Thursday, June 30, 2011

Louder and Slower. Repeat.

Some days when teaching, I just can't seem to be able to explain the objective of the day to my students. It refuses to doesn't click with them. Like my Monday, trying to explain how to use a ruler. Either the kids are turning off their brains for the day as a collective whole, or I can't break it down enough or can't articulate another explanation well enough -- or just flat out can't remember my math (like today, I blanked and couldn't remember how to turn a percentage into a fraction. Whoops!).

The hardest part of teaching math is in the basics, really. It's easier to explain the how than the why -- always. Like, why is the formula for an equilateral triangle A="s" squared divided by 3 x square root of 3?

I actually have no idea. But I can plug in those numbers like nobody's business.

And why does 30/100 = 30%?

No idea either. And apparently, based on today, I don't know the How on that one either.

Most of the time I feel like one of those stereotypically rude American tourists who, when they find that someone can't understand them because of a language barrier, decide that the best way to be understood is just to repeat exactly the same thing again, only louder and slower.

Louder and slower.

Using my best teacher voice. Fighting to ignore the bewildered eyes and concerned expressions.

And then I grade those assessments or mini-tests, and my heart sinks. 0/3. 0/3, 1/3. Ten percent mastery of the objective. Zero percent master of the objective. There are few worse sensations of disappointment than realizing that the last hour of struggle -- an hour of consequence cards, dry-erase marker races, giant attitudes in tiny bodies, and countless explanations of the difference between fourths and eights on a ruler -- was all in vain. And I'll have to re-teach the objective entirely.


It makes those days of 80% mastery look like bliss. Feel like bliss. And those are the days I hold on to. Yesterday was a zero percent mastery day. Today was a 90% mastery day. And hopefully tomorrow will follow suit.

But I never know.

In teaching, I can bring my A game every day and still get less than awesome results. It's never the same day. Never. My inputs don't directly relate to my outputs, and I could honestly teach the same thing, verbatim, from Day 1 to Day 2 and get different results each day.

Because in the distance between my brain and their brains, knowledge has to fight hundreds of factors -- from sleepiness to empty stomachs to sheer boredom to the biggest, most anguished middle school attitudes I've ever seen. That's some pretty stiff competition for attention.

At the very least though, I can always say that those kids sure do keep me on my toes. No rocking back and resting in this profession. It just isn't possible if you want to be good.

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