Reality interferes with my planning

I’ve been away for three weeks, sans computer—more on that anon—spending much vacation-and-conference time mulling over what I want to do in this class and fantasizing about The First Day.

Yesterday we returned. I logged in. The list was available; I could see what kids will be in my perfect little class. There are 18 cherubs, juniors and seniors, a few of whom I had in class a couple years ago, most of whom I don’t really know at all. And I know that they will be great, that they are smart, that I can communicate my love of the subject and infect them.

But now, instead of an idealized, pristine version of a progressive student-centered, SBG stats class, my vision had actual students in it. And somehow my ideals started sliding out from under me. I could imagine giving fun, engaging lectures instead of designing explorations; awarding points for showing up and doing homework instead of for mastery of standards; dealing with deadlines and extensions; and generally succumbing to the quick and easy path, sliding off the razor’s edge in the direction of being a stand-and-deliver math teacher.

It’s not the kids. They’re great. But they’re real, and reality somehow sucks me towards what’s comfortable.

Fortunately, I have help. One good source of backbone is in the repeated rants at ThinkThankThunk. I once thought that hammering on the same anvil over and over was bad form, an indication of being enslaved to one good idea. But I was wrong. I appreciate Shawn’s willingness to remind us newbies why we decided to think about doing things differently. And I confess that one of the main reasons I put that link in this post is so that I can find it again when I find myself going over to the dark side.

Another place to find clarity, or at least reality, is at f(t), where in the post of that link, Kate Nowak reminds us how messy it all is. There is no razor’s edge, no clean, perfect educational slam-dunk; we deal with human beings every single time, and that is both a burden and a privilege.

Still. I like being in Fantasyland, where standards-based grading works beautifully from day one, where the students who have been badly treated by math in their past realize that they really can look at the world quantitatively; where they connect the math they thought was meaningless to the real world; and where these students design their own projects and critique one another’s work fairly but kindly, building classwide self-esteem while insisting on an appropriate, deepening level of rigor. Ha.

I guess I know that despite this being, after-all, a best-case scenario, it won’t be perfect. I won’t be. The kids won’t be. But we’ll get parts of all that, and a lot more that I can’t predict, because of the particular alchemy of these 18 kids.

I am so scared.

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Published by

Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math teacher. In 2014–15, at Mills College in Oakland, California.

One thought on “Reality interferes with my planning”

  1. You are exactly where I was a year ago. It’s terrifying, and you’re right, some kids won’t buy it. But you have to ask yourself: “How many more will?” The differential almost always falls in SBG’s favor. You’ll be surprised at how some of the “perfect” kids turn out to be points junkies looking for their cram-and-purge fix.

    I appreciate your honesty and willingness to try something new, and I can’t wait to hear about the modifications that you make to have this philosophy work for you.

    Also, I am pretty sick of me hitting the same anvil, too. Sometimes the muse strikes and your powerless to resist, I suppose that’s my only excuse for being so repetitive.

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