New Math Teacher Counts on Group Learning

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As a new teacher, these days leading up to that first day of school are filled with excitement, preparation and anxiety. How will it all come together? Who will be the students in my class? Are there enough hours in the day to prepare all the content I must present? Will I be able to guide my students to a place where they not just “do math,” but love it as I do?

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be teaching Algebra 1 and Algebra 2/Trigonometry classes at Millennium Brooklyn High School. My goal is to do for the students what a high school teacher did for me: see that math can be creative, interactive, with lots of different paths to a “right” answer. I want my students to collaborate productively, work persistently, and take risks to ask questions and share ideas through the use of group work and complex instruction.

There will be 120 students in the five classes I’ll teach. Most of my students’ work will be in groups which I expect will be a big change from the lecture-based classrooms they have been in up to now. But I firmly believe that the more they talk and listen to their classmates the more everyone will learn. Participating doesn’t mean knowing all the answers. It means sharing ideas (even if they may be wrong), asking questions, building on others’ ideas, and pushing your team to think deeply.

But will I be able to do all this and not only survive but succeed in my first year as a teacher?

I know the statistics. Nearly half of all teachers drop out of the profession in the first five years. The numbers are even higher for math and science teachers. I’m hoping that the way to avoid becoming another statistic is to adopt the model of collaboration that I will be asking my students to follow.

I will be collaborating with teachers in my classroom, in my school, and those affiliated with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. A few months ago I was named a Knowles fellow which means for the next five years I will be able to consult with teachers outside my school and attend professional development seminars.

I’ll also have a co-teacher in three of my classes. We will plan the classes together every week and he will help guide the students who are autistic or have other special needs.

I’m told that it takes five to eight years to become a master teacher. I’m hoping that, as I learn my profession, the teachers in my extended group will provide the support and expertise for me to succeed so that I can continue to teach and inspire students to love math for a very long time.