Beauty of Ambiguity

As a math teacher, I always try to clear. I communicate my expectations to my students. I use multiple representations for math concepts. I repeat myself over and over. When teaching, one needs to be extremely direct and very clear. But in some situations, being vague works to your advantage.

The one area of my job that is rather ambiguous is my work day. My day is expected to begin 15 minutes prior to my first class and can end 15 minutes after the students leave. What is the reality? I arrive 40 minutes prior to my students, which is before 7am, and I leave anywhere between 3 and 5pm. On Sundays I can spend a little time or a lot of time prepping for the week. It often depends on what classes I’m teaching as to how much time I work on Sunday. The point I’m trying to make, is that even though I’m not required to be in the building and working a full 8 hours per day, I definitely put in the time.

Of the over 3000 teachers in my district, we all put in this kind of time. We do it because we are professionals and we care about kids. In other districts, teachers are required to be in their buildings for 8 hours.  My required “in the building” time is not 8 hours.  It is understood that even though I’m not required to be in that location, I will put in the time to get the job done well.

Why aren’t we required to be in the building for exactly 8 hours?  Years ago, teachers fought for this “undefined” day.  We are professionals.  We get it done.  The benefits of this kind of set-up are much more than the powers that be realize.

Don’t we all know that we set high expectations and low and behold, they get met?  When we are treated like professionals instead of clock punching hourly employees, the expectation is that you will put in whatever time is necessary.  And guess what?  It happens.

By this point in my life, I’ve figured out where and when the most I’m productive.  For me, I’m productive after school and I tend to get more done when I’m there.  But if it’s 90 degrees and humid in my room, I’m not going to stay in that building, being miserable just to work there.  On the same note, if it’s the dead of winter and they’ve turned the heat down and I’m freezing while sitting at my desk and entering grades, I’m heading home and doing it there.  If I’m at home and I’ve been ruminating over some teaching idea, I can work it out there.  I don’t have to go into work to do my job.  And as every teacher knows, your job and responsibilities are always in the back of your mind.  The only time I am completely free of that is summer vacation.

But even when you are on your own time you’re finding ways to learn and improve yourself.  Many teachers spend time in the summer (or on weekends and evenings) taking classes.  After school we’re going to professional development on our own time to become better at our jobs.  So any argument that we’re not putting in the time, is not going to hold water.

I would hate to see the benevolent attitude of our teachers change because we went to a specified work day.  And I think it would.  We are very giving of our time, but it’s on our terms and it needs to stay that way.  The one thing that we do have control over is where and when we are doing all of the extra hours that it takes to prepare and doing the work of educating our kids.  In this case, ambiguity is a wonderful thing.


Taking Advantage of the Opportunities

Today was a mini college fair at my school.    You know… every single student at my school is college bound, so we need to bring the colleges to them.  During 1st hour and home room was the time for the seniors to go to the fair.  Yes, those same seniors that by now, should already have their applications done or have a pretty good idea of what they are doing after high school.

I started second hour and noticed a familiar odor.  I don’t personally have experience with this substance, but have had enough encounters for it to be recognizable.  I tried to isolate the source of the smell, but before I could really narrow it down, the principal comes over the P.A. system to invite all of those college bound juniors to the fair.  So the juniors up and left, and so did the stench.

The remaining handful of students learned the new material with me and are now ahead of the others.  With about ten minutes left of class, the juniors returned.  Along with their return, was the return of the stench.  But this time, it was much more intense.  With the commotion of everyone coming and going, the smell didn’t completely permeate the room for a few minutes.  I tried to get something taught, all the while I’m wandering throughout the room, taking deep breaths through my nose.  (I’m sure you can picture me subtly doing this…)  Alas, we run out of time and the bell rings.

As the culprit exits the room, she leaves such a potent scent that we have to open the windows.  This is not the time of the year when opening the windows has any advantage other than some fresh air.  I have a pretty good idea of who it was, but I’m not completely sure.  I have no idea if her assistant principal followed up on my suspicion later in the day.  But it is pretty clear that she was definitely taking advantage of the college fair!

One size fits…

Why does it seem that there is a push for a “One Size Fits All” approach to education these days?  I don’t know what it’s like in other areas.  But lately it seems like we are being told that one approach is the selected method of teaching and we will follow it.  Well, it’s not quite that bad at my school…  yet.

In my district they spent a pretty large chunk of stimulus change on a program that is supposed to help teach reading and ultimately help get those ever important scores up.  Since I don’t teach elementary school, I don’t have any experience with this curriculum.  My elementary colleagues have told me that they are now supposed to use these materials that are even scripted as to each thing the teacher says.

I’m not going to go into depth about what they want us to do at the secondary level.  But the main point is that they seem to want us to be in lock step with each other, give the same assessments and teach lessons in the same way as our colleagues across the district.

What happened to the art of teaching?  If all you needed was some canned curriculum and were told what to say, anyone could do it.  Maybe that’s their objective.  But it’s so far off the mark.

Every child is unique with different needs.  The abilities, strengths and weaknesses of our students are as varied as the patterns of snowflakes.  When designing a lesson, we try to take into account the various learning styles, attention spans, and ability levels of our students.  As individuals.  Not every individual needs the same thing and teachers are taught how to differentiate for the variety of needs in their classroom.

I’m sure the idea of a canned curriculum makes them (the higher-ups) think that they’re in control and they’re addressing the needs of students.  But who are we kidding?  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a teacher say, “I wish they would just let me teach,” I seriously would have some cash.  It’s a sad and frustrating time.  I wish they could figure out that to really have some gains, you have to let go of the rigid control and let us do our jobs they way we know how.

It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that in reality, one size can never fit all.

And the Winner is…


A while back I wrote (here) about entering a photo contest with photos from my Tanzania trip. Guess what? I tied for 1st place!

There were 244 entries and the sorted them into three categories: people, places and animals.  123 of the entries were in the people category.   The rest were pretty evenly split between the other two. It was pretty cool to find out that I won.  🙂

(I cropped out the head in the lower right corner for the contest.)