Sunday, August 6, 2017

Forever Caught in the Space Between

It is August and therefore time for me to turn all of the great summer professional development ideas into reality in my classroom.  I am energized, excited, and overwhelmed all at the same time.  This will be my 5th year back in a math classroom (I use the word back because I had an 8 year "break" from it while I taught Computer Literacy).  I was introduced to #MTBoS about a year and a half ago and it exploded my teaching and life in the most wonderful way.  My professional development this summer has consisted of a 3 day training with the Enhanced Learning Maps project, rereading books from the US Math Recovery Council, SITA (a local educational technology conference), Summer Spark, Building Math Minds Virtual Summit, and an online book study of Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had.  It sounds like a lot now that I am writing it, but since returning to the math classroom I feel like there is so much I want to learn about development of math learning and effective teaching.

Part of why I took on so much this summer is because I struggled last school year.  I am a good teacher.  I can make this claim because I was recognized this past year by the Greater Green Bay Chamber Partners in Education with a Golden Apple Award.  I realize you most likely do not know what this award is, but where I live it is an honor.  Even though I am a good teacher, I struggled.  When I look back on past years of teaching (especially those first few) there is so much I would differently now that I know better.  That is the point of all this professional development, isn't it? To do better.  There is one student in particular that I see around town.  I worked with him one on one with an intervention program we were piloting.  He and I both struggled for a semester and then our time together was over.  The following year I started working with the US Math Recovery Council and now have a much better understanding of the help this student needed.  Unfortunately he had moved on to high school and I am left with regrets.  I am sure you can relate.  That is why there are so many posters like this:

This is actually the quote that I referenced when talking to a colleague last year.  My biggest struggle is that with all of this great professional development and wonderful supportive community on Twitter, I now know better.  A lot better.  The problem is I am struggling to do better.  Since I know many people are reading the book I am going to use Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had as an example.  If you haven't read it yet, you should.  It is amazing.  It is a comprehensive labor of love in which Tracy Zager has pulled together research, mathematician viewpoints, and classroom examples of everything those of us who love mathematics want for each of our students.  You can feel the love and passion when you read it.  It is everything I want for my classroom.  I want to be the teachers in this book.  I guess that is kind of the point.  It is the name of the book.  As I reflect on all that I learned in the book, these questions come to mind:

  • Where do I start?
  • How will I remember all that I want to do once the school year gets going?
  • Last year as I improved some areas, others that I had been doing well fell away.  How do I prevent this from happening again?
  • Do the math teachers in this book see themselves as the math teacher they wish they had?
  • Does every day in their class look this good?
  • Do other teachers feel as behind as I do?
  • How long will it take me to become this math teacher that see in my head?
  • Will I ever get there?
I can already tell you the answer to the last one.  It is no.  I will always be growing as a math teacher.  I will be better than those first few years, but I will always be learning new things and gaining new perspective.  In terms of Tracy's book, I will always be becoming that teacher.  I won't be the math teacher I had, and I won't be the math teacher in my head.  I will forever be caught in the space between.  I wonder if it was a purposeful word choice by Tracy.  Becoming (noun) process of change, as opposed to become (verb) to change or grow to be.

The reflection for me, and anyone else who is reading this, is to remember that this is a process.  There are many things I want to try/implement/create/do in my classroom this school year.  It is ok if I don't get to all of them.  It is ok if they don't go well.  I cannot solve all of the problems in one school year.  I need to have the same patience with myself as I do with my students.  There is no such thing as perfection. I can't compare myself to other teachers. I need to do what works for me and feels right in my classroom. We are each taking our own journey.   
With all of that in mind, I am ready to start another school year, reflecting on what I want to do differently, but at the same time acknowledging the great teacher I already am.

UPDATE: I have been moving a little closer to the teacher I want to be. 
If you are interested in my other  Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had blog posts you can find a complete list here.


  1. "Do the math teachers in this book see themselves as the math teacher they wish they had? Does every day in their class look this good?"

    I love these questions so much. And I think you know what my answer is: they're on a journey too. They each have goals, ideas, things to work on. They talk to me about the kids they don't feel they're reaching, the lesson that didn't go as planned, the thing they should have said. In the last few months, Heidi has talked to me about getting better at representations, Shawn has talked to me about getting better at small-group discourse, Debbie has talked to me about her struggles with using/not using a curriculum, and Jen, well, Jen had a baby. :)

    When you write a book, one of the things that happens is you start realizing the things you should have said, the way the book can get misinterpreted, the downside. My biggest fear, and the thing I don't think I did well enough, is that people will think these teachers are superheroes, not real teachers. I tried to guard against that by making everything totally real--I applied zero gloss to the dialogue, student work, etc. But I think I should have done more. I should have talked about each of their journeys. About how Shawn taught math traditionally for 14 years--I do, we do, you do--until he had a really great PD session that made him think there might be another way. All these years later (I think he's taught something like 28 total), he's still learning, still seeking out the new books, the new courses, the new sessions at conferences. Each one of the teachers I profiled is becoming the math teacher they wish they'd had, the math teacher they want to be. Just like you. They are your colleagues, and you are theirs.

    If you're not following Heidi on twitter, you should. You'll see just how often she asks for help. :)

    1. Just wanted to add, I love this blogpost and have learned so much from listening in on your journey all summer. Thank you for learning publicly with me.

    2. I have been thinking about your response the past few days. I don't think there is anything you could have (or should have) done differently to make these teachers look less like superheroes and more like the every day teachers they are. The title of the book isn't "At least You Are Better Than These Teachers". We picked up that book wanting to see examples of what it can look like in our own classrooms. It is human nature to compare and see what others have or do and what we do not. My blog is a place where I think out loud, process, and question. To me it is a showcase of my insecurities and all that I do not know. Someone else reading it might like an idea, have an aha moment, or see that I am reflecting and think I have it all figured out. You were right. I did know your answer to those questions. I do feel more connected to the teachers knowing their goals, and I do follow Heidi on Twitter since reading the book. :)
      I love that you are so accessible and I think that is the best way to combat the issue of teachers feeling like they don't measure up is to keep the conversation going (like you have here). Thank you.