Watch Me Live It

Imagine reading a book about a place you have never heard of. The book describes other people's trip there, what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like, what you should take on your trip, and basically the amazingness of said place.

Now imagine the book ending without telling you how to get there.


I've been reading a lot lately and I'm not sure if it is helping or confusing me further.

Ok, I take it back. It is helping but not the kind of help I want.

I just finished Understanding by Design and There Are No Shortcuts. Both encouraged and discouraged me.

Understanding by Design showed me that I need to have a whole new mindset and perspective on learning and curriculum in general. Which isn't hard to do, since I didn't really have a set perspective anyway. But it left me discouraged because 97.8% of the math examples were about non-Euclidean geometry which is interesting but nothing I've ever seen at the high school level. Or that I could even teach. So. I felt more lost and confused than before. Here is the magical place that makes school interesting and engaging and meaningful and leads to improved student achievement. But I don't know how to get there. I can think of creative ideas and trips and activities and lessons for any grade or subject area but my own.

Sometimes I question, How DOES math relate to the real world? Why did I ever find this subject interesting? In school, I did what I was supposed to because I was supposed to. I didn't question how I would use this or why it was important. Teacher said it, I did it. I just graduated high school 5 years ago! Have things really changed this much? Ay yi yi.

So then I read Rafe Esquith, There Are No Shortcuts. (PS Is it Rafe like Rake with an f? Or is it Rafe like Mafia with an R? And without that last A. I'm terrible at pronunciation.) First of all, it made me feel like a failure for being a high school teacher. I mean this guy spends from 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM with the same group of kids. I have 8:00 to 8:52. How can I possibly fit life changing moments with every student in that amount of time?

He had amazing stories that brought tears to my eyes and horrible stories that made me uneasy because I know I will be facing some version of them myself. But overall, I didn't get a lot of practical advice on how to do what he does. That's what would have been most helpful for me.

But on the positive side, I loved his take on how we have made education look easy, when the truth is that it's not. It takes hard work, discipline, practice, determination, commitment, etc. There are no shortcuts. That's on point. I also loved using Atticus Finch as a role model. Rafe and Atticus both have a bunch of wisdom and good character.

In the end, the more I read, the more I know I can't do this.


I can't do this alone. I know without a doubt, 100%, that this is where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing. I don't really know how to do it.

I think God has moved me from what a predictable teaching career is and into something far beyond that. I know I am on the edge of something bigger than me but not quite sure what, where, or how to approach it. My insides say that it is probably going to come one day at a time in ways that I would never have expected.

So someone smarter wiser than me needs to write a book that tells me step-by-step how to be an amazing teacher that changes lives, wins awards, and how to plan a curriculum for high school algebra and geometry. Or else you all are just going to have to watch me live it.

Two options.

Read it or Write It.


  1. This is kind of funny, because I read your blog about curriculum design, and was going to recommend both of the books you wrote about in this blog! Remember that Rafe didn't start where he is now - he started just like you, not knowing much about how to get where he wanted, just knowing a bit about where he wanted to go.

    The thing is, you CAN'T know how until you do it.

    You are already way ahead of the game. You know where you are wanting to go - that is the most important part. Keep that in front of you always, and I bet you are going to get very close to that goal! And every year, you will get even closer.

  2. Teaching Outside The Box by Louann Johnson is fantastic at giving details of ways to set up your classroom. She is an English teacher so some parts aren't relevant (though they are still wonderful to read) and most of it is non-specific and just plain fantastic. There are checklists of things to have in your classroom and to do before school starts, etc.

    I read her books for inspiration EVERY half-term (even after 3 years) and still get good ideas and reminders on 'how to' do things.

    That said, I'm excited to read about you building your classroom step-by-step and finding out how you make your own mark :)

  3. PS - Remember this feeling that you WANT to do it but you're worried you can't. It's how so many kids feel every september when they start their maths class. They WANT to be good at maths but they don't think they can. You're all in this emotional adventure together - how cool is that?!

  4. Laura and Linda,
    Thanks so much for your encouragement! I've just recently learned that I need to see a whole picture before I can start the process. Now I've seen a lot of big pictures but no steps! lol

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I've seen you talk about it on your blog and it is one I've been thinking about. Trying to determine which books will be truly helpful instead of inspirational. I've had all the inspiration I can take, now I need practical!

    Thank you.

  5. Outside the Box was the book I found most helpful in terms of planning my classroom and giving me specific advice on what to do first. Like you say, steps rather than big pictures are required, and that's what the book delivers.

    It really irked me in my first year when everyone used to say, 'I can't tell you the answer... you have to figure it out for yourself'. I always thought, 'Just give me AN answer. ANY answer so at least I can try *that* and figure things out afterwards!"

    She's also a high school teacher which was a relief. Almost everything I read was middle-school related and didn't quite cut it for dealing with the older ones.

  6. My high school algebra teacher told me that by learning algebra, I was learning to be a problem solver for the rest of life. That was a huge thing to me, probably one of the biggest things a teacher said to me my entire k-12 career. It helped me to think of problems in my life through a systematic approach.

    I was only in his classroom 1 hour a day. You would be surprised what sticks with students.

    That is now what I tell my students when they ask how math relates to the rest of their life. Math teachers are super important to teaching students to think logically through situations.

  7. Kelli,
    Good point. Besides problem solving and logical thinking there is also critical thinking, organization, manipulation...things I didn't realize then that I do now.

    Great words to pass along. Thanks for your comment.

  8. There are usually no books that tell us step-by-step how to be great, only books that give us the inspiration to take the first step.

    Maybe the book you describe is the one you are destined to write.

  9. Well I know more about writing than how to be great.