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Reflections on 9th grade math...

Today I finished 12 weeks with a basic skills level, 9th grade algebra class. I had 24 students with a wide range of abilities. Our classes at Riverdale High are usually around 20 so this class felt large. I asked the kids to reflect on how they did this term today so I'll do the same.

Right away I have to say that I love teaching and this class was no exception. It was tough, challenging, rewarding and I only had mixed success. I know of no job that offers a challenge so tough, demands so much skill and offers many fleeting glimpses of accomplishment to keep you going. Teaching is hard. It's hard to be a great teacher. I've taught for 23 years and this class required all my craft skills, tried me to the limits of my patience, offered me the joys of watching kids learn and the sorrows of seeing some give up. At the end of the term, I can say I'm a better teacher, a worn out teacher and I know I could do it all again and still love it.

What did I do right? I kept the focus on mastering the material and off of grades, failures and tests. I think this allowed some who would not have tried again and again to keep at it. All students deserve to be treated with dignity, even those who take longer to learn stuff. I tried to offer challenging problems to the kids who were fast learners but it seems like there is never enough time to do this like I'd like to. I mixed in a lot of review from day one. This showed me that these kids had some real holes. I could have used 10 weeks bringing them up to speed with the basic math skills we expect all 8th graders to have. Review HAS to be a big part of teaching math. The skills have to spiral through everything you do on a regular basis.

For most of the term I did a good job of record keeping and managed to not fall behind until the last two weeks. It's terrible to be backlogged with papers to grade and kids not knowing how they are doing in class. It's always harder to catch up than it is to stay current.

What did I do wrong? I didn't do a good job of juggling where the curriculum said we should be with where I found the kids on day one of class. Trying to get to a place where they're not ready to go just does not work. I should have known that. I would have spent our time better basing my unit plans on an honest assessment of where the kids were rather than where I hoped I could push them.

Last thoughts... I know lots of teaching tips and tricks and have some good teaching habits after so many years. My classroom is generally a happy place where I ask students to be responsible and for the most part, they are. Even so, I'm amazed at the skill required to keep the kids motivated, learning and feeling good about themselves. This has to be the greatest job on earth.