The Goza Way

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Month: July 2014

Themes and Schemes 2: The Responsibility of Being Responsible

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that responsibilities have become the number one time-taker-upper in my life. I’m not sure I choose to go to work everyday, but it’s my responsibility to myself, my family, and my bank account. I might not have to stay after school to tutor or coach basketball, but it’s become a responsibility to my students, principal and athletic director. I surely don’t want to go to the grocery store, help make dinner, clean up, return every email, iron, pack a lunch, get some sleep, and so on, but I have to, because I have responsibilities to my wife, my wallet, and my health. I even have to floss every night or my dentist thinks I’m irresponsible.

But I’m starting to get the hang of this responsibility stuff. I get it, and I’m smart enough spend my time doing things that make me feel both responsible and give me satisfaction and enjoyment. This blog, for example, feels professionally responsible and fulfills my responsibility as a colleague and friend to the other folks at Coast 2 Coast (and to anyone in the MTBoS who cares). And my job, well that’s one of my favorite responsibilities. When I sit down to write new problems for my students it’s a double-doozy because I’m doing something I find fun and interesting and being super professionally responsible at the same time.

When I was a kid I would have never thought that responsibility would take over my life. I never thought I’d find myself in the position I’m in right now: I have the choice of going outside to clean dust and spiders off of our filthy bikes or playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 (don’t knock it til you try it) for the next hour and I’m actually contemplating the bikes! Not even because I really want to ride them, but just because I could cross it off my “To Do” list once it’s done! And here in lies the problem with motivating my students: when it comes time for homework, they are totally playing Mario! Or… Well… They are totally playing “Kill Everything and Talk Shit Online”… or whatever that game is called.

And so I want “Responsibility” to be a theme this year. I want to put that word out there. I want to make it clear to them that eventually, and in fact quite soon, responsibility will take over their lives too. The less responsible they are > the longer their “To Do” lists become > the more things start falling off the back end of it > the worse things get for them. And they can’t stop it, they can only hope to contain it the way I have by putting myself in a position where my responsibilities and my interests are fairly well aligned. The only way to do that, I’d like to convince them, is to start now – to start feeling a certain sense of responsibility toward the important things in their lives. In some cases the things that are important to them and in other cases the things that are important to other people who care about them.

And I care about them so I will suggest this simple responsibility: Since you are already going to be sitting in my classroom for 2 hours today, and since you really can’t get away with doing anything you want to do during this time, how about doing the responsible thing and attempting to get something out of your time here. Maybe get a little better at Math. Maybe get a little better at thinking. Maybe get a little better at talking to people. Maybe make a friend who can help you with homework. Maybe try to get a good grade to push up that GPA. Maybe just try to get a passing grade so this isn’t a total waste of you life. Because spending time that you have and getting absolutely nothing out of it is irresponsible for anyone at any age.

Themes and Schemes Entry 1: 2014 Classroom Themes

As I prepare for the year ahead I’m planning a few themes that I want for my teaching with this next group of wonderful new kids I’m about to have. Here’s the Big 3 so far:

1) The “Growth Mindset” Theme
2) The “Good Boss Opportunity” Theme
3) The “This Classroom is a Sanctuary” Theme

The first one is pretty straightforward if you are familiar with the work of Carol Dweck (and friends). My colleagues and I at Coast 2 Coast are picking “Mindset” apart this summer so I imagine there will be multiple posts to come on Theme 1 and its implementation.

Theme 2 is another motivational piece. Unlike the Mindset stuff, I came up with this on my own and some people might not agree with this one. Its been a long standing belief of mine that its important for me to have swagger in my classroom. Long before “swag” became the “Super-Slang 2011 Word of the Year” I defined swagger as justified confidence and did some writing about how teachers should try to convey it in their classrooms. To me, this confidence was one of the main differences between First Year Mr. Goza and Sixth Year Mr. Goza (now starting my 10th year can I say my swag is on 10? #duh). Over the years I have gotten the impression that my students are kinda suckers for confidence, probably because their teenage insecurities make it hard for them to really have very much of it. So I started making a point to tell my students, with as much bravado as possible, that I was a great math teacher, that I really knew math, and that really knew how to explain math to young people. As the years past and I started accomplishing bigger things (like National Board Certification) I’d brag to my students about it. If you walked into my classroom one day I might be embarrassed to be so braggadocious (it’s not really my personality), but in front of my class it’s an important part of my teacher persona. At the beginning I really want to make the impression that I’m serious about this, and I’m good at what I’m doing and the students need to bring their A-game to “get on my level.” It’s basically a brainwashing in a way. I puff out my chest, demand respect, and next thing you know my kids think I’m the best math teacher they’ve ever had by Week 3. It makes the rest of the year a lot easier, and once that first impression is made I can slowly reveal the real me – a goof-ball who loves teaching math and having a good time with young people for a living.

In line with all that Swag is the “Good Boss Theme.” I want to tell my students that in life, some opportunities are more important that others, and some are just flat out better. Everyone I know can tell me about a terrible boss they had that didn’t help their career in any way. Sometimes that terrible boss was the reason they got laid off or left their job. This will inevitably happen to most people, but sometimes, we get lucky and work under someone who cares to help us grow in your profession, who treats us with fairness and respect, who works with us and not against us, and will help us transition to a better job or a more favorable career pathway. When you have that boss, you have to treat them better, work harder, and be the best version of yourself because if you do, you can grow immensely and make significant strides in your career. I want to tell my students that I am the math teacher version of that “Good Boss.” I can help make up for some of the lesser learning experiences they may have had in the past and build them up so that future math classes are easier for them. I want to be an ally for them on campus when they get in trouble or another teacher is at odds with them. I want to be the one who writes them a letter of recommendation for Student Government or AP Calculus or UCLA. And so my class isn’t just another class its an opportunity. An opportunity that not every class provides (I probably wont explicitly say that!). And now they need to seize that opportunity and put their best foot forward this year because this is their chance to really grow. I think that will fire them up. Combine it with some Goza Swag and a lot of Growth Mindset building and we’ll be off to the moon!

Lastly, Theme 3 is about the classroom. On the first day in my room the floors are all waxed, the desks are in order, and everything is clean. By the end of the year the place is a run-down mess. It’s not because my kids treat it poorly, its because no one really cleans it very often and we don’t make special effort to keep it looking good. This year I want to change that. I want my students to take pride in the fact that they are helping me have one of the better looking rooms on campus. They can even help decorate. If that means we have to have someone sweep every day, so be it. My goal is to end the year with a clean and organized classroom that looks better that it did when we started. I think focusing on this will go long way to help kids feel like my room is a safe place where we take ourselves seriously and are responsible for all aspects of the teaching and learning process. Obviously I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but I want to make it a priority from day one. In fact, I’m considering making it the first thing I talk to my classes about when they come in on the first day.

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