Why I Love What I Do

I walk into the classroom and stand for a moment observing the sea of life before me.  A couple of kids quietly talking together, a larger group having a good laugh, a trio playing math games, a boy studying the classroom fish tank, a girl on the rug deep into her book while her hand slowly reaches for an apple slice.  So much going on, but really nothing much at all.  Just kids being kids…

It’s that moment just before I begin working with students that really thrills me.  I think it’s because I know what’s coming.  I’m always excited to undertake this journey with them, to discover what we’ll learn together – the new understandings I might influence in their study of mathematics or social justice, and the insights they’ll impart to me.

As a veteran teacher and consultant there are lessons and problem solving tasks I have used hundreds of times in classrooms all across the US.  I know exactly how they’ll unfold, how much time each lesson will require, how kids will typically solve the tasks, what the outcomes will be.

But just when I think I’ve heard it all a student will surprise me with a new insight or observation.  She’ll offer a solution strategy unlike any other that has come before.  He’ll ask a new question.  They’ll wonder about the topics in a fresh and surprising way.  All of these different minds working together, all these curious souls eager to understand themselves and their world.  It’s incredibly exciting.

That’s the beauty of problem solving and crafting an environment where students own their thinking.  The sense of pride, the risk-taking, and the empowerment that result all work together to give kids what they deserve from a quality classroom – the confidence and competence to be problem solvers, and to tackle challenging situations as they arise.   These traits are relevant not just in the math class, but in all areas of life.  The tools sharpened in this room will go far beyond our work together, as the questions we ask here can be useful anywhere:  How do I approach this problem?  What strategies do I have for solving it?  Can I look at the situation a different way?  Where can I go for help?  These are not just math skills.  They’re life skills.

The first of the CCSSM Standards for Mathematical Practice says that students can make sense of problems and persevere in solving themIt goes on to describe what this looks like in practice:

Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.  They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals.  They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt.  They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution.  They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary.

It takes skill and practice to be an effective teacher who can lead students on their journey to becoming problem solvers.  The first step on that road is LOVE.  We must love what we do and infuse our classrooms with enthusiasm.   We must love and respect our students, believe in them, and be willing to plunge with them into the oft-perceived messiness of a problem-based classroom.  We must believe in ourselves, and be the risk takers we work so hard to help our students become.

It’s so worth it.  The insights we get of how a child thinks help us become better teachers for them, because they illuminate where we need to go next.   Even in that one short school year we can make a difference.  We can help to shape a child’s life by being their champions, by helping them to embrace their strengths, and by putting the power where it really belongs – into their own hands.

Here are three such empowered students, reflecting on what education means to them:

Meet Melissa PerezJulia Delmedico, and Shahruz Ghaemi




One Response to “Why I Love What I Do”
  1. angelina says:

    Exquisitely said! And the Melissa Perez video was especially touching, what a beautiful girl.

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