Realistic Expectations: Make it Manageable

So one of my personal biggest problems is that I often let perfect be the enemy of the good. I obsess about individual minute details (especially about lesson plans!) that I don’t feel are perfect, and I can get “lost” for hours, spending enormous amounts of time scouring my resources for inspiration: both the interwebs and the pdfs I have on my computer. Then, when it finally comes time to deliver the lesson (especially in the day-to-day lesson planning), I wind up botching something because I’m so exhausted from having stayed up so late to perfect it.

I’ve been struggling with how to cope with this over the summer, knowing that I’m taking on a huge task next year. I’ve switched schools and grade levels, and now I’m going from teaching only one grade to teaching two (quite scary, actually!). I had taught 8th grade math for five years, and I knew each common core standard by number inside and out. I could tell you the “gist” of the skill, which unit it belonged in (especially since I rewrote all of my old school’s units several times!) and I could share at least two or three good problems that would go in each unit.

Now, facing the task of familiarizing myself with the 6th and 7th grade curriculum, I realized how much work I did over the course of five years teaching 8th grade, and that I need to give myself permission to breathe. It will be okay if I don’t learn every detail about every unit in advance – my students and I both will survive! It will be okay if I don’t have the pre- and post- state exam standards memorized by September! It will be okay if I don’t know which of the standards are in unit 6 in September!

Instead, I’m trying to set myself more manageable goals between now and the end of August when I get back in my classroom. I’m lucky in that at my new school, my 7th grade colleagues are very collaborative (and amazing teachers, from what I’ve heard), and are willing to share their activities and lesson plans with me. The only “downside” is that they are not familiar with some of my favorite math instructional practices, like Visual Patterns (which we spent an hour doing at our last meeting and they’re now in love with!), Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler, How to Learn Math, and the Week of Inspirational Math, and Number Talks (which they supposedly do instinctively). Because of that, it means that some of the lessons they’ve shared with me are very direct instruction and guided/independent practice – or they’re “independent”/”group” investigations… that aren’t ideal, in my opinion. However, in balancing the needs of learning two new sets of topics/units/skills/standards, etc., I’ve decided that I will adapt their lessons, rather than starting from scratch. In some cases, it might be as simple as showing them the histogram and asking “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” FIRST (as a warm-up, even!!), before we do the lesson on how to interpret a histogram.

That being said, I think there are a few goals related to learning the math content that I can still realistically have for myself before September. So here they are:

  • Finish doing the released state exam problems from 6th & 7th grade from 2016 to see how the state likes to frame the questions and what topics are covered (I don’t think the state exams are very good, but sometimes sample questions is more helpful than reading obtuse and wordy standards for illustrating the kinds of problems).
  • Finish doing the unit tests for at least the first three units in both 6th and 7th grade at my new school (they’re grade-wide exams that we’re all expected to give).
  • Read over engage NY’s documents about the pre-test vs. post-test standards and the major works of the grade (even though my school has its own curriculum guide that is more accelerated and sometimes more meaningful mathematically, by grouping topics/skills that go together mathematically, even if they’re split in grade levels).
  • Examine the standards and skills that are covered in the first two-three units in each grade level. Estimate about how many periods for each unit I have.
  • Create a “Know, Understand, Do” list for the first unit in each grade level (use resources from other unit plans!).
  • Review problems from related units from CMP, CPM, Glencoe, and other curricula that I have access to, as well as Illustrative Mathematics, and the blog-o-sphere for relevant tasks, problems, and skills to include in each unit. Put into my google doc?? (or my dropbox!)
  • Plan a weekly overview for the skills covered, the problems discussed, etc. for at least the first two to three weeks (so at least I’ve got some direction!).

My first unit in 6th grade is about negative and positive numbers: I’m still thinking about some of the activities that I want to do and the models/representations I want to teach students about.

My first unit in 7th grade is probability, statistics and data. I’m still considering how to transform the unit resources that were shared with me.

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One thought on “Realistic Expectations: Make it Manageable

  1. I could have written that first paragraph verbatim. It’s hard to get to the point of giving yourself permission to not be perfect. I’m still working on it 🙂

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