A Stressful Moment

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Today was stressful.

It wasn’t really any more stressful than an average day of teaching, but somehow the culmination of a bad unit and reaching the point cluelessness in a new curriculum put me over the edge.  All of the stars of negativity aligned and I left school defeated and thinking about all of the other things I could be doing with my life.

Teaching does not equal learning.

In my Algebra 2 class, we have been learning about “Rules of Exponents”(RoE).  Let me rephrase that – I have been teaching my students about “Rules of Exponents”.  To gain perspective, these students are mostly sophomores and juniors.  They are introduced RoE in Algebra 1 and it is recovered in Geometry.  By the time they get to me one would think that they have a decent foundation of understanding.  To quote another teacher at my school “assume they know nothing”.  Sad quote, but when it comes to understanding  the material it is spot on.  They may recall a few of the tricks, but understanding?  Not even close.

In Algebra 1 students are thrown all of the rules in the first few days and asked to learn and understand them.  The tricks are taught, “anything to the zero is one!” is thrown about, about day 3 or 4 negative exponents are introduced and BOOM show us what you understand…sorry.  I keep writing the word understand like there is even a chance of that happening in six days.  By day 6 we ask students to show us what procedures they were able to memorize.  In geometry, the process is the same, and after looking at assessments might be a scaled back version of Algebra 1 (wtf?).

Anywho…now they come in to Algebra 2.  Day 1 – You know how to do RoE, right?  Day 2- Hope you’re good because here comes simplifying radicals (they have pretty much never seen), multiplying and adding radicals, rational exponents, and exponential functions.  This is my life.  We have been learning these skills for close to two weeks.  Each night I rack my brain for a creative method for students to latch on to these ideas and each day I come to school thinking that they are understanding.  A majority of the students are trying, asking questions of each other and of me, and I am doing my best to help motivate the students that are difficult to motivate.  This chaos and disorder is part of the job and as a teacher you get used to it, but checking in with students today – two days before test day – it seems like the entire class needs to go back to square one.  “So you’re telling me you can’t simplify the square root of 48?  You realize we spent like…3 days just on that?” Talk about defeating for a teacher.

Students laziness is not an excuse for bad teaching – call it what it is.

The next piece of stress came when I tried to share my frustration with other teachers.  Explaining the situation to them, I received the same response: “The kids are being lazy.  None of them do their homework, so you can’t expect them to understand it if they don’t try”.  The reason this angered me was simple: I didn’t believe it.  I have awesome students and I feel like everyone of them wants to learn the material.  There are definitely some that do not realize the benefit of homework as much as they should, but that is not the sole reason they struggle.  Teachers use the myth that students are lazy to shield them from the fact that how they are teaching may not be what is best for learning.

It is uncomfortable and it would be much easier to shift all of the blame to students, but I realize whatever methods I chose to help students learn did not work out as planned.  I see myself as an innovator and a teacher that listens to student input and tries to change my lessons accordingly, but time and again  my results are the same as every other teacher.  I am left wondering if anything I do really makes a difference in student understanding.

A downer for sure, but I am proud of the fact that I am upset.  It means I care about how students learn best and I want all of my students to be successful.  If I chalked all of my shortcomings up to lazy students I would be a much happier teacher, but a teacher that never grew or challenged myself.  I hope that out of this ordeal our department is able to have good discussions about the skills taught in each sequence of courses, and who knows…the kids could still ace the test on Friday. : /