Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Teacher Tip #3

Continued from "Things I wish someone had told me before I started teaching (or maybe they did and I just didn't listen)"

Tip #3: Trust Your Instincts.

In my first year of teaching, I was assigned two classes of fifth-grade math. One was a section of the average students at the grade level, and the other was the bottom 20 students. Georgia has an annual standardized test that is administered in all grades and fifth graders are required to pass the math and reading sections to be promoted to middle school. It's high stakes testing at its worst. You can only imagine the pressure that I felt with a class of the lowest performing students. Many of them were years behind grade-level, unable to do things like subtract with regrouping or multiply and divide with one or two digit numbers. It was unfathomable to me how I was going to teach the fifth grade standards such as multiplying and dividing fractions and decimals. Whenever I discussed this with my administrators, I received the same response over and over: "You have to teach the standards."

The dirty secret about standards is that even with pacing guides, you have a lot of flexibility about how much time you allot to different topics. During my unit on measurement, for example, I was able to spend weeks covering one- and two-digit multiplication. The actual time spent applying that to finding the area of quadrilaterals was small in comparison to the amount of time developing a conceptual understanding of multiplication, but in the end they got it. My lesson plans consistently reflected that I was teaching the standards relating to area – and I was – but maybe not in the way that I imagine the state or district envisioned. Be crafty, reach out for help, and remember that you know your students best. If you identify fundamental weaknesses that need to be remedied before moving on, do it. It's far better to teach fundamentals and build understanding than add to confusion.

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