Yesterday was the last day of school. It’s hard to believe I’ve already taught a full year. In some respects, I still feel new to all of this middle school teaching business. In other respects, I know my teaching is drastically different (in the best possible ways) than my teaching a year ago.
If you would have told me a year ago, when I was fresh out of college, that I would end up teaching 6th grade mathematics, I probably would have laughed. The idea of teaching middle school was not really on my radar. I spent my college years preparing to teach high school students, then I student taught at a high school teaching geometry and precalculus. When I got hired for 6th grade math, I was surprised and I decided I needed to make the best of the situation.
Little did I know, 6th grade math would prove to be one of the biggest challenges and successes for the start of my teaching career. Within a couple weeks, I realized that I was where I needed to be. The conceptual gaps and weaknesses I saw when teaching high school students were the very topics I was teaching 11 year olds every day. On many occasions, I was surprised to learn what my students had not grasped from earlier grades and the differences in my teaching. I never really taught a concept the way I was taught. I love this experience because I learned early in my university days that I would be endlessly bored teaching with lectures and examples every day. I saw my management style and motivation strategies develop considerably. I learned some of the nuances between a good question and a poor question. I fully realized the importance of giving students experiences that build abstract mathematical concepts from physical manipulatives and pictorial representations. Finally, I experienced the challenges of developing student abilities to communicate mathematics.
I did not magically turn into an expert teacher during my first year. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be an expert. I still have a ton of areas to improve throughout my career, but I look back at this year knowing that I hopefully made 6th grade math a worthwhile experience for my students. Next year, I plan to focus my improvement in the following areas:
- Questioning– I want my questions to be of a higher quality and avoid the tendency to simplify questions for the sake of momentum. I also want to develop an atmosphere in the class that encourages students to ask more questions and provide tools to aid in this process (such as question stems).
- Representations– Throughout the year, I used some manipulatives and pictorial representations to introduce concepts. In most situations, these concepts ended up being the most memorable and successful for my students. I want to increase the use and quality of manipulatives I use next year, along with placing students in situations where the manipulatives serve to promote discovery of concepts. This practice is just a fundamental principle of constructivism, so I’m surprised I didn’t use this practice more.
- Progression– I want to overhaul a unit or two next year based on the successes and failures I saw this year. For my honors class, the peer teaching project made the fraction unit an awesome experience for students to develop communication and class communication. Many students were enthusiastic about this project in my end of course survey. I think using this project with another unit will further promote the thinking of students. In my general classes, I plan to make the statistics unit more sequential and focused on one idea: describing data distributions. This year was a hodge podge of measures of central tendency, graphs, MAD, box plots, and analyzing data. I tied everything together, but students tended to mix up concepts because we were using everything at once. My plan for next year is to start with graphs, then ask students, “How we can describe data and know what data set is better?” The question is purposefully vague, but really powerful in creating an intellectual need to make sense of data. Everything else in the unit will become one of the many answers to this question.
- Procedures and Routines– I changed up my routines throughout the year based on the needs of my classes. I know I will need to change things up next year as well, but some practices I stumbled upon this year will definitely be used from the start. Music cues were definitely a way for me to save my sanity and promote independence in students. Stamping bellwork worked okay, but I was the only teacher I knew of that used bellwork routinely (making it a little difficult for students to buy into this year). Finally, I started having each student create a pseudo-Interactive Notebook (INB) during 4th quarter and I promoted using notes for homework help and practice activities. The quality of notes increased and I noticed more students referring to notes, so I plan to develop INBs from the start of the year. This goal will take a lot of time and creation on my part, so I plan to be conservative and use a 50/50 split between “regular” notes and the interactive variety.
I wrote these thoughts down as a future reference for myself, but I also needed to organize my thoughts from the year. If you read this far into the post, I thank you and I hope it was somewhat enlightening or relatable. I wonder if other first year teachers (or any teacher for that matter) came to similar conclusions at the end of this year?