Monday, March 21, 2011

Worst. Teacher. Ever

So was told by students in one of my hours today that I am the worst teacher ever and they hope I never become a teacher because those kids that I teach will fail at life. So here is the story leading up to why this comment was made by three students.

This all started with last Friday. It was a normal day in the room, class is talking about usual while I am trying to teach (I still need a lot of improvement on my classroom management). The way that I teach is probably not conventional. I am teaching algebra 1 with multiplying binomials three different ways right now. The first is distributing, the second is F.O.I.L. and the third is the area (lattice) model. (I know three different ways can confuse kids but I do emphasize that they know all three but choose one that they like the best and "ignore" the others) There are three primary reasons why the students dislike me in this particular hour

1) I write their homework assignment in set notation (actually all hours dislike me for this). This stops the students that shouldn't be working on the homework during the lesson from actually working on it unless they take time out of their day to actually learn set notation. I don't go too crazy with it just (n,xez: 0<x<25, x=2n-1) stuff like that. I teach the students that are receiving an A- or better how to read this notation or tell them the homework if they ask for it ahead of time. That way they are able to work on it once they understand the topic being taught and not have to wait till the end to get their homework. I find this helps with boredom of those students who would otherwise end up being a classroom management problem. The students HATE that I do this. But I was seeing too many students working on homework that should be paying attention in class.

2) When they give answers to problems, I do not say which one is right. I get all the different answers students found for the problem and then we evaluate and analyze which one is actually the correct solution (if even up there). WAIT! YOU MEAN STUDENTS ACTUALLY HAVE TO THINK AT HIGHER LEVELS OF BLOOM'S TAXONOMY IN YOUR CLASS! The answer is yes, yes they do. They also hate this how I will not just tell them which answer is right. I will admit this does take more time in class, but I feel it is worth it. This way the students actually find their mistakes by discussing each answer. I act more like a moderator and guide the discussion the students have.

3) The last reason why students do not like the way that I teach is due to the fact that if the talking gets out of hand, I will just silently wait until the talking ends. Usually I plan a lesson that is going to take around 35 to 40 minutes, that way I have some time to give in my 60 minute class for questions and problems that come up during the lesson. If everything goes smoothly and it actually takes less time than the students can get up to 30 minutes of work time for homework. If they talk then they eat up this time very quickly. Just Friday it took 15 minutes for me to write 1-9 all 10-26 even for their homework because they could not quit talking. All I needed was 20 seconds of silence and it would have been written. They HATE that I do this and make them actually allow me to talk without having to raise my voice. Is this punishing some of those that are sitting there silently, yes, and I do feel bad for those ones that are. I have wrote the assignment down and those that are quiet walk over to them and show them what it is so they can begin to work on it.

This is why the students today told me I was a bad teacher, because I have these practices. Does this really make me a bad teacher? I don't feel that it does. I think some of these students are use to just being told how to do everything and now are being forced on their own to judge what is correct and what way of solving problems they like best. It is not just regurgitation of algorithms but actually analyzing and evaluating of different approaches and different solutions.

But then again I could be crazy and this actually could be poor practices. Let me know what you think! Trust me I may get knocked down, but I get up again ;)


  1. I think you need to look at your classroom management practice. if you want to bring your class back to wanting to learn from you, you will need to really work at it, because it seems they have lost confidence in you. it's all well and good to do things unconventionally (only in the childtens eyes perhaps), but before you can take the children with you, there must be trust, and it seems they no longer trust you to teach them properly.
    Your methods don't seem to reach them, so you should change your method, because ultimately, you will be held accountable.
    Back to the drawing board I'm afraid!
    Good luck!

  2. There is nothing inherently wrong with teaching multiple approaches to solving a problem, “even” for regular algebra 1 students. For example, we teach students at least three different ways to solve a system of linear equations (graphing, substitution and elimination). But we usually spend a day or two on each one, to develop some proficiency, before we move on to introducing the next approach.

