Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reality vs. Ideal Classroom

This has been a challenging year so far. Exhibit A: I have not been on Twitter much since school started almost 2 weeks ago. Exhibit B: I have not blogged in almost 4 weeks. Exhibit C: I haven't responded to any comments made on my blog from the past 3 weeks. Apologies, all around. And I promise to get to those comments really soon.

What I'm struggling with the most this year is that my expectations and goals are much higher than they have been since my first few years of teaching and they're running head first into the reality of school life. I blogged about some of my big plans here, here, and here. The basic gist is that I wanted my students to process at a deeper level this year, involving more writing and more problem solving, and I reworked some of the curriculum to reflect these changes. The issue that I'm having is that these goals are very difficult to achieve in the constraints of the current system. One of my courses is an accelerated Algebra 1 class taught to 7th graders, who I see for 45 minutes, 4 times each week (which doesn't include time lost due to conferences, field trips, assemblies, etc). Although I am not "teaching to the test," per se, my students do need to be able to do well in their following (accelerated) math classes and gain a reasonably strong foundation in Algebra 1 content, as well as study skills, organization, and ability to show work clearly and using standard notation. And I cannot seem to find the time to both teach a high level of content understanding and skill development while incorporating actual problem solving, writing, discussion, group work, labs, and all of the other components that I think are crucial to a rich, exciting middle school math class. 45 minutes is just not enough time to go over homework, use a problem-solving or groupwork based approach to teaching a concept, and assess students' understanding of said concept before I assign problems to be completed independently at home. Every day, I am rushing through things that just need more time to stew and develop in students' minds, telling them the conclusion because class actually ended 2 minutes ago, and they need to be able to do their assigned homework for the night, and I can't possibly write them all a late pass yet again, just because I desperately want more time for them to discover the conclusion themselves and own it on their own terms.

what I feel like this year

I know one possible solution: cut stuff out of the curriculum. Are rational functions and equations really that important for Algebra 1 students to master? What other content is really Algebra 2 material that's been pushed down into Algebra 1? What things do you cut or wish you could cut? Any other suggestions out there? (I've already petitioned for a change in the schedule that would allow for more time for math, and have been told "soon" for about 8 years.)

1 comment:

  1. Great post Anna. Recently our curriculum was changed for the better. Rational functions and equations were moved from 10th to 11th grade. I hope you are able to make that reduction in your curriculum. The question emerges: will students cover these topics in later courses?
    I'm glad your back blogging. Your writing is very clear and interesting.