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Transforming as an Educator


Let me apologize ahead of time. I need a "brain dump." I might ramble a bit in this post (OK, OK, I probably ramble in more than a few posts). You won't see it, but I might shed a few tears while writing this post.

The past couple of weeks have been hard.

They've been challenging. A struggle. I've felt off my game. Out of my comfort zone. I've wondered if I've been effective. I've wondered if my students are learning anything. I've wondered if I'm making any progress. I've wondered if I'm moving too slowly.

I remembered this post. I've re-read it more than once in the last week or so. I've been reminded that these feelings come - and they do eventually go (and I'm once again thankful I decided to blog my journey).

It's been hard to put my finger on the exact cause (or causes) of the struggle. There always seem to be several things that contribute to it.

But I think the biggest factor for this particular struggle is change.

I continue to change as a teacher. To grow (I hope).

And it's hard.


I was taught a certain way. I learned to teach a certain way. And I taught a certain way for at least the first 15 years of my career (I'm starting year 19). Here's the material, here are your practice problems. Tomorrow we'll do the same thing all over again. Next week we'll take a test. Hope you understand everything!

Things began changing about 3 years ago. The start of AP and Pre-AP courses and new types of lessons. The move to strategic teaching and restructuring of class time. The implementation of new standards based on Common Core. All of those things happened outside of my classroom but affected my classroom.

Inside my classroom, I started using interactive notebooks. I flipped my Algebra 1 classes. I found educators through Twitter and blogs who influenced and changed my personal philosophies and policies.

I am NOT the same teacher I was even a few years ago.

And I like who I'm becoming. But sometimes - and the last couple of weeks, a lot of the time - I wonder if I'm doing it all wrong.

I'm teaching standards in a different order this year. That has me a bit unsure about my timing and wondering if I'm going to be able to "cover everything."

I have not touched a textbook in 6 weeks of school. OK, that's not exactly true. I have consulted my textbooks - mostly for worthy problems to use in class - but students have not been told "turn to page such-and-so and do numbers 2-32 even." I have been better and better over the last few years of bringing in other resources, but I've still used the textbook as my outline and guide and have started from the beginning of the book and followed it throughout the year. This is the first time I've started with the standards and built lessons from there. I am WAY out of my box.

I am trying to focus less on skills and more on critical thinking and application. I have used some lessons I have really liked, but these lessons aren't often neat and tidy and able to be finished in a 51-minute class period.

I am attempting to use more technology in different ways. I don't want to use tech for the sake of tech; I want it to enhance what students are learning. It takes time - time for me to develop, time for students to learn. Sometimes it doesn't work.

I want my students to be less dependent on me to get them started. I am attempting to have directions posted (on Google Classroom) and activities ready so students can come into class, read the plan, and get started. This is proving to be a HUGE learning curve for the students (and me). "What do we do with this?" "What do the directions say?" "Oh...we're supposed to be doing something?" "Have you read the directions?" "Are we supposed to ____?" "Open the directions." I am learning how to give good directions - and I love that I can change a Google Doc and students can see it instantaneously - and I am learning to be consistent. I kick myself those days I don't have directions ready and a student or two starts looking for them and says, "What/where are the directions? What are we supposed to do next?"

Hands down, Twitter has been the biggest contributor to my growth as an educator over the last few years. I have made so many connections - I would even call them friends - who have added positively to my practice. I have collaborated with teachers in California and Chicago. I have learned from and been encouraged by other flipped classroom teachers. I get ideas from teachers all over the world (go follow #teach180!).

But lately I have read things that - while challenging me - have caused me to doubt myself. There seems to be a growing, vocal anti-flipped classroom movement. Some educators - smart educators, passionate educators, educators from whom I have learned so much - seem to come across with the attitude that if you are not doing one thing or are doing another, you are doing it wrong. And I begin to feel I'm not changing fast enough or I'm still failing my students in too many ways.

(As a side note, I think we educators need to have each others' backs. We don't need to be tearing each other down. Yes, we need to be challenged, and we need to learn and change and grow, but we are all on our own journeys and in different places for various reasons. Let's give each other grace and encouragement. I feel we're becoming too much like the proponents of various diets: "If you're doing THIS or aren't doing THAT, not only are you WRONG, you are EVIL!" Stop it!!!!

OK...off that soapbox.)


So...what do I learn from (another) period of struggle? I'm not the butterfly, yet. Don't know that I ever will be. I never want to think I have "arrived" and have nothing else to learn or change.

I am confident there will come days when I feel more confident. I do not despair that right now I feel like I'm not seeing the ball very well.

I have talked to other math teachers in my building, and we are all having similar feelings. We're all stretching ourselves and changing our approaches and a little unsure of ourselves. I never wish my negative feelings on others, but it is nice to know I'm not alone.

I continue to learn from other teachers. I got help from an unexpected source just yesterday. But one of the things that has been causing me stress with all this out-of-the-box teaching has been my seating. Thanks to help from a colleague, I think I have the solution!

I came to a big realization this week that probably should have been obvious all along. Be myself. Learn from others, take what I can use, make small changes that over time will add up, but don't try to be someone else. Or who someone else thinks I should be.

Listen to my students. As we finished a linear equation problem set this week - a focus on application instead of rote practice of a skill - and I told my students it was time to clean up and pack up - there was at least one, "What? It's time to go already?" followed by, "That's because this was fun!" Making equations and tables and graphs from situations is fun? Whodathunkit? ;)

We moved into new material this week - slope - and we made connections to one of those not so neat lessons - Interpreting Distance-Time Graphs - completed almost 2 weeks ago. Students remembered that lesson! Details about that lesson! They are learning how to read graphs and analyze situations, skills so much more useful to them than "use this formula" or "complete this table" twenty times. They are learning to pay attention to detail. They are explaining and writing and thinking. Sometimes I wish I could give them a sheet and say, "Do these 25 problems and show me you know something." But what they're showing me they know is so much better than that.

I press on. Through the easy days and the hard days. The hard days make me appreciate the ones where everything clicks even more. But they are also the ones where I grow the most.

If you decided to tackle this post and made it the end, thank you. My friends at school will tell you I "unload" pretty frequently. They get to hear it almost every afternoon. Just know that I feel much better having gotten it all out.

And next week I hope to have a post about exciting lessons in my classroom!

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