1.08.2010

Up the Down Staircase


Up the Down Staircase
Bel Kaufman

Are we then, none of us, allowed to touch wounds? What is the teacher's responsibility? And if it begins at all, where does it end? How much of the guilt is ours?

But we cannot remain intact if we teach, Bea said. And we must teach- against all odds, against all obstacles, in the best sense of the word.

I think the kids deserve a better deal than they're getting. So do the teachers.

Teachers should have a mirror in the back of the room so they can see how they look to us!

You made me feel I'm real.

Learning is a process of mutual discovery for teacher and pupil. Keep an open mind to their unexpected responses.

The important thing is the recognition and response, not an inch of print to be memorized.

I want to point the way to something that should forever lure them, when the TV set is broken and the movie is over and the school bell has rung for the last time.

I had used my sense of humor; I had called it proportion, perspective. But perspective is distance. And distance, for all my apparent involvement, is what I had kept between myself and my students.  Like Paul's lampoons, like Lou's ha-ha's, it insulated me; it kept me safe from feeling.

For love is growth. It is the ultimate commitment. It imposes obligations; it risks pain. Love is what I wanted from all.

The penalty for touching is too great.

The heart has its reasons; it's the mind that's suspect.

8 comments:

  1. Elissa,

    I'm writing in response to a comment you left on Dan Meyer's blog...not to this entry. In regards to his most recent entry you mentioned something about not being able to teach like that yet, that you're mind doesn't work that way, and that you resort to just stealing his stuff. Sorry I'm being a teacher with you but I'm going to tell you exactly what I tell my students. Stop telling yourself you can't do this. I tell them, after they've told me that they suck at fractions, "You don't suck at fractions, you just currently struggle with them." The mind shift is remarkable. Relates to a great quote I heard once, and I'm sure I'm going to mess it up. "You can't outperform your own self image." So keep stealing Dan's stuff, but in the meantime start challenging yourself to get better, and I promise you will. Best of luck :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mr. Eckert,
    Like a student, I would normally make excuses as to why I actually can't learn this until you gave up arguing with me.

    But I've realized that the reason I do that is because it's something I don't feel prepared to do. So it makes me feel helpless and I shut down. That helpless feeling is the reason I became a teacher.

    I guess what I mean is I need a practical, step-by-step method to designing lessons like Dan does. The idea that my mind has to think a certain way scares me that maybe mine doesn't work that way. So it would make me feel better to know that there is a way that works for me.

    Thank you for making me analyze myself and see how my students feel. Hopefully I am teaching in a step-by-step way that helps make algebra accessible to them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. [My original post was too long apparently, so here it is in chunks...]

    Hi Elissa,

    I'm in the middle of my 4th year of teaching and have been reading your blog quietly for some time. Your reflections definitely resonate because it totally reminds me of what I felt like when I first started (and to some extent still today). This particular thread and your response is almost verbatim something that went through my mind during my student teaching. I was ready to quit, but some of my good friends provided thoughtful advice that made a lot of sense and set me on the path to figure out how to make things better.

    You said:
    "I need a practical, step-by-step method to designing lessons like Dan does. The idea that my mind has to think a certain way scares me that maybe mine doesn't work that way."

    My cooperating teacher for my student teaching assignment was a masterful teacher - the best I've encountered as a student and as a teacher. The lessons she designed, the way she delivered the material, the way she managed and organized the classroom - everything. But the lessons that flopped the worst for me were the ones where I tried to be her. I had to come to the realization that we had different personalities and styles. I had to take ownership of the lessons and let it come genuinely with my own personality. That meant that I couldn't do what she did in the exact cookbook step-by-step way, but instead focus on the larger overarching idea/goal and make that take shape in my own individual way. In other words, while teachers like Dan and my CT to have their particular step-by-step methods to designing and delivering methods, my taking *exactly* what they do step-by-step wouldn't be genuine and as effective coming from me. I had to move up one level of abstraction and focus on how they come up with their step-by-step method so that I could come up with a step-by-step method based on the same goals, but because I took ownership of it in that way, it's something that genuinely works for the way that I think. To try to be a clone of Dan or my CT only sent myself down the road of frustration because in reality, I'm not Dan and I'm not my CT.

