficult stretch of the school year. Students are tired, we’re tired, and there aren’t any more long breaks until the end of the school year, unless…….

Our school district and union have struck a tentative agreement to cut five days of instruction from this current school year and seven next year. I know it’s not a good thing–I want my students to learn more–but I am secretly hoping that the union membership votes to go along with the plan. Voting will take place this week.