Failing Math

Parent-teacher conferences begin tomorrow for me…  And at this moment, parent-teacher conferences are just about the last thing I want to do.

I would like to think I’m not big on complaining.  I hope not.  Today isn’t going to help that hope much…  🙂

I am on the “leadership team” at my school.  Basically, it is a representative group of teachers who meet weekly with the principal and discuss matters of academics, behavior, policy, whatever needs discussed.  We also bring information from the principal to the rest of our teaching teams, or clarify information for them if people are confused.  This morning, one issue at hand was math.  Just math, in general.  The 5th and 6th graders can’t multiply, the 3rd and 4th graders can’t add, etc.  Basically, nobody can do the things that were supposed to have been learned in previous grades.  A 5th grade teacher said she has two students in her class performing at a 5th grade level.  TWO!  As a little experiment, she taught a 3rd grade math lesson one day, and the class in general didn’t even do a satisfactory job with that!

The thing is, we have plenty of problems.  We have plenty of data.  We have plenty of evidence about what our kids aren’t doing.  We need more of two things:  MOTIVATION and SOLUTIONS!!! 

MOTIVATION…for the teachers.  I don’t know how apathy is such a popular attitude.  I don’t know why anyone would hire teachers who are so apathetic.  With the exception of most of the leadership team and a few of the other teachers, apathy runs rampant in our school.  The party line seems to be, “I put forth the very least amount of effort required to make it look like I’m doing my job.  I want to know exactly what time I should be here, exactly when I can leave, and exactly what paperwork I need to have filled out on exactly what date.  Beyond that, you cannot fire me for anything I don’t do.”

Of course, I am one of the more motivated, more ambitious, more over-acheiving people.  I don’t know why.  I’m not sucking up to the principal or anything.  I don’t do it to make myself look good, I do it because it would be boring to only do exactly the bare minimum.  I do not spend a lot of extra time at work, nor do I bring much work home.  My happiest routine is to be out of the house by 7:00 a.m., which means I get to work around 7:30, and I love to leave at 4:00 p.m.  (How many people get to leave work for the day in the middle of the afternoon???  I’m going to enjoy that particular perk!)  So I only spend 8 1/2 hours at work each day, generally.  AND of course, I only work about 9 1/2 months of the year!  BUT, for those hours when I am at work, I tend to be quite motivated.  The hours are so much more fast and fun and interesting when I am working hard.

SOLUTIONS…for the teaching.  I don’t know how to get kids to learn how to multiply!  I know how to get kids to learn to pattern, and count, and sort, and seriate (put things in order from little to big or vice versa), and identify numerals, and write numerals, and compare quantities (which one has more).  And out of my 12 or 13 kids each year, about half go to kindergarten.  So of the entire kindergarten class, I can be sure that about 6 of them are ready for what comes next.  That’s not much of an impact.  But, that is my job.  It is my job to be an “expert,” so to speak, in preschool curriculum and instruction.  And for some reason, I seem to have many useful tools up my sleeve, and I have wonderful teammates who also share many useful tools.  So I think we need the other grades to do that, as well.  The 3rd grade teachers should be “experts” in teaching the 3rd grade math curriculum, and so forth.  And if we are lacking the tools we need, then we need to find them elsewhere.  (I have tools for math, but I lack tools for writing!  I soak up all the advice I can get about teaching preschool-level writing.  You can probably read more about this topic as the year progresses, as my personal professional development goal this year is to apply our writing staff development learning to preschool curriculum.  …Okay, did I just say a bunch of words that make no sense to you all???)  Our staff development focuses so much on reading and writing that math has been left by the wayside.  We need to better learn how to teach math.

I just can’t get excited about parent-teacher conferences after going through the day feeling like our school is failing.

If we are failing, then teach us how to do better!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Doris Jacobs
    Oct 30, 2008 @ 10:12:35

    We all thank your mother and your father for teaching you the joy of being motivated to go above and beyond for personal satisfaction. That is something no one can ever take away from you unless you give it away. Math is one of the subjects that seems to experience the greatest loss over the three month break for summer. At least that is my experience with the 2 kids I have tried to help keep up to the norm.

    Stay enthused and motivated and it will rub off on some of those around you.

    Love,
    Doris

    Reply

  2. Mom
    Oct 30, 2008 @ 21:18:11

    Since I have been tutoring, most often to bring kids up to speed in math, I’ve found that there is very little out there on assessing and helping kids who are behind. Most of what I’ve done is the same as we talked about earlier tonight. Math in the US is taught as bits and pieces in a spiral curriculum. But countries whose children are more advanced in math, teach one topic in depth before going on to something else and fewer topics in math each year. Actually the first time I heard this was when researching nonverbal learning disorder for my longest term student. This is the way kids with NLD, which includes math problems, learn it best. I know there is a lot of educatorese in this comment, but I hope it explains a little more what we discussed earlier and helps you sort out some of your thoughts.
    Love, Mom

    Reply

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