Q&A #6140

Elementary math teaching

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From: Gail (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Apr 22, 2001 at 15:48:53
Subject: Re: Elementary math teaching

Dear Tamea,
     I am sorry to have kept you waiting so long for an answer.  I am a
fifth grade teacher in Virginia.  Here are the answers to my questions...

>When did you decide to become a teacher?

I think I have always wanted to be a teacher.  My parents tell me that I used
to occupy my younger siblings' time by having them "play school".  I do 
remember that I thought I might want to be a children's author, and then a
pediatrician (see the common theme), but I soon realized my writing always
sounded like the latest author I was engaged in reading, and I found I didn't 
care for the sight of blood...   so, I kept the common thread, children...

>What or who inspired you to become a teacher?

My own teachers were an inspiration to me.  They were interested in me, and
made me feel like I was something special.

>What challenges did you face during your first year as a teacher?

I was given a group of fourth, fifth and sixth grade students, in an effort
to ease overcrowding in a very rural school.  I assured the principal that I
would have no problem teaching to all three levels...   I am so relieved that
he was a wise man, and recognized quickly that such a span of ages and
abilities would be close to impossible for a brand new teacher, so he
readjusted the group, giving me only the fourth and fifth grade...  If I were
to be honest, I would admit that the fourth graders basically did fifth grade
work that year, but the parents were supportive, and everyone learned.

>How have you developed as a teacher since you began?

I have learned...

 that I should talk less than my students do, so I can watch what they do as
they work together, and hear what they think about the subjects we are
learning as they share with neighbors, small groups and the whole class.
Managing the class is the most important part of teaching...   if the
students understand what behaviors you expect, then teaching can occur...
but without an atmosphere that encourages listening to each other, and
learning from each other, there will not be as much learning as there could

 that it is really not such a big deal if children are talking to one
another, as long as it is focused on the task at hand.  That is certainly how
most adults act in group activities, so why would we expect silence from our

 that it is most important for students to know they are an important part of
the classroom, that it is THEIR classroom...   so they have jobs that keep
the room running smoothly, and their photos adorn our door...   they earn
coupons for good behavior that allow them to bring a drink or snack from home
to enjoy during class (I know I enjoy a snack while I work, and one of the
conditions is that it not interfere with others' learning...)  Believe it or
not, this is a great reward, and doesn't get in the way of my lessons,
because when it did at the beginning of the year, the snack or drink was
OVER...   they learned quickly what the rules were...

>What choices have you left behind in order to become a teacher?

Much of my free time is given to teaching tasks -- grading papers, and
planning lessons.  Even when I am off, I find myself focused on how something
I have encountered could help teach a lesson, or a different approach I might
take in some situation...

Money is another issue...   I could have chosen a career that paid much more
commensurate with my abilities.   I am fortunate to be married to someone who
has a career that pays well, but when I was single, and a parent to boot,
things were very tight financially...

Finally, in some ways I feel I have given up respect...   many parents are
not respectful of our education system today...   some, because they had bad
experiences themselves, and have baggage.  Others, because they have seen the
effects of poor teaching on their children...   and finally, some just don't
have the interpersonal skills necessary to work with others...   but I think
you find these problems in any of the helping professions...   Part of our
job is to teach the parents about how education has changed since they were
young.  Another part of our job is to understand ourselves that parents just
want the best for their child...  they often have no idea what a student of a
certain age should be doing, since their only example is that child who lives
in their home...    They are often reacting in anger or fear, and we are
convenient targets...   It is important to find a way to help them work as a
team with you, without sacrificing your own standards.  That can be a
difficult task...

>For you what is "good teaching"?

Good teaching is guiding students to discover the connections between what
they already know, and what we are learning, so it will become their
knowledge.  It is helping students form generalizations about the subjects we
are investigating.  It is doing less talking that listening, and less "doing"
than watching students "do".

>What do you like about the school system?

My school system has put in place methods to recognize master teaching.  They
have given the teachers in my system many opportunities to grow in their
expertise.  Of course, it is up to the teachers to make the choices to take
advantage of such things...   and some don't...

>What don't you like?

Sometimes it seems like decisions are made that are more fiscal, and less
about what "good teaching" is...   and I am not sure the administrators
always remember what it is like in the classroom.  There is a disparity
between what regular education classrooms are doing, and how that translates
to special education placements in the upper grades...

>What would you change?

I would not change a thing about my own choices...   I have been doing this
job for 21 years, and I still love it.  I wish there wasn't so much paperwork, 
but I can't see anything I would do differently -- it is all important to me -
- assessment of my own instructional program, and for the equitable evaluation 
of my students.  I wish there was more technology in my classroom (more 
computers, and more software, especially) and that my classroom were larger.  
Other than that, I am content.

I hope this helps.   :-)

-Gail, for the T2T service

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