In August, I participated in the #MTBoSBlaugust and tried to blog every day. I didn’t quite make it to every day, but I did post 31 blog posts, so I consider it a success. I also got connected to a great #MTBoS community on twitter, and I’ve spent a few days twitting at people (instead of writing longer posts). I also signed up for the Day in the Life project that Tina Cardone is doing; I figured that would hold me accountable to talk about math teaching at least once per month.
Today was my last day of summer break, though I was in my classroom four out of five days last week, cleaning and organizing. I’m in a pretty good place – tomorrow afternoon, I plan to finish it up and post some more pictures. Today, my mom and brother came down to visit because my cousin’s son is in town (staying with me) from Israel. He’ll be here until Thursday, and it’s been nice visiting with him. He’s closer in age to me than my cousin (his mom).
Tomorrow morning is my first official day back. I have to wake up before sunrise – 5:30AM is my goal. I’ve got the “pre-planning” day with my new co-workers tomorrow. We got a little agenda, and I love that they’ve built in at least a half hour for socializing and breakfast. I think it’s so important for schools to prioritize teacher socializing. I think it’s difficult for us to build a community with our students when we don’t feel a connection to the community of teachers.
I’m nervously excited. I’m going to meet with my 6th grade co-worker who will discuss introducing students to negatives with me (I like the hot air balloon context I found from someone online). I’ll also get to see my two seventh grade colleagues again and work with them some more. My student teacher will be there. And I’ll be meeting all sorts of new people who I don’t know yet (some of whom stopped by last week).
I’m nervous because I think I’m entering a different land than my last school. My last middle school was a “zoned” school, where pretty much everyone who applied would get in. We had almost 1500 students, and there was a huge range of students, from those who were tracked into the honors course (taught by a friend of mine) to those students who were tracked into the “academic” classes (low level classes). Even within the “regular” classes, there was a broad range of students and abilities. My new school is a “screened” school, which here in NYC, means that students need to take an admission test to get in – one in math, one in ELA, and one in “collaboration.” Many of the students who attend excel in math, and they are often enrolled in math classes outside of school. My sixth grade colleague warned me that there will be students for whom “nothing you teach this year is new.” My 7th grade colleagues have warned me about trying contexts that are seen as “too babyish” by my students because many of the kids crave the more abstract/challenging problems. So I get the sense I will need to do a lot of differentiating up. And I hope to teach in a problem-solving-style classroom, where students are comfortable struggling (and with a growth mindset).
Which brings me to the other thing that makes me nervous. The woman who is my contact at the new school (she invited me to interview and then fought to get me hired) read Mathematical Mindsets this summer, and while she agreed with much of the ideas behind growth mindset (vs. fixed mindset), she was opposed to the ideas of doing away with tests and homework. She talked about being frustrated with removing student accountability and feeling like it was all at the teacher’s doorstep. Additionally, she expressed concern about detracking, saying that she felt like while all students could (potentially) learn higher levels of math (she didn’t seem fully convinced of this one), she expressed that some students might need more time than others to learn a new idea. She asked how do you balance the pacing when you have a student who needs a week to learn a topic in the same class as a student who learns the math within the first thirty minutes? And I didn’t have an answer, especially since this new school has very little technology (there’s a lab and a laptop cart or two – for the entire school!).
And it’s a really good question. And I’m honestly not sure how we begin to bridge the ideal classrooms from Jo Boaler’s book where students don’t take exams, because they’re not focused on performance, they’re focused on learning and the reality of what we have now where students (and parents and teachers and politicians) are forced to take a multitude of tests that supposedly describe exactly what they know and how much they’ve learned (which I don’t think they do). But I don’t think the current system completely supports the model proposed by the book.
I’m rereading the Mathematical Mindsets book now, because I want to reorient my mind to thinking about how to address some of her concerns. I want us to be on the same page, and I’m excited about working at a different school, but I’m nervous because I’m totally bought into Jo Boaler’s model of math whereas it seems like my colleagues are still somewhat on the fence.