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I have been going back and forth for a while now about whether or not I should post another blog entry.  It’s  hard not to picture people reading my entries saying negative things like “Oh no, not this again, insecure really? anxious again? seriously?” Maybe some “not this religious stuff again…” or “clearly we need to pray for Hailey, she has lost her way.”

I have no idea outside of the gracious comments I get from people about what the world (or small portion of) thinks when I write these entries.  I have received some very nice comments, texts, and compliments, to those people that not only take the time to read what I have to say, but actually write me or tell me about it, and thank me for what I write, it is such an honor, I really do mean that.

Sometimes I get a call from my mom, friends or family will be worried about me, or think I’m pregnant.  There is no bun in this oven, I can assure you.  But please don’t worry about me, just pray if what I post indicates I’m struggling.

It has been well over a month since my last entry.  I have made it through the first cycle and I am nearing the third reporting period.  I have been to football games, IDCs, SATs, Cohorts, practices, tutorials, pep rallies, and detentions.  I have had my fair share of bumps and bruises, I have laughed, I have yelled, and I have definitely definitely cried.

I have been learning so much about so many things, time management, student engagement, organization, working with strong personalities (using the polite word), working through extreme emotions, sticking it out, remaining professional, learning when to say no, and more.

I am being stretched to the point where many times I think I am going to snap.

I am being challenged in my view of education. So very challenged.

I have seen and come to the conclusion that the educational system in this country is broken.  In my short time I have not been able to come up with the reason for this dysfunction.

So many questions haunt me as a young educator:

  • Is my content too basic?
  • Is my content relevant to my students future needs?
  • Are my students truly valuing this information, or holding it long enough to regurgitate it?
  • Is more information better for the students?
  • Is higher quality, but less information better for the students?
  • Are my students learning the sequential and logical thinking skills they need?
  • Am I a lecturer?
  • Am I a facilitator?
  • Are my kids motivated, if not why? can I change this?

And finally, as well as most painfully, how much of this dysfunction comes from the educational system, and how much comes from our culture? from home?

I had a student performing poorly in my class at the beginning of the year.  S/he came up to me at one point between classes (never a good time to talk to a teacher btw, super busy transitioning!) to talk about low scores and missed work.  I could tell this student was looking for an easy way out, looking to get me at a time when I was tired and willing to hand the answers over.

I looked this student in the eye and I told him/her “at the rate you are going, based off of the performance I have seen from you, you will not pass my class.”  The students eyes got a little wide, but s/he continued to press about coming in during my planning period to receive tutoring (also not ideal, as that is my planning period, a time to plan, not tutor, unless necessary then I will).  I told the student I would not work harder than her/him but s/he was welcome to come by.

S/he did, and as I suspected tried to get the answers out of me at the end of the day when I was tired. S/he even used the line “My math teacher last year would just tell me the answer if I came and worked and I would get a hundred.”  I did not have the patience nor the time to work with this mindset. I told him/her that if s/he wanted the grade s/he had to do the work.

By the end of my planning period one assignment had been completed and to my surprise, after refusing to hand over the answers the student had a relatively easy time solving the assignment. I told him/her “You have shown me now that you are capable of doing the work, so long as you turn in all of your assignments from now on you should be fine.”

In retrospect I don’t know that my methods of working with this student are ones that I will repeat, but I will say that I had a wonderful moment with this student later on when s/he stayed after school for tutorials for3 hours. That’s right, 3 hours!

For whatever reason this student decided I wasn’t a huge jerk and actually wanted to ask me some questions.  The first was “do all teachers know that they will be teachers in high school?”

This made me chuckle, especially considering I swore up and down that I would never teach.

After answering this question I was quickly asked “So, why do you teach?” A question I love to answer, and a question I am allowing myself the opportunity to answer right now.

I believe that teachers and education, have the ability to change the world. 

I mean this with all of my heart.

But more importantly, I believe that teachers and education have the ability to drastically alter the path of
one person’s life.

I don’t care who you are, male, female, black, white, blue, purple, rich or poor.  As soon as you walk into my classroom, you are equals. There is not one person that is better, there is not one person that is worse, there are only those who are going to choose to work, and those who aren’t.  Your family, your race, your social or economic status can not and will not choose for you, only you can choose to work in my class.  If you choose to work in my class you will do well.  I will do everything in my power to ensure that.

I don’t care how many doors you had open to you before you came into my class, if you come, and you work hard, you will have more opportunities by the time you leave than when you first came in.