    Fairness is important to all students. On the one hand, it seems fair that the students who can maintain an A- average can start the homework because they don’t need the additional practice. On the other hand, putting the assignment up on the board “in code” that only the “smart kids” can decode is a daily reminder to the other students that they aren’t smart enough. Perhaps you can be more discrete about it by handing out a paper with the assignment on it to each A average student while you are checking homework at the beginning of class. Check with your cooperating teacher to see what types of consequences you can use for those who are doing homework without permission in class: if it was me, the first time it happened I’d give both the violator and the A student near them a one minute detention after class (at the dismissal bell, they both stay in their seats until everyone else has left the class); the second time, another one minute detention; the third time, three detentions after school.

    If your school principal saw you waiting 15 minutes to get your class to come to order, how do you think he would react? In the UK, many high school teachers use the method of the teacher raises their hand in the air and counts “10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . “ to 1, to get the class’s attention. The idea is that you are giving students a chance to notice you and come to order, rather than expecting instantaneous compliance. You can goose it a little by saying “John and Maria are ready to learn,” “Kyle and Alice are ready to learn,” during your count as you notice more and more students giving you their undivided attention. Classroom management is TOUGH and there are more dominant personality approaches to use, but I think something like this might be a good transition approach for you. At the end of your count to 1, if you still have students not complying, go to the board and write “One Minute Detention,” underline it, turn around one last time to see if you don’t have your class’s full attention (you probably will), and if you still don’t, start writing names down of those still refusing to give you their attention. It will feel weird for the first few days, but you’ll see a meaningful improvement from 15 minutes.

    FYI: The nice thing about a one minute detention after class is that you don’t have to write a referral form to assign one.

    Finally, I think that you’re probably doing just fine as a teacher. Student teaching is about taking all the theory you learn in university and then figuring out on the fly what really works. Keep reflecting on what worked and how to make it better tomorrow.

    Of course, take all this for what it’s worth: one teacher’s opinion.

    Paul Hawking

  3. @Paul
    I agree with most of what you said. I did not mention in this that I told all the students that if they would like to learn to read set notation that they can come after school and I will teach them how to read it. I did note though that this does not mean that you can work on homework during class. The only ones that took advantage of that was the ones are getting A's. That is the main reason I left it like that. I also told them that if they want to google how to read it they could do that. Had a couple A students do that on their own time. The main ones complaining are the ones that won't do the extra to figure out a new mathematical concept on their own or take extra time out of their day.

    I do like the effectiveness of raising your hand and counting down from 10. The only problem that I have with it is I feel that (as a student) I would be being treated like a child and as a teacher would be treating them like a child. I admit it is a very effective way to control the class and maybe that is what I need to do. If it works then why am I complaining right? I will definitely put it into my list of quick classroom management ideas and when I have my own classroom will test it out.
    I also like the one minute detentions because students hate losing time to get to their other class. The only problem at my school is, holding students after class is frowned upon due to the size of the school. (I know ridiculous but it is) Again, when I have a real job in a different school they might not have this frowning so I will be able to do this.

    Anyways, thanks for your comments Paul. They are greatly appreciated. How else will I become a better educator without the support of veteran teachers!

  4. I think an easy way to solve the homework problem is to not write it down until the end of class. The best classroom management you can have is to keep students occupied the entire hour. Keep them busy doing work until the very end and then assign the homework with 2 or 3 minutes left. If you are assigning homework then it needs to be done at home, right? I think I would try to plan activities to last the whole hour and mix it up somewhat. Use math games or group activities to break up time and keep students engaged.

    I employ the being-silent-until-they-are-silent strategy as well but if it is taking 15 minutes, then it is time for a new strategy. Think of all the learning and practice that could have happened in that extra 15 minutes. If it is taking that long then it seems like the students know that there will be no consequences. I suggest taking action somehow, even if you have to make an example out of a student. I've been trying to pull students out and talk to them individually and letting them know their behavior is unacceptable. Classroom management is not my strength at all but I've found the best thing for me is to keep them busy so that I don't have much to manage.

  5. I'm not a teacher in a public school, but I would've loved to learn under you in high school. It sounds like high schoolers haven't changed much in the 30-odd years since I was there. I always felt like the jokers who took away time from my learning were jerks. If a bachelor's degree wasn't the equivalent of last century's high school diploma, I'd say lower the math requirement. How many of those kids are going to ever, ever run in to algebra again (and recognize it!), unless they homeschool their own kids?