Friday October 23 was my last day in 5th grade for another 6 weeks. I will be moving to a middle school to teach 8th grade L.A. and Spanish for 6 weeks...excited and nervous all at the same time!! I will still see most of my 5th graders each week at the after-school program but I will definitely miss being with them during the day!
Well, my CT has been under-the-weather for a couple of weeks now and at lunch to go to a much needed doctor’s appointment. Since I had planned to stay for the whole day anyway, I just told her that I would teach math that afternoon. As much as I wanted to do it, I was terribly nervous on the inside. Math has been the subject that I feel the least comfortable with teaching. I always feel like I need to prep more for math than any of the other subjects and even after much preparation, I still do not feel prepared to teach it so I usually just walk around and help students while my CT teaches. Anyhow, the topic of the day was problem solving, an area of difficulty for many of the students. Since I knew I was nervous and the kids did not want to touch a word problem with a 10 foot pole, I pumped myself up, had a ton of energy and made the students active participants in the lesson. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many of them engaged in the lesson at once. I think for a split second, they actually enjoyed problem solving with word problems!!
This experience taught me two very important lessons: one about myself and one about my students. In regards to myself, I learned that preparation is the key to confidence. Before my CT left, I looked over the math lesson in the teacher guide, reflected on the problems and solved them on my own. I thought about the points of the problems that would not make sense to the students and how I would make it clear to them. Taking this time to become familiar with the topic helped me when I was in front of the class because I knew what I was talking about. I knew where I wanted the students to be at the end of the lesson which made actually getting them there a whole lot easier!
In regards to my students, I learned that they model the energy and enthusiasm that the teacher has for the lesson. When I told the class that we were going to work on word problems, I cannot even count the number of sighs and moans I heard!! However, when I started talking about the problem with incredible energy and excitement, the students sat up and paid attention to me. Initially, it was probably because they were trying to figure out if I was half-crazy or not, but eventually I think it was because they were involved in the task of solving the problem. Another thing is that students need to be validated, especially when dealing with a topic that is often challenging for them. Students would volunteer to share an answer and if it happened to be incorrect, I would praise them for trying and working hard on it. I would ask them to go back and see if they could figure out where they went wrong in the problem. When the students heard my praise, even if they had the wrong answer, they still felt like they had something to offer. I think this increased their levels of confidence ten fold and also helped them to be more critical of their solutions and the steps they took to find the answer.
I want to go forth in teaching with the same enthusiasm and confidence that I had today. Everyday may not feel as great as Friday did, the students may not behave as well as they did on Friday, but the students deserve to get my best every day. It is all worth it to see students who normally do not share their thinking at all, feeling comfortable and confident to do exactly the opposite. Energy is truly contagious; when the learning experience comes alive, everyone is able to reap the benefits. This day taught me the incredible influence that I have on my students. At the end of the day, one of my students asked me if I like math because I seemed so excited when we did the problems together. Even though math is by far my least favorite subject, if I can convince my students that I love it, I am absolutely doing my job!!!