Because education does that.  Education opens minds, it teaches people to think, to consider the world around them, question the world around them, care for the world around them.  Education teaches people to work, to solve problems, not ignore them, to push through unanswered questions to find resolution.  Education inspires, it sparks a human into action.  That action could be anything, finding patterns and making generalizations in math and science, creating poetry, refining the political system, starting a business, volunteering in developing countries, traveling the world for research and more.

No baby born into a rich family has any more right or is any better of a baby than one born in to a poor family.  Some may say that poverty is a never ending cycle, to that I would challenge that so is wealth.  If the poor learn a way of living that keep them poor, than the wealthy learn a way of keeping them wealthy.

It is in education that I find the epicenter of equality.

The bridge between races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, religions,  and gender. It is in education where I can once again say it does not matter who you are, where you have come from, or what ways of living you have learned already, here you are all equal, you all matter, you all have potential, and if you work, regardless of where you came from, you have the power to change where you are going.

Will you work? Because I am ready to work, I believe in you, and together, we can.

I believe in education, with all of my heart.

But I doubt in the way that education is functioning in this country. However, who am I to doubt this?  I have little experience, I am young, where are my statistics, my research?

Lucky for you, if you want to disbelieve me, you have all the power to do so, because I don’t have these things…

yet.

But I will.

And watch out for me.

I am determined to change this world, one precious child at a time.

This week was by far the WORST week of teaching yet! Between relentlessly unforgiving radicals, fist fights, and ungrateful students (love them, but… it’s the truth) Wednesday, I was ready to quit.  I called Tim that afternoon on my way home and told him I was not going back.

It all started Monday, when the lesson I intended to take half a period began its 4 day journey.  I was teaching special right triangles, which is a very abstract concept compared to other topics we learn in geometry.  I quickly realized that the only thing that could be more frustrating than teaching special right triangles, was learning about special right triangles.  After 50 minutes of unsuccessful hands on discovery I gave up and resorted to lecture and note taking, thinking if I can demonstrate the development of special right triangles THEN they will be able to see and understand, I just need to talk and write through it for them to see.  Oh, how sorry I feel for Monday me.

I’m not sure how, but at some point in the conversation this happened:

Me: “Ok, if I have A and I add another A to it, what will I have?”

Student 1: B!

Student 2: 6.2!

Student 3: 11!

Me: (silently, in my head) what the hell…. b? 6.2? crap… (out loud again…) ok… think of it this way, if i have an apple and I add another apple to it then I’ll have

Students: 2 apples!!

Me: awesome! ok so now I’ll just say A instead of apple.  if I have A, and I add another A, what will I get?

Students: 2 A! This is easy! This is stupid!

Me: ok that’s awesome, so what if I have A^2 and I add another A^2? what will I have?

Students: C^2!

Me: ….. (stunned silence)

Students: I don’t get it, this is hard, this is stupid!

At one point I began talking about taking apples^bannanas… and eventually I just turned around and started gently tapping my head against the white board out of frustration.  My class started apologizing which tore my heart apart.  I told them in the last seconds I had that this was NOT their fault and that my frustration was with my inability to teach them this concept.

In an hour and 20 minutes my entire lesson plan came crashing down (which if you’ve ever made a lesson plan, you know how heart wrenching that is).  So I quickly revised my plan for the next period and the lesson went better… minimally.  The next day I tried to repeat my revised lesson plan with my students in first period only to have everything come crashing down AGAIN, and then to find that the “improvement” in my other classes was not showing up in the data (grades).  2 days, 1 lesson, and 0 growth out of my students.

Repetition.

That will fix the problem.  I’ll just have them do the same thing they don’t know how to do over and over and then magically they will get it.

I actually thought that would work… poor wednesday me…

Needless to say that didn’t, and even working with students individually was not helping to get the concept through. On top of this when fifth period rolled around I almost had a fight break out in my class WHILE visitors from another school came in and another student protested against geometry. W.O.W.

NOTHING WAS WORKING! 3 different lessons which resulted in 3 failed attempts, and on top of that classroom discipline just seemed to disappear.  I went home and I cried. and I cried. and I cried. Then I called a teacher to ask for advice and she said to give it one more shot.  Look up different ideas and give it one more shot.

Well by that time I needed to go to bible study, so before I could plan yet ANOTHER lesson over what I was beginning to think was the devil’s subject, Tim and I got in the car where I pouted all the entire drive while eating nearly half the grapes we were taking to share (how rude).     I made it through dinner barely.  However, when it came time for the actual study part of the evening, while the leader prayed, I went to the bathroom and wept.

Being so far away from family

Feeling so distant from friends

The stress of trying to study for my certification exam

The exhaustion of a full time job and a certification class

The feeling of failure after being so sure I had finally found my rhythm

Exasperation.

