How’s It Going?

I am currently maintaining two different websites, to various differing degrees of effectiveness. One is my school sponsored website and the other is this website, my personal one. Lately I haven’t been keeping up with this one, and I did remove the link to this site from the school one.

Originally I had placed it there because I consider some of my behaviors as a teacher to be rather unconventional and I wanted to have a way for parents, students, and colleagues to try and understand why I do the things the way I do. I kept it on a separate site because I wanted to emphasize that many of my decisions were personal and I wasn’t just echoing mandated standing points. Teaching is personal to me. Many teachers are subjected to the mantra of keeping their professional and personal lives separate, but I am to the point in my life I can’t do that. When I define myself as a teacher I was letting my teaching be influenced by my personal experiences. My professional and personal persona were beginning to intertwine.

Over the last two years I have come to the conclusion that I have simply forgotten how to teach. I have been in the classroom for 12 years now. The first five of those years teaching was just a job. With very little deviation, I lived in the “I do, We do, You do” mentality of math teaching. I fit the mold of the teacher that spent hours grading, choosing example problems, and deciding how to chunk assignments. Sure it was a lot of hours, but it wasn’t mentally difficult. Then I started to notice certain behaviors, hypocrisies, and patterns that made me start to question my purpose. I spent the next three years slowly experimenting with my classes until I found something that matched my personal beliefs.

Those three years where I held a healthy skepticism of all things educational allowed me to match my teaching not to tradition, but instead match it to my persona. It allowed me to be the most efficient, effective teacher I could be. I spent one year teaching like that.

I stopped teaching like that because my beliefs don’t match the beliefs behind so much of the dogma and rhetoric in education. The only thing allowing me to keep my sanity over the past two years has been a few of my students. I have been fortunate to have an extremely small class with a few students I trust, allowing me to teach in the manner I want to teach. Or I have had a student regularly visit me after school, whether that be about working on college application materials, math, or just talking before practice. Sometimes it is a student that comes over from study hall during my prep for the same reasons. These students provide an anchor for me, letting me reassure myself that I am not crazy.

One of the few anchor students I have left asked me one day, “How’s it going?” I don’t remember what I said, but I am sure it was some generic answer because it wasn’t in a setting where I could be honest. Here’s what I wanted to say…

This year it just isn’t happening. I constantly feel miserable, reaping almost no joy or satisfaction from my job. All I do is just get reinforced with evidence that I am bad teacher. I don’t know how to correctly prompt students. I don’t know how to discipline students. I don’t know how to challenge my gifted students. I don’t know how to support my struggling students. I don’t know how to provide multiple pathways. I don’t know how to group for success. I don’t know how to manage time. I don’t know how to keep students motivated. I don’t know how to provide adequate resources. I don’t know how to communicate effectively. I don’t know how to use different modalities. I don’t know how to recognize different learning styles. I don’t know how to make complex material accessible. I don’t know how to provide learning targets to my students. I don’t know how to use transitions. I don’t know…AHHH….basically anything, like teaching. It’s actually really simple. I AM JUST A TERRIBLE TEACHER.

About the only thing going for me is that I understand math and that I am likable. Other than that I am a worthless human being.

I’ll admit that I’ve spent more time on Indeed lately than I ever have, contemplating what else I could do with my life. I already am a bit of a curmudgeon, but I’ve started to notice it spilling into my home life, dragging my family down with me. I’ve googled some form of the question, “Am I a bad teacher?” more than I probably want to admit. Even though I said I stopped teaching how I wanted to teach, the truth is that for the past two years I’ve tried to make it match the rhetoric in education, and it isn’t working. I just can’t completely let go of my beliefs, but I feel like I’ve sold out. Right now, I am labeled as shit, and I feel like I am shit. I am living in this world:

I know, I know: teacher evaluation rubrics are supposed to alleviate this worry, but if like me you don’t believe that the rubric measures what you’re doing, they’re no comfort and can actually be crazy-making when you score low on something you don’t even value, like the robotic re-iteration of a three-part objective, which would send me into a tailspin of that’s insane! and then no, what if I’m insane? and then a dystopic the whole world has gone insane and I’m completely alone because nothing has any meaning any more! a conviction that rarely leads to good teaching.

A different  student that helped keep me sane happened to be color blind. She happened to be very interested in art, which I found puzzling. Why would someone be interested in a subject that they will be at an inherent disadvantage? Talking to her over the course of the school year I learned how much effort she had to use to get her pictures to match our technicolor reality. I had a box of crayons in my room and I started to peel the labels off them and we played guess the color. It was good for some laughs as she would sometimes get defensive at times when she insisted that I was lying to her.

Then one time I realized that no matter what she is told by people like me, we will never see the world the same way. I asked her to make me a picture using unlabeled colors. I wanted to see the world as she saw it.

She told me she spent hours making everything on the left the “right” color. The other side came naturally, looks different though to her they are the same, but we both would recognize flowers. The only way something is “right” to me is when she had to lie to herself. That just seems wrong.

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And this perfectly describes my teaching.

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