Summer has officially started, and here in DC its arrival is never subtle. I can’t walk three blocks without being drenched in sweat, my water bottle is never full enough, and honestly I am loving every minute of it. Last summer I felt like I didn’t have enough to do and got sad about it, but this summer I’m trying to take advantage of my unstructured time. In addition to doing significantly more yoga and binge-watching Orange is the New Black, I’m working on accomplishing these things:
1. Design a statistics class for seniors, based [loosely?] around the AP curriculum.
2. Learn statistics – I somehow never took a course
3. Re-design my classes for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders, because now that I’m teaching all 4 grades there is no way to put them on different tracks, so I’ll have to differentiate like crazy. Plus most of the fun visual geometry stuff was in math 1 which no longer exists, so I need to find places to put that in 2, 3, or 4, probably 4 which means I’ll have to significantly enrich it. Like uranium. 4. Write curriculum for Spanish that assumes that they were all with me last year, because most of them were, but that will accommodate any new students.
5. Design a service learning course that continues Hope’s original vision but that I can feel ownership over.
6. Seriously plan the **** out of everything because I am scheduled with zero planning time next school year. ZERO.
7. Create an arts integration plan based on the Kennedy Center workshops I attended last year.
8. General professional development
I’m mainly here to blog about the last one, but this made me realize I’ll have plenty to share throughout the summer. It’s also really sinking in that I will be at a serious loss of unstructured time in the near future.
Anyway, PD. In the past, we’ve all read the same book over the summer and then discussed it on the retreat. This year we couldn’t decide on a single book, so everyone was tasked with just going out and finding professional development opportunities and then coming back and sharing.
So far, I’ve read one book in the name of PD: Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green. I linked to her “Why Do Americans Stink At Math?” article last summer, and some of that same content was in the book. A lot of the book actually centers around math education, and excitingly for me, around one teacher, Deborah Ball. This is so exciting for me because Deborah Ball is the dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan [GO BLUE], so I have taken her class and feel well-versed in her philosophy of teaching. I can also hope that her greatness had even the slightest impact on my own teaching. The book focuses on her work, in conjunction with another Michigan teacher, to help new teachers create investigative, collaborative classroom environments like her own.
For a great example, watch this video of some elementary students having a spirited yet respectful debate about even and odd numbers.
The book also focuses on Doug Lemov, whose book Teach Like a Champion provides extremely practical classroom strategies, revealing the secrets to managing an effective learning environment. He takes what seems like a magically smooth classroom and boils it down to concrete actions that any teacher can learn to take. While I was doing my student teaching, my mom mailed me this book and I remember reading it on the elliptical after school, dreaming of my future orderly classroom full of excited learners. More on that later.
The two visions of a productive classroom – Ball’s lively class discussions and Lemov’s orderly SLANTing – seem somewhat at odds, but what they have in common, and what the entire point of the book is, is that teaching is a skill that can be taught, not just an ability that some are born with. The immediate question then becomes: if I went through Michigan’s superior teacher training program and read Teach Like a Champion cover to cover, why am I not the best teacher in the world?
I surround myself with very positive, supportive people who would answer that with “but I’m sure you ARE a great teacher,” and that’s nice, but in reality there is no way that I internalized every piece of effective pedagogy. There is a huge difference between being inspired by something you hear in class and writing it down, and knowing how to actually apply it in my own class.
My major takeaway from this book is that no matter how amazing teacher training is – and the book implies as I’ve always assumed that mine was extra good – these skills need to be reinforced. What I really want is someone in my classroom frequently, not in a frightening evaluative way, but in a helpful “are you doing what you learned was best?” questioning and guiding way. I’m sure that after 4 years in the classroom I’m doing a lot of things better, but I’ve also strayed from some original intentions and picked up some bad habits.
What I’ll Share at the retreat: a) They should all watch the video of the 3rd grade number debate, because it will challenge some assumptions about the level of discourse we can expect from our students, and it will give us a jumping-off point for explicitly teaching them to communicate and hear each others ideas. b) We need to revisit doing classroom observations and assessing ourselves. That’s going to be incredibly hard to schedule because we’ll be down a couple staff next year, but I think it’s important. I’m tired of people assuming that I’m doing amazingly in my classroom just because the kids aren’t unhappy, because I want to be better than that.