On Monday I report for beginning of the year meetings for the 33rd time. As usual, I have thoughts scattered all about and, as usual, I am going to try to use this space to help whip those thoughts into shape.
This morning I read the latest NCTM email and there was an essay included written by President Berry. In his essay, he challenges us to think about our why. Why do I teach math? He suggests that figuring out the why is a HUGE step to making our classrooms more coherent and productive. In the essay he links to a couple of posts and my favorite of them is from David Wees. You can find it here and it is well worth your time.
David’s post made me think about a time when I was struggling a bit with thoughts like these (I have a post about that here ) and I was thinking that the beginning of a new year might be an excellent time to be explicit with my students about the teacher that I try to be and to try and tease out from them the teacher that they feel that they need. I think back to a story about a former student. He was a brilliant student and has gone on to do some serious financial analyst work in his life. He uses math skills and habits of mind regularly in life. When I taught in New Jersey Chris (the former student in question) lived in Manhattan and he and I would periodically meet for lunch. He told me a story one day. He was working in a small office at the time and had been struggling with a challenging case. My memory is that he said he had been working off and on with a certain problem for a few days. He told his boss that he was going to take a long lunch to get away from this problem and clear his head. Chris told me that when he returned he found some post it notes on his file folder with some questions/suggestions from his boss. Chris said ‘Jim, he reminds me of you. He asks questions I would not have though of asking.’ I have considered this to be the best compliment I think I have received as a teacher. This brilliant person – WAY smarter than me – one who I taught for four math classes (he and I started at a very small school) doesn’t remember a certain lesson. He didn’t point to some trip that we went on together (he was an expert Brain Bowl member and math team member, both activities I supervised) No, he remembered that I asked him questions he would not have thought of on his own. I was prompted to think of this yesterday when an old post by Christopher Danielson was referenced on twitter. You can find that post here. Also, well worth your time as is David’s post above.
So, I guess my question here (see what I did there?!?!?) is this – Is it meaningful to my students to have me share some version of the story above so as to clue them in to my priorities? Is it meaningful to share my priorities in a personal way as an avenue to have them think about theirs? After all, the classroom is theirs more than mine. I need to find a way to recognize and respect their needs in a way that supports what I believe (what I think I know) about teaching and learning. I want to be explicit in discussing our goals and it feels that a personal story about what motivates me to do what I do might be a smart way to do this.
Thoughts? As always, please share any wisdom here in the comments or hit me up over on the twitters where I am @mrdardy