Let this be my manifesto. After 2 days of tossing and turning in my sleep...literally....I have decided to be the teacher I know I must be, not the teacher others might want me to be. I'll define my manifesto shortly, but first a justification of why I think I should be bold enough to go my own way.

I am comfortable making the decision to go a bit outside the norm because I firmly and absolutely and completely believe that no one in America has more of an understanding of teaching mathematics in today's high schools than I do. It is cocky to say, but my unique journey has given me bragging rights.

While most of my colleagues have taught at one or two schools, I have taught mathematics in 5 high schools across America. I have taught at high performing schools, low performing schools, and schools in the middle. I've taught every ethnicity in every setting. I have worked with hundreds of other teachers and dozens of administrators. I have learned from great teachers what to do, and I have learned from bad teachers what not to do. I have had unbelievable discussions with amazing minds about what REALLY works in the classroom. Not on paper. In the classroom.

In my egotistical, narcissistic, I love Jake, way, I believe that I know more about what is needed in today's mathematics classroom than anyone else in America. Go me!

Insert Manifesto Here:

We keep talking and talking and talking and talking about improving mathematics education but we have forgotten one of the reasons we are here. We are here, in part, to foster a love of mathematics. We are doing exactly the opposite. We are beating any love of mathematics out of our students. I read a survey years ago that I've never forgotten. It claimed that if you ask any 3rd grader their favorite subject, over 70% answer math. If you ask any 10th grader their LEAST favorite subject, over 70% answer math. Somewhere along the way we turn inquisitive minds in such a way that instead of enjoying learning new things, kids walk into math class knowing they will dislike every minute and struggle all along the way.

It starts with the crappy teaching of math in elementary schools. Survey after survey indicates that elementary teachers are so insecure about their own understanding of mathematics that they spend less time on math than other subjects. LESS time on math. By the time the kids get to me, many are feeling like they don't have enough tools to be successful. They don't. We are doing big damage in the elementary classroom. Better math teachers in the early grades are the fix. I believe the beginning of the way to reform mathematics education in our schools is to return all of our elementary school teachers to the classroom as students of Number Theory, Algebra and Geometry. Not to punish them. To empower them. I want them to become more confident in their knowledge of mathematics and with that confidence will exude confidence into their students. I believe that.

We need to find a way to bring back that love of mathematics that we all had when we first learned to add and subtract with M&M's.

I like what I do. I wonder if my colleagues like it too. In truth, I think I love it. I love standing in front of America, being on stage, and delivering information. (and yeah yeah yeah, I still stand and deliver. The largest educational study ever done indicates that Direct Instruction is the ONLY method of delivery with verifiable positive results.) My advising Master teacher was a nut and her kids learned in a great environment. That's my goal. I want my students to leave my math class not dreading their next math class. I want to put a small crack in their negative defenses. I want to start rebuilding

From this day forward I will try to create a generation of students who can use mathematics to solve problems. I'll treat my class as much more of a history class than a math class. We need to be taking our students on a magical and mysterious tour of the the real and imaginary world of mathematics. Instead with throw formulas and meaningless "problems". and worksheets.

We need to be laughing as we journey through the rigorous techniques developed by men who had nothing better to do than find a new method to do what few would care to do. We need to be exploring. Instead, we are pounding. Daily, we stand and pound a new concept, technique, method, formula, theorem at them... I am beginning to hate how we teach mathematics.

Hi Jake:

ReplyDeleteVia a circuitous route, I found your blog and wanted to just say - I stopped math because of a real douche bag teacher when I was a sophomore in high school. This is a number of years ago. I was one of only 2 or 3 girls in the class and it was an advanced math class (sorry, I cannot for the life of me remember the actual topic but it was a class usually only juniors or seniors took). So to be in that small minority was intimidating enough. But this guy took a certain amount of glee on calling on us and tearing us new ones at every opportunity.

It took years before I was willing to try again with math. I am glad I did, though. I enjoyed it and I eventually went on to take two semesters of calculus and then stopped. I didn't need the calculus for my major, economics, and I really only took it to compete with my husband (my then-husband - we're no longer married). But I got a solid B in the class and I was proud of that. I went from hating math to basically re-learning to love it again.

I'm glad I have some basic and more than basic skills in math - I worked for a long time as a senior paralegal in some major law firms doing analytical work on big litigation cases. I used to set up spreadsheets and databases of information and then run various calculations and what-if scenarios - none of which needed calculus to figure out, but all of which impressed the attorneys I worked for. Mainly because most of them couldn't even do what I was doing. Most attorneys, I discovered, were really bad at math and analysis of numbers. (except for the engineers who became lawyers - they were always great at math!)

Being comfortable with numbers and analysis using numbers is a great skill for anybody. My second career was as a psychotherapist and I was glad to have taken a more rigorous stats class in college (yes, that was part of my original economics major) so that when I read the research in psychobabble land I could spot the bullshit a whole lot quicker. And as you would suspect, social science research is filled with bullshit. My ability to understand basic stats goes back to my ability to understand basic math and beyond.

So yes - you are doing important work. Yes, it reverberates throughout people's lives. That's important.

I sometimes think had I chosen to become a teacher way back when . . . what my life would turned out to be. I hope I'd be the type of teacher that I suspect you are - tough, fair, funny, human, and a helluva teacher. I would hate the basic state of education, though, and chafe against all the administrative BS and probably leave.

That's okay - I'm now retired (early) and am in a great position to just travel and write whatever I want. Which included a note to you.

Keep up the good fight for as long as you can. Your students need you.