    I was really lucky in my teacher ed program (and interestingly enough, my undergraduate major department had a similar educational philosophy). In my teacher ed program, me and my classmates would all be like: "Just tell us a practical step-by-step method that's concrete and works in the real world" or "I don't care about the theory, just tell me what to do" or "Just tell me the answer..." But upon reflection, what we were learning the whole time was how to learn to be a good teacher. Giving us a cookbook would be a short-term answer. But the educational field is a dynamic one where change is one of the only constants. (How's that for an oxymoron?) In order to adapt effectively, we needed to learn how to make our own cookbooks. Further, we had to then learn that we shouldn't force our own cookbook onto anyone else because they're not us. To do others proper service for the long run, we'd be most helpful by almost being what they'd perceive as being least helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. [Part 2 of my comment]

    The second piece of advice was given to me, asking me to reconsider the resignation from the teaching program that I had submitted. It was such a simple message: "To expect to play a symphony perfectly the first time is to disrespect the composer." Teaching is hard. Learning how to be a good teacher; learning how to design good lessons is hard. If I expected to walk in there on day 1 and be the best in the business, I'm not respecting the profession or the hard work it takes. That made a lot of sense to me and really opened my eyes. I decided to stick it out and truly, if it wasn't for that single sentence, I wouldn't be teaching today.

    I was also curious about another statement you made:
    "So it makes me feel helpless and I shut down. That helpless feeling is the reason I became a teacher."

    Out of curiosity, could you elaborate on what you mean?

    Sorry if this message is really long and preachy, but I've really been struck by your thoughtful reflections week after week and after reading this thread just felt like I had to share.

    I know you get this a lot, but you are a good teacher and you will become a good teacher.

    -Clint

    ReplyDelete
  5. Clint,
    You said: "I had to move up one level of abstraction and focus on how they come up with their step-by-step method so that I could come up with a step-by-step method based on the same goals, but because I took ownership of it in that way, it's something that genuinely works for the way that I think. "

    That's what I don't know how to do. I'm not trying to exactly copy anyone either. I learned that by trying to copy my CT too. I liked the way she created guided notes but I couldn't use hers, I still had to write them in my own way.

    I'm in no way saying I'm quitting or even considering it and I know I can't be perfect in my first year. But seeing how awesome others are makes me see how far I am from it and it drives me to do everything I can to get there. So when I can't, I let myself down.

    The explanation of what you asked is that when I don't understand how to get something, I feel helpless. I feel like it's impossible to do, my heart beat speeds up, I start to panic, and I want to cry. It's like I'm on a trip with a group of people and they've all been there before. I'm lost and they leave me. I don't know what to do! That's my best analogy.

    I became a teacher because I recognize that feeling in others. I have some kind of gift for first making them laugh and taking away that tension and then explaining things well. But, now I'm afraid I will do more harm than good because I'm just enforcing how important it is to follow the steps without teaching them how to find and create the steps on their own.

    Now what?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Elissa,

    These are some books that have helped me the most in understanding how others approach teaching or how others design good lessons:

    "What's Math Got to Do With It?" by Jo Boaler

    "The Teaching Gap" by James Stigler and James Hiebert

    "Teaching Secondary Mathematics" by Posamentier, Smith, and Stepelman

    Is there a particular topic in algebra coming up that you're finding challenging to design a "good" lesson? For that topic: Why should students care about it?Why does it matter that they know how to do it?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've read a couple of books but I have only heard of the first one you mentioned.

    My next unit is on solving linear systems and systems of inequalities which I have not even tried to start planning.

    My goal from day 1 was to pound slope and linear function stuff into their head if they learned nothing else at all.

    I think standard form would be a good lead into these systems but my book says I should go to graphing linear inequalities in two variables next. Either would be a good lead in I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Clint Chan1/9/10, 2:35 PM

    I don't know how much this will help or not, but linear systems is the topic in chapter 7 of our Algebra 1 book. The material I have is at: http://home.comcast.net/~chan0809/alg1/#sem_2

    I started out with the "Make These Designs" activity as a play/experiment type of review. I also rearranged the order of topics in the book, which is why I have chapter 7 before 6. The Problem Sets are begun as classwork and generally finished as homework.

    Going into 2nd semester, I felt that my kids still didn't have a firm grasp on what slope was and what a linear equation really meant, which is why I have a lot of review in the early chapter 7 assignments.

    If you want to have a look at it and let me know if you have any questions about why I decided to do things in a particular order or why I chose particular questions, please feel free to ask.

    Hope this helps,
    Clint

    ReplyDelete