In my prior post, I mentioned some of the good things that I think I've been doing in the class during Term 1 of Semester 1. Feel free to read that first, I'll wait. There, see? I kind of know what I'm doing. But I'm still struggling in places. Maybe some of you will even see yourself in me? And maybe you have coping strategies that are working?
Part 2 - The Not So Good
First, just an overall remark. I know that, for me, teaching works much better with a lecture style. Not that I talk the whole period (though see #1 below), just that I have trouble thinking up, and dealing with, more chaotic environments. The ones with lots of group work, or activities - in fact, they stress me out as they occur, even ignoring the issues of setup. I know, I know, this is something I need to work on, and I'm not advocating "chalk and talk" or anything, but... euh, some days I wonder if I'd have been better positioned as a post-secondary professor. Which is more an overall mentality thing. Less broad issues include...
1) SHUT UP, SIR
|Absolute Value Barred
It's more like I can't bear the thought of ten seconds of silence.
I've been (trying to) get better at this. Waiting longer than five seconds for students to think about a problem, for instance, before rephrasing it. Or there's times I them to start in on their homework, and five seconds later I'm all, "oh, and remember we have a quiz tomorrow" or "right, and make sure you're simplifying for the first question, not evaluating it" or "by the way, how does my tie look today" and, yeah, shut up, sir. (Okay, so maybe not that last remark.)
Once the students are working on something, and discussing themselves, we're fine. And I grant part of the problem is that if I don't say something when it occurs to me, it's probably gone, and I'll remember it at lunch and go ARGH, meant to ask if anyone else wanted to sign up for the math contests... hope I remember tomorrow. But part of it is I need to know when to STOP, and let students think, or work. I'm trying to count numbers in my head. Work in progress.
2) MARKING LEVELS
It's killing me. As I mentioned in the 'good', it's pretty easy to grab some valid student work because I spend up to two hours totaling. THAT'S ON TOP OF THE MARKING TIME. I mark the tests in four hours. Now add two more for totals, because I'm not counting points here. I'm looking at it holistically, looking at the overall expectations for the curriculum document, and assessing whether that's a 75% or really just a 72%.
Don't get me wrong. I am ALL FOR this. I've seen the studies, I'm nodding about a lot of stuff on Dan Meyer's blog (and those of others), and I'm trying to implement pieces of it to the best of my ability. But speaking as something of a perfectionist, IT'S KILLING ME. (Slowly.) Some bright people in our math department have devised a point system to run in tandem... for instance, all tests are out of 24, and getting an 18/24 might mean 75%, but it might be 72% depending on what aspects of the test they did and didn't get.
|"YOU SHALL... OR SHALL NOT... PASS!!!"
But two extra hours? And I'm not exaggerating by much here... with 29 students, that's only about four minutes per paper, maybe a minute for looking over each page. Some do take less. But then factor in the fact that after doing this 10 times I'm staring at the ceiling, or wondering if The Sam Tsui has a new Medley song up yet, or counting how many Gangnam Style videos there are out there, or... okay fine, if I cut ALL that out, maybe we're down to just over an hour. But isn't that about 45 minutes too long? Particularly since I'm not even marking the stuff at this point?
I'm going to throw in this paragraph to potentially ruffle some feathers. I'm going to claim this is easier, or at least more familiar, for those who mark subjects like English and Social Sciences. When they go through teacher's college, there's probably instruction on why that essay should be a 68% and not a 72%. But being good at math, and having the connection to numbers that I do, makes it harder for me to say "these solutions are a 75% and no more!". (This far, no further! You.. shall not.. pass!) Now, don't get me wrong, I was an editor for my university newspaper, and marking English isn't simple either. But I feel like there's more adaptability in how they think about things. Feel free to prove me wrong, or merely offer some tips below in the comments.
In the meantime, this is killing me. Someone. Help. Please.
I struggle with this every year too. My class is arranged with desks in pairs, facing the SmartBoard. No problem. I've also been blessed this Semester with groups that are mixed college level or above, thus generally task oriented, and disinclined to jab the person next to them with a pencil. Good. So what's the problem?
|Circe thought she might even doodle a mustache
Students at the back potentially tuning out. Students who start to work with the person next to them, to the exclusion of everyone else in the room. Students who struggle that end up next to other students who can't help them - or who CAN help them, but then the information may only ever flow one way. The logical solution to this is, of course, to change up the seating plan, but there's some students who need to be nearer the front, some who need to be nearer the door, some who cannot be placed next to their sworn enemy... I have trouble coordinating all this, particularly when there's a good chance I wasn't aware of the identity of the sworn enemy.
There's also the fact that I can't change the seating plan in September. Because I am LOUSY with names. In a prior year, I arranged students alphabetically by first name on Day 1... I'm on the fence as to whether that helped me learn faster or not. Thing is, I learn spatially, facial recognition comes later, and only after that does the name hook in. (I'm also bad with body language.) Yeah, I'm the guy you'd have this conversation with at a Professional Development Day:
YOU: So, how was your last session?
ME: Uhm, good, uh... sorry, you look familiar but...
YOU: We taught together at the same school last year and sat next to each other during the keynote this morning.
ME: RIGHT! ...your name is on the tip of my tongue.
YOU: I'm still wearing my nametag.
Now, once I have name/face association, it's in there... assuming I encounter you regularly. Give it two years, they'll disassociate; I'll likely recognize your name, and your face, but may not make the link. In committees, I often take the position of secretary, and I'm not sure if that's to help me forge the links, or just for added irony. So... so where was I? Aha, seating. Yeah, so changing the seating plan every week would be a bit of a nightmare. But by October, once I'm comfortable, the students are kind of entrenched.
I have a possible fix here though, which only just occurred to me this past Thursday. Seat-Switch Fridays. On Friday, you sit next to someone new. I have no idea how it will go over long term, whether they'll take the same other seat next Friday when I do this, whether they'll actually make connections with someone new, or whether they'll start jabbing people with pencils. My hope is it helps with the learning. Something to revisit.
4) WORK-LIFE BALANCE
I know, what teacher doesn't have this on their list. But over the last couple of years, I think I've started to become less productive at home. (Is it because I actually live in a house now?) When I get home, I can often rationalize away doing prep or marking in favour of the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or going online, or wouldn't you know it, spending time with my wife.
But what this means is that I'm spending more time at school, until 7pm, 8pm, even later. Granted, I have three courses to prep this year, only two of which I've taught in the past, but... yeah, I don't know, should I simply be leaving early and setting aside the hours of 7pm to 8pm at the house for schoolwork? Does that work for people? Because I'm not sure it would work for me - if it's not absolutely needed for the next day, I'm too good with excuses. So, something else I'm tossing out there. Because I can't see my method holding up forever, or being particularly healthy.
And there we go. I think that's the main stuff. If anything else occurs to me, maybe I'll do another one of these around the end of 2012. In the meantime, look for me the week of November 12th, when I attempt A Day In The Life, with thanks to the other math educators who came up with the idea.
(Math personification graphics not guaranteed for the next "Day In" post... unless people really want them?)