Every year I ponder over what my next resolution will be and the odds of me keeping it. This year, despite posting on Twitter in reply to Chase Orton the following resolution:
I really did not commit myself to my typical New Year resolution. I keep talking about "New Year, New Me" with my friends, but what does that mean?
Well, simply put the first resolution is more of a resolution to keep myself in check. I started this blog a while ago and let my commitment to it falter. It's not a resolution that truly is #1, it's just me commiting in writing to doing something I should have been doing over a year ago.
The second resolution has been a daily goal for me in my classroom. I learn more from listening to my students than I do from the CBAs and standardized tests ever tell me. I ask my students how I can better my teaching every day, in a variety of ways. I do not expect the feedback to be positive. I don't want it to be. This year in particular I took to giving my students the Teacher Report Card which, if you haven't heard of it, please read here.
Basically, it is an anonymous Google Form aimed at getting data about my teaching. Questions such as "Ms. M respects each student..." "Ms. M explains topics clearly..." "Ms. M makes me feel important..." rated 1-5 with suggestions and opportunities for students to give their thoughts as to what would make the class better.
I gave this teacher report card to all of my classes a few weeks into the first quarter . See the results below:
When I showed this to my coworkers, many replied at how well I had done with angsty 8th graders. They said I must be doing a great job!
That's not what I saw.
I saw places for improvement and some of the feedback stung.
I immediately posted the printed out feedback to my wall and highlighted areas I wanted to work on. At first, I highlighted the ones that, to me, stung the most. The two above represent what plucked at my teacher strings as I DO care about my students' lives and I want to make each one feel important. I began to realize two important lessons from this.
I highlighted MOST things and I could've highlighted it ALL. There really wasn't one category with which I was satisfied... and that was OK. I am a firm believer in constantly improving and growing myself, my program, and my approach to math. So the initial focus on what I thought was most important ended up being half of the items on the list. I had some work to do.
2) What I thought I was doing in the class didn't always match up with how my students FELT about it
I knew that I care about my students and truly believe each one is important. My friends and family know (as I am constantly talking about my Ss and worrying about how I can be better and make them less anxious about math). The problem was I wasn't exactly clearly indicating that to my students and that's a problem. Just caring and putting in the effort (and time) in and out of school does not make it clear to students that you are doing these things. In class, in my interactions I needed to improve. This was a wake up call.
It is not all about me.
I have continued to think about the first round of teacher reports and have given the form again more recently. I was anxious to get the results as soon I gave it. I really wanted to show improvement. I knew I wouldn't improve everything, but I was hoping (for my students) I had made their math experience at least a little better.
As I poured over the new data on my wall, I highlighted my improvements and starred some shocking decreases in my scores. Mostly, I improved overall, but what is clear to me is that for some students I am not cutting it. Many teachers might be satisfied that 95% of their students are (mostly) happy with the course. I, of course, focus on the 5%. I choose to listen to the advice that stings while patting myself on the back (cautiously) about my improvements. Seems pessimistic, but again,
This is not about me
The day before Winter Break one of my students approached me. He had been working in my office during a language class (we have a comfy chair so this is not unusual). He had seen my corkboard filled with Desmos, Estimation180 stickers, and WYR, my schedule, and (most importantly) my teacher report cards.
Student: Ms. M, I noticed that you posted our feedback from the teacher report on your wall. Why?
Me: Well, I think the feedback is important and it means a lot to me.
Student: Yeah, but I noticed you mainly highlighted the bad things and wrote "better" in some places. I guess I didn't realize that you were actually going to use it.
There it was. Students don't think that their opinion of a class matters. They are often taught "well you are always going to have that one bad/tough teacher" or "the teacher you don't get along with" so in many ways students expect that if something doesn't feel right, the pace is too frentic, or they do not feel valued that it's just something that could happen (normal). We teach kids to listen, learn, and adapt but rarely hold ourselves to the same standard. Kids see this and just "have to accept it."
We need to listen more.
EMAIL SIDE STORY:
One of my worst, but also described as my best, habits is my inability to not respond to emails, immediately. I have my work email attached to my phone for better or worse and I often respond to emails within 20 minutes depending on what I am doing in my personal life. I have told my students that if they have a question on homework or would like to schedule extra help to email me and I am most likely going to email back RIGHT AWAY. I say this to my students as they will email me a question, I will email back, and they do not ever check their email back. I am trying to get my students to realize that if they are posing a question on email they should be looking for a response rather than an excuse to not do the problem (e.g. "oh I didn't understand that so I emailed you!").
Students have commented about how quickly I respond to emails. They like the idea that I reliably will answer. It's a curse to keep up though, especially on vacation. Over vacation I gave some problems for my students to complete on a website. They had to log in to the website. I knew students were going to forget their logins, I anticipated it. What I did not anticipate was receiving an email on New Year's Eve asking for the password. I was not checking my email that night and I had missed it. I also did not respond the next day as it was my fleeting moments of freedom before I had to return to school. What resulted was a bit amusing:
Here's the thing though. This wasn't just a funny conversation that we file away into "$&% middle-schoolers say" file. She was, in many ways, dead serious. She was worried because I was very reliable in emailing back and I have set myself up to listen and be available to them. This is something I need to remind myself of... students can be very literal.
So my goals have shifted, I now focus on explaining topics more clearly, using better language choices, answering questions completely, and showing interest in ALL students' lives. I often jump into "cool" math problems or questions we can look into but I realize I need to take more time to learn about my students and listen more. Not just to the feedback about me but about their lives, because their experience in my math class is not just about the math that we do, they are experiencing so much more at the same time. perhaps they are distracted by a social situation that happened in the morning, nervous about a tryout, or just hungry (MS students are always hungry - trick question). The point is, they do not drop who they are and what they are thinking about the moment they walk in the door to exponents despite how much we as teachers would like them to.
MS Math Department Head located in Massachusetts. I mainly work with LBDB students teaching them meaningful mathematical procedures through context. I also look to open students' eyes to the mathematical world around them