It took a long, long time to really feel comfortable wearing a “teacher hat.” Getting certified after staying home with kids for almost two decades provided few clues as to how to fit into the high school culture. My supervising teacher’s answer to classroom management questions was to take students out in the hall, chew them out, and call their parents. My colleagues let me know I was making math too difficult for my students by trying to teach conceptually and should just write examples on the board in a way that resembled one of my grandmother’s quilts. Thankfully, I got a fresh start in another district, shortly before the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were adopted.
As the progressions documents were released, I read each one, growing in my understanding of how mathematics is connected through the grades. I asked questions in the forums and connected with other progressive math teachers on Twitter. Not only was my practice of teaching conceptually affirmed; but I began to grow in content knowledge, pedagogy, and learned the importance of building relationships with my students.
Strong relationships are grounded in trust. Trustworthy teachers are not only honest and fair, but are also knowledgeable and confident. Confidence can be confused with arrogance, but there are huge differences. Confidence can grow from an accurate understanding of our strengths, our weaknesses, and from doing our best with what we have. Arrogance typically stems from comparing and thinking we are better than someone else. Arrogance destroys trust, while confidence invites it. Confidence provides room for humility because it feels safer to make and admit mistakes when we know our limitations and are doing the best we can. Students and parents appreciate teachers who care. However, caring for students effectively includes leading them; and no one wants to follow someone who is unsure about where they are headed. I need to be confident for the sake of my students and their families.
Learning math requires a lot of work. I can assign practice problems, but my students are unlikely to complete them if they don’t believe practice is necessary. My students want to know that the time and effort they invest each day is worthwhile. The CCSS shift to modeling has provided opportunities for my students to explore math that has obvious usefulness. Now that I’m using aligned curriculum, the question, “When will we ever use this?” has all but disappeared. It’s not just my word, but the curriculum itself that convinces the students of the value.
Not everyone finds math to be intuitive. We can say, “Every student can learn,” but every struggling student wonders if they are an exception. Words are not enough. They need to see trustworthy confidence in me. As I guide my students through low-floor, high ceiling learning exercises, they all find their entry points and experience success.
Credible confidence grows when we become knowledgeable and keep informed of trends in our field. Besides subscribing to educational news sources, I receive updates from Core Advocates and the Illustrative Mathematics Blog. I follow math teachers who freely share their ideas through #MTBoS, #iteachmath and “Margie’s List .” I volunteer for committees in my district so that I understand the bigger picture of where we are headed, can contribute insights from my discipline, and can share the vision with my students.
Growing as an effective educator can be a life-long pursuit. I know I am much more effective than I was in my early years because of the growth I have experienced. I remain thankful to the writers of the Common Core for the profound impact they have had on my work.