Am I doing what God wants me to be doing?

I felt so sure of it… until now. 

Were we where God wanted us?

If yes, then why was it taking so long to form intimate community?

Was it me? My track record in friendships wasn’t great… so was it my fault? Again?

I cried and cried and cried until Tim found me and took me home.  I cried all the way home, and I cried myself to sleep.  Not a big dramatic cry.  The kind of cry where your heart feels like it’s doing more of the weeping then your eyes. I went to sleep at 8:30 that night and did not care to think about the next day, it could take it’s sweet time getting there.

However, as it usually does, the morning came and it was time to go to work.  Not early as I had hoped so that I could PUT a lesson together.  That was a miserable commute that day.

God. Please help me just to make it through the day, and please, PLEASE help my students to get this concept… I can’t stand teaching it anymore.  Also, I need a lesson plan, please help me think of something.

I made it in time for the prayer meeting.  My mentor teacher asked me if I had come up with a new lesson to which I explained how I was too busy crying the night before to come up with one.  I mentioned how frustrated I was and another teacher turned to me and said that I should have the students lay on the floor to be the triangles.  Because of the concept I knew that I couldn’t represent the concept accurately given the varying body lengths of my students but suddenly wheels began turning.

Triangles on the floor.  I was seeing triangles on the floor.

Paper! Colored Paper!

My students couldn’t BE the triangle, but they COULD be parts of the triangle! My head shot up and I announced that I would need some tape.  My mentor teacher happened to have some that I could borrow, as well as colored paper.  After the prayer I quickly ran upstairs to shove all of the desks out of the way and I began feverishly taping giant triangles on my classroom floor.  I finished making the signs just as my first two students walked through the door.

“Class, we will not be sitting today, we will be trying a final attempt at the concept of special right triangles, line up against the wall”

My confused class reluctantly walked over to the wall and I began asking for volunteers.  Here’s a summary:

3 students represented an angle measure: one 30, one 60, and one 90 degrees. This group carried Blue signs with their measurement labeled on it.

3 students represented the side names: shorter leg, longer leg, and hypotenuse. This student carried light green signs with their name labeled on it.

3 students represented the variables that coincided with those sides: x, x times the square root of 3, and 2x. This group carried golden signs with their variables written on it.

I instructed each group to find their location on the triangle one at a time.  At the end I would give a side a number on a small white board and the class would solve out for the other two sides.

This was BEYOND successful, and here is why:

  1. My students learned the concept!!! OH MY GOSH this was amazing to see.  After three full days on this concept with confused in frustrated students, I was able to give my students a handful of scenarios that they were able to solve without aid confidently. w.o.w.
  2. it was fun! We all made up stories during the story time portion to describe scenarios where we would have to solve for the length of the sides of a triangle, my personal favorite was the one about Tom and Jerry (my students are so creative!)
  3. it caught the eye of my academic supivisor who not only recorded it, but used it the video to show student engagement to other math teachers AND some people in the district… I was too excited to catch who
  4. it caught the eye of my AP! She stopped me in the hall to tell me that she loved the idea and e-mailed the principle about it the next day!

WOW. what a difference one day can make.  I went from exasperated failure to successful potential in 2 hours.  As soon as I finished talking with my academic supervisor I closed the door to my classroom, laid my head on my desk, and praised God, because after the past three days HE is the only explanation for such an incredible turn around.

Today my students still knew the concept, almost TOO well as they wanted to use it EVERYWHERE instead of just with special right triangles (opposed to the normal ones… a sarcastic fact).

I am in no hurry to take the tape off my floor as it serves as a good reminder of the lessons teaching the concept taught me:

  1. Try, try, and try again.  If something doesn’t work, learn, research, and try something new
  2. It’s OK to fail… it sucks, but it’s ok.  If I hadn’t done such a terrible job, seeing the success would not have been nearly as humbling or exciting
  3. Learn from others.  Relying on my own brain is a huge mistake when there are so many other people with so many creative ideas.  Limiting my resources to myself is not only a hindrance to me, but also to my students
  4. Plans don’t always work, be flexible.

Thursday didn’t end perfectly, I still left frustrated by other things occurring in the classroom, but it was encouraging.  I am so thankful that God took me through the week and helped me through to the other side.  I still don’t have a lot of answers, and there is still fear in me about community, but if God is willing to meet me on a level as trivial as a lesson plan, I believe I can rest in the knowledge that He will meet me everywhere else.  I am one lucky lady.

So what’s the real lesson here? Hug your teacher, it’s harder than you think.

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