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 be. 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 students. 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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