Saturday, October 15, 2011

How am I going to stop the cycle of failure?

I have had a blessed teaching career!  However, this year has been a struggle that I can only compare to what I experienced my toughest years of teaching.  I leave school everyday wondering how I am going to find the will to want to come back in the morning.  Every morning I wake up re-energized and ready to fight for my students one more day.  I am back to the day to day fight for survival in the classroom which makes me feel guilty (I'll explain more in a little bit).

The past few years have allowed me to pretend that I was reaching all of my math students.  Before this year, I had a mix of students and because my high and middle students were succeeding, I pretended that the small percentage that were not succeeding were just those kiddos who don't and won't get math.  Of course I provided advisory periods, before and after school help, and lots of encouragement.  But in the end when they still struggled and did not show proficiency on standards I could let it go because it was not a "significant" number of students compared to the ones who were being successful in my classes.  Although I did rationalize it away, the fact that they were not succeeding gnawed at me, unfortunately not enough for me to address the issues.

This year, the lack of student success is in my face each and every day.  As I stated in earlier blog posts, I have a class of 35 eighth grade pre-algebra students, 23 of which are the lowest eighth grade math students in the school (project class).  This class has taught me so much in the first eight weeks of school!  They teach me about patience, about fear, and that even though they have lost hope as math learners they want to somehow succeed.  I am going to spend more time writing about these kiddos, because these are the ones that are pushing me.  I am questioning so many things as an educator, as a parent, and as someone whose passion is life long learning.  One thing I know for sure is the reason I have been a classroom teacher for 20 years is because I am full of hope and faith.  Hope and faith come back to me as I sleep each night and allow me to eagerly take on a new school day no matter what happened the day before.

This Week:  We started our fractions unit and I thought equivalent fractions would be a "confidence builder" for my "project class".  I asked the students to write 5 equivalent fractions for two thirds.  Interestingly, about two thirds of my class could not do it, and did not even want to attempt it.  They completely gave up.

The Facts:  These students have been learning fractions rules since third grade.  Their brains are full of muddled rules that make no sense.  They have no confidence in their ability to be mathematicians.

Story Time:  My little sister was one of these students.  She was an extreme math phobe.  It took her four years of high school to pass algebra 1.  Luckily way back then, you could get your diploma!  She struggled in math in junior college but got through.  Not only did she graduate from college, but from Oregon State, a Pac 10 school (a dream of mine that was never fulfilled).  She still believes that she is a math idiot.  Remember the  "guilty" part from above... I mentioned my day to day fight... My sister had breast cancer at age 29.  Talk about a day to day fight (hence the guilt!).  I know that many of the kiddos in my "project" class have day to day fights in their lives that I have no idea about and some I do know about and wish I didn't.

What I'm Wondering:  How am I going to help these students?  Do I have enough time to make a difference and change their beliefs?  What am I going to do that will make a difference?  Will connecting math to real life situations help them understand math better?

What I Know:  Re-teaching the "rules" will not work with these kiddos.  They felt comfortable enough to let me know that they couldn't do it.  They want math to make sense.  They trust me not to make them feel stupid.  They know I want to help them succeed.

Next Steps:  Use tools.  Show the students that they have an innate ability to understand fractions by providing meaningful situations connected to their lives.  Keep building trust.

I have to give a shout out to my PLN!  If it weren't for my twitter tweeps, I would be feeling extremely isolated and alone.  Thank you for sharing your experiences and resources and learning!

Any ideas or suggestions would be welcome!!
I'll keep you posted!

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