Hi, my name is Lisa…

… and I am not one of the best, nor an amazing math teacher.

from canstockphoto.com

from canstockphoto.com

I am at TMC14, which was described by my friend Glenn Waddell as follows:

Steve Leinwand shared this tweet today to the group in the opening of his keynote presentation. As I read this, I so felt not worthy of this tweet. And I as have continued to read people’s reaction to TMC14 and seen similar tweets, I continue to feel not worthy. The theme of most of them is something like this: “150 of the best, most amazing math teachers in the world at TMC14…”

I am not the best math teacher. I am not an amazing math teacher. I have a LOT of work to do to improve.

There. I said it. I wrote it in my blog and I am not taking it back. It is there in print.

Ever since I have been involved with the Math Twitterblogosphere (MTBoS for short if you are not familiar), I have felt this inadequacy. I see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. I have tried some things. Even blogged about what I have tried. But for the most part, I haven’t changed a whole lot in my teaching since I started Twitter almost 5 years ago. Every school year, I start the same way. I am going to make this change, that change, and the other change. And every year, the same thing has happened, particularly in the last three years.

(School) life gets in the way.

For the last three years, I have had changes galore thrown at me in my professional life. Whether it has been new curriculum (now we’re teaching Common Core for the basis of the curriculum) or a different prep, I have had curricular changes the last three years. And there have been lots of TLAs (three letter acronyms – thanks Eli!) thrown at me in the last three years as well. I barely deal with the changes as they are happening to me. And I revert to what I know.

Teaching procedural stuff as best I can because I can explain well HOW to do it.

That’s not to say that I haven’t incorporated some conceptual stuff, because I have done that. But the reality is that many of my days in the classroom have been as the teacher who is teaching the procedural stuff  I do it well.

But, I’m not incorporating real-world into my classroom. I see the stuff that Dan Meyer is doing with three-act math and what Mathalicious is doing with real world problems and I am intimidated as all get out. I have been an EnCoMPASS fellow for a year (and am signed up for year two!) and I want to do some of the wonderful Math Forum Problems of the Week and I have even started it with my students once and I gave up. I don’t know how to teach this way. When Steve Leinwand said today that math teachers today don’t have the support to teach the way we need to teach, I knew he was 100% correct. because I am one of those teachers.

I have asked advice from many. I have exchanged many emails with Max and Suzanne at The Math Forum and sought advice from Steve Leinwand and Dan Meyer and Bill Thill (after meeting him at a NCTM conference) and have done nothing. Done. Nothing. I’m scared and overwhelmed with all of this change.

Intellectually, I know I need to do it. What I heard from Steve today did nothing to change that belief and confirmed that I must make the changes. I have to help students make sense of the mathematics. I have to ask the right questions of my students. I need to encourage them to convince me why they know something mathematical is true. But I also know I need help. Steve is very correct in saying that we cannot do this by ourselves. I know that. However, I also know the reality of the people I teach with. I am in the minority, I believe. Which, is why I come to Twitter and Blogs.

As much as I would like to collaborate with my colleagues I see face-to-face, I am not confident in that. So I turn to the resource I have been able to count on for the last five years: the MTBoS. Help me to learn. Share with me how to make the changes. Help lead me there if you know where to go.

In return, as I work to make changes in my classroom in the upcoming year, I will do my best to share here on my blog. I have gotten away from it too much in the last year. It isn’t all pretty, but I write as I am and share what is mine. I need to get back to it. So I am making public my first goal of the new year: I am going to blog at least once a week during the school year. I look forward to seeing more of you this year.

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5 thoughts on “Hi, my name is Lisa…”

  1. samjshah says:

    Lisa, I suspect you’re being critical of yourself in such a way that you probably can’t see the larger changes that are happening. But I know that feeling of being stuck, feeling stagnant, even for years.

    The best thing I can say we did at PCMI was the end of our stay, we were told we will want to change everything all at once. We will probably feel inadequate because we had been exposed to so many crazy good teachers and ideas. Both were true. But we were told to ignore all that. Baby steps. Decide on only ONE thing you want to do in your classroom differently, and make that happen. Then if you’re doing it and it’s going well, maybe later in the year you can add in something else. And then something else.

    Be like a glacier. Move slowly and steadily.

    I also think that it’s easy here and now at TMC to feel like you’re surrounded by everyone who does everything great. But I think most of this feel this (http://samjshah.com/2009/08/25/fraud/)… A disconnect between who we think we are in the classroom (crappy) and who people think we are in the classroom (superamazing) based on our blogs and twitter.

    We’re with you on your journey!

  2. Jasmine says:

    Lisa, I think that many of us feel this way. You list a ton of things that you have explored and tried, and also say that you have changed “nothing.” I know that we are all out harshest critic, yet I hope that you will also treat yourself with kindness as you make your changes in your practice.

    I also just blogged this morning about my desire to hold myself accountable. I had not blogged in 9 months. Let’s work to hold each other accountable http://jazmath.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-blogging-tutor-please.html

  3. Julie Dwyer says:

    Lisa, thank you for your genuine feelings. From afar, I know you have made changes in your classroom, they may not be all of the changes that you would like to make, but we all know change is hard! 🙂 My suggestions to the teachers that I work with, as we tackle the Core and a new text, look at the overall standard/ chapter and find the new part that resonates with you , and craft that. If you can find a grade level colleague willing to try things out with you, fantastic, but even if you can’t, you can rise to meet this ever evolving world, because you are a teacher of learners, not just a teacher of students.
    Your blog will be a great place to share your journey this year. Isn’t it terrific that we get a new beginning every year?!
    Best wishes!
    Julie Dwyer

  4. Wendy Menard says:

    Lisa – your honesty and bravery are stunning.

    I agree with Sam – move slowly and like a glacier. When I was a new teacher, not that long ago, I wanted to implement every idea I came across. And I was great at setting them up, planning them out, creating materials. My second year I tried to implement Rafe Esquith’s classroom payroll system (I used to be a bookkeeper, so I figured it would be a piece of cake). I designed checks, currency, logs. But when I tried to implement it with all the other things I wanted to do, everything fell flat. I could not sustain any of them because I was trying to do them all.

    Now I try one new thing each year – maybe two, if one of them is already partly in place. It’s hard to read about all the brilliance out there and feel like you aren’t doing enough to make your classroom interactive, hands-on, inquiry-based, student-centered, question-generating…. But the fact that you reflect on it so sincerely and honestly speaks to your core values as a teacher, which in my mind matter as much as any activity or change in technique you might try to incorporate into your classroom.

    And organizing Twitter Math Camp? Well, you are changing the world right there.

  5. Anna says:

    Hi Lisa! Echoing what everyone else has said – be kind with yourself. It’s really, really hard to try new things, especially when you know that you are finding success with what you’re currently doing. Have you tried enlisting the students in your journey? That can be one way to build accountability. It might also be helpful to think/talk/blog through the issues that you think are standing in your way. Would it be helpful to see others teaching in ways that you want to emulate? Maybe not people necessarily in your school, but visits can be arranged. I find watching others to be really helpful in getting a clearer understanding of how I might try something new. And as everyone else has said, acknowledge your strengths and know that we are all falling short of our ideals and it’s the push to improve that makes us good teachers and models the mindset we want our students to have.


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