Three encouraging and freeing things I’ve realized this summer.

1.  After trying lots of new ideas at school last year–some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t–I finally realized that I need to teach the way that suits me best, the way that best utilizes my strengths and my passions, and not worry about what works best for other people.  In a sense, I threw away the guilt of not doing all the cool things I read about in everyone else’s blogs and gave myself the permission to just be me.  I still intend to try new things–that is something that I like to do–but I don’t need to feel guilty for not embracing the educational trend du jour if it doesn’t suit me.  That is very freeing! 2.  Like every teacher out there, I have continually fought the “cover every required topic” versus “teach the concepts well and enjoy math” battle. I have always leaned towards the “teach the concepts and enjoy math” side, but struggled with the fact that I always ended up leaving out topics which might potentially leave students inadequately prepared for future classes.  But last week I listened to the MathOut podcast interview of Fawn Nguyen (check out all of Adrian Pumphrey’s great podcasts at MathedOut).  When Adrian asked Fawn how she managed to teach rich problem-solving lessons and still cover the standards, she actually said that she doesn’t worry too much about covering all of the standards–she considers it more important to teach kids (hopefully) to love math and be problem solvers*.  Wow!  That was also very freeing to hear!  Now I will enjoy planning my year in Precalculus with a goal of teaching well, rather than worrying so much about how I can possibly cover everything (especially since I already know that I can’t). *For those of you who think that Fawn sounds like an irresponsible teacher, she does not completely ignore standards–she is just not enslaved to them.  Listen to the podcast and hear what she has to say. 3.  I checked out Why Students Don’t Like School by Daniel Willingham from the library on my Kindle and immediately realized that I wanted to highlight things and I needed my own copy to keep.  When I purchased it, I also purchased one of those “people who bought this book also bought this book” books called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (“grit” by Tough *smile*).  So I put down the first book to read the second and found myself following my husband around the house reading passages to him.  The essence of the book is that students need more than smarts to be successful in school and in life, they need moral fiber–grit, determination, self-control, etc.–the ability to deal with challenge and failure and grow stronger as a result.  This is not earth-shaking to those of us who teach, but how to teach it is the challenge (and I haven’t finished that part of the book yet).  However, in reading about a teacher who has been successful in developing these traits in her students, I realized that I have done the same things with my students and that spending time doing those things is important.  It was one of those moments when reading someone else say things that I already believe and do validated my beliefs and made me that much more passionate about acting on them.  (And I also look forward to getting back to the first book, which I think will also be enlightening and encouraging.) To my fellow teachers, I hope your summer is equally uplifting.