I know. It’s been a long time. But everyone who teaches knows how busy we get in the last days before the end of the year. Added to that is the fact that I am trying to finish my qualifying essays for my PhD…Alright! I am done with the excuses. It’s over and I am free to write about my experiences.
What kind of year has it been? Probably the best I have had as a teacher. This is thanks to having great kids (I always feel like I have great kids), supportive parents (I occasionally get those) and a great administration (I never feel as if we have that). Could it be better? Of course. That is what makes teaching so interesting; It can always be better.
Some people judge their success on the state test scores. I am a little guilty of that but I know that the scores do not tell the whole story. For me, my pass rate of the state test was 69%. Not bad for my first year at a new school. However, my personal standard is about 75%. I have taught at places that 69% was friggin’ fantastic! One place I taught I achieved a pass rate of 77.3% and the school average was 23.5%. In that case, 75% would be cause for celebration.
All my students passed except for three 9th grade girls that who decided to push the envelope of what I would let them get away with during the exam. We were in a computer lab to take a standardized test that the district required. Their exam was in three parts; the standardized test (finish test=full credit), teaching critique (see below, 300 words=100%) and a 13 question multiple choice exam. The 13 questions were on some various topics on 10th grade math which I taught them in the last two weeks of class. One girl raised her hand and asked, “How do you do this?” I replied, “I can’t tell you on exam day.” She argued her point (whined) but I replied that she should have asked the questions long before now. After her whining ceased, she asked, “What is this stuff called?” I replied, “Are you looking this up on the internet? You are really working on a zero!” More whining. And excessive talking from the three girls the entire exam. This resulted in three zeros that resulted in a failing grade.
For me, the real test of my success (or lack of it) is a yearly exercise I do with my classes. Part of each classes last day exercises is to answer the following; “In at least 300 words, critique Mr. Guynn’s teaching. What did he do that was good? What did he do that was bad? What can he do to improve his teaching? What should he never do again?” The responses are pretty consistent. Many think I teach too fast. I believe that they are probably right. I love what I do and sometimes get carried away with it. I am always looking for ways to accomplish this. I guess I will eventually figure this one out. Other than that, the comments are pretty positive; “I like your unusual style.” Keep doing those different warm ups. They really make me think about my life, as well as my math.”
Student’s choice…With about three left in the school year, my students took the state-mandated test. Since that they were tested on what I had taught them all year, more testing on the same material seemed pointless to me. So I let them decide. I gave then four choices for the last two weeks of instruction; 1) psychology of dreams. 2) psychology of learning, 3) next year’s math topics or 4) a topic of their choosing (that I could teach.) Once they chose their topic, they each expressed their decision by playing a game of four corners. I then allowed each group to try to convince the others to join them. Then we did a secret ballot. I then took these results, in a pro rated fashion, to determine what I would teach. In most cases, I taught one week of dream work and a few days of next year’s math. In this way, the last two weeks were very interesting for me, and them. It was my first experience of teaching classes what they wanted, instead of the school telling me what to teach them. There was some inattentiveness but a lot less than usual. (I occasionally had to remind them that I was teaching them what they wanted.) In the end, I learned that dream work instruction should become part of my teaching at the beginning, not the end. (More on that in a later blog.)
In the end, it was a very good year. On the other hand, I feel as if I have planted a seed for future teaching. The summer will give me an opportunity to expand these ideas.