Although my initial degree was a B.S. in Chemistry, my first teaching job was an interim position in the area of mathematics. It was March and I was filling in at Burns High School in North Carolina for a teacher who was unable to complete the year. I remember working long hours to prepare to teach Calculus, Geometry, Algebra II and General Math each day. I barely kept my head above water. It was that first year, however, that I received feedback from one of the many required, formal classroom observations that would forever change the way I prepare to teach.
Mr. Dalrymple slid into the back of the classroom as I started teaching a lesson on subtracting sums of money using decimals to the large group of students in my General Math class. I used the typical Madeline Hunter lesson plan format that I had been taught and modeled solving example problems. Unfortunately, as I moved to the guided practice portion of the lesson I found that several of my students were not successful in solving the assigned problem. So, I decided to complete an additional example problem from my teacher text book on the blackboard. (Yes…my classroom resources in those days were chalk and erasers rather than keyboards and projectors.) To my dismay, however, those same students were still unable to solve the problem successfully.
As Mr. Dalrymple left my class he said, “Connie, I appreciate your passion and I can clearly see that you care about your students and that they respect you but what makes you think that if you work the same type of problem the same way you will get a different result?” I thought about those words and repeated them over and over to myself as he walked away. Actually, I thought about his words for several hours. How could I teach my students how to solve problems in a different way so that they could truly understand? I decided to enlist my husband to video me at the grocery store buying chicken. I presented the pack of chicken to the cashier, she told me the amount, I gave her a $20 dollar bill and she gave me my change. My husband videoed me as I smilingly counted the change for the camera.
I arrived early the next day to push a TV monitor into my classroom (I had to check it out from the media center) to show the 5 minute video of me buying a chicken at the grocery store to my students. I remember the giggles and snickers as they watched me smiling and counting. Giggles and snickers turned in to achievement and mastery. Perhaps it was the practical application, or the video media, or just the fact that I did not give up on them and demonstrated my belief in their ability to learn the material that made the difference. Something did. I’ve never forgotten it.
The idea that we must meet our students where they are and work on developing our kit of strategies, techniques and tools to reach them is critical. I started trying to think of different ways to engage and connect with my students which often meant using real world applications to which they could relate. My desire to find the best ways to reach students has led to technology integration, blended learning, project based learning, inquiry learning, brain-based learning and many other strategies and tools to improve overall lesson design and effectiveness. There is nothing more satisfying than when students finally “get it” and can confidently demonstrate understanding. Continually working on our craft is necessary for teaching effectiveness and student achievement. That’s our job. More than that, however, communicating to our students we truly care and believe that they can achieve is…well…potentially life changing. Do the extra work. Go the extra mile. Change it up!