Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Philosophy (Page 2 of 2)

Working with kids: Sometimes you just need things laid out

Last night I didn’t post because I was tired. I woke up in the morning with a dream that became this post. 


So in my dreams lots of things shift, and move, and don’t really  make sense, but there is usually a central theme and emotion that ties it all together.  In the dream last night there was a central character who seemed a combination of myself, of some player on the Detroit Pistons, and Barney from How I Met Your Mother.  The central character was a teenager who was unsure about what he was going to do after graduation, and the larger implied question, what should he do with his life.


In the dream Barney had a 3 choices things he could do with his life.  Barney knew he liked rapping, when his friends were rapping lyrics into their phones and making songs out of it he always thought he could get into it with them because he knew he could be good at it.  He never did.  Also, Barney was also talented in debate.  He had a lot of experience working with the debate coach and the debate team and had an impressive string of victories this year.  Lastly, Barney knew he was good at volleyball.  He had a natural aptitude for the sport because he was tall and athletic.  He played on the school team, and playing volley ball was a big part of his identity at school, but he was not nationally ranked or recruited. (Also, why am I dreaming about volleyball? Why am I not dreaming about Barney’s academics?  I don’t know either…)


Barney was hanging out with his friends one day and he gets a call from an uncle who talks him through all of the opportunities he faces and Barney hangs up the phone knowing exactly what his next step is.  This uncle didn’t demand that he choose one thing, or even tell him what he would do.


They both walked through each of the situations together and whenever there was some possible decision the Uncle laid out what Barney could expect.   The Uncle challenged Barney about considering being a rap artist when he hasn’t been willing to do the work for that.  When there wasn’t enough information the Uncle would gather it, he calling colleges and asking about their debate team and their volleyball program.  In the end it was clear that taking the opening on the college debate team was the best choice, as he put in the most effort towards that success, and future success seemed very realistic.


In the end what Barney needed was not an answer for what he should he do with his life, but someone who could take all the different options that he has in front of him and lay them out on a platter.  Once Barney could see the possibilities for his next step, it made the choice easier.  It avoided the larger question of what should he do with his life, but since that is a question that evolves over time for everyone, it may not be the best thing to expect a teenager to do before choosing something like what College to attend or what major to have.  What might be good is to do what helped Barney.  Look at areas where they have put in effort, avoid areas where they haven’t put in effort, and do the research to see what opportunities are actually available.  Then have a conversation where you put it all on a platter, where you lay out all the reasonable outcomes and let the kid think about what choice makes the most sense


16/30 #MTBoS

Student Relationships: It’s How You Say It

Math teachers are assumed to be unable to form relationships with kids.  Societal representations of teachers portray someone who tells corny jokes, plays board games in their free time or is the geekiest of computer geeks (and in my case all three!).  Whether or not you fit typical math teacher stereotypes, it is critical to have strong relationships with students in your role as a math teacher.

This may go without saying, but having strong relationships are important for learning math, or anything.  Kids are people, and all people exist in a social context alongside other people.  Why ignore the reality of the classroom?  Why not use relationships to win students over?  I have learned a few tricks in my first few years of teaching and I hope to archive them here for my reference, and maybe someone else can make use of them as well.

It’s not always what you say, it’s often how you say it

So your relationship to students is really made up of all the little interactions you have with the students, most of which are focused on getting the students to complete a task.  As you explain the steps of the task individually or clarify a point made in front of class, really think about the way in which you are saying it.  In a situation where you have to deliver the same words over and over for multiple classes, sometimes altering the tone of your message is the only way to resonate with the varied types of learners you have in your classroom.

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Where I Tell An Embarrassing Story And Explain The Point Of This Blog

When I first decided to be a teacher it was because I was in trouble.  By my senior year of high school I had been in trouble enough times that I was bored by receiving long-winded speeches, getting sent to the hallway, and staying late for detention. After talking excessively during my Econ class I figured I would try something different.  When my teacher talked to me after class I negotiated to swap the detention for what I thought would be an easier punishment.  I offered to teach his class for a day.

If I taught his class for a day I would learn what teaching is all about, and I had been thinking about education from the myriad list of potential college majors.  His facial expression was a mixture predictable skepticism and confusion, so I pushed my argument further. The details of the conversation escapes me, but I know I argued that understanding the difficulties that teacher face would stop me from talking to my friends in class and make me not want to interfere any lesson ever again.  Before I got too far into it, Mr. Faricy agreed to the deal, with a little more enthusiasm than I thought was appropriate.  His knowing grin, of course, was foreshadowing the awful, awful lesson that transpired when I taught his intro to economics class next week.

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