The MEGnitude of Change

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 11 2013

Ms. Barnett/Meg: A Modern Day Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

POP QUIZ: When sitting at a class, staring up at a SmartBoard, holding a mini-whiteboard, you feel compelled to:
(a) Fill every inch of your whiteboard with your signature, so that it’s absolutely perfect for the day when adoring fans scream for your autograph.
(b) Text your friend from across the room, who you haven’t chatted with since winter break because she popped into class late.
(c) Tweet the funny comment your friend made earlier in the day.
(d) Pay attention & learn something.

Last night, I became a part of my very own classroom. The oh-so-professional & on-task Ms. Barnett disappeared and was replaced with Meg, the gregarious & overly social student in a math content professional development session.

Let’s face it: teachers are the worst students. Whenever we’re put into a room together, we exhibit the very behaviors that drive us crazy in our own classrooms — talking with each other, doing unrelated work, texting & tweeting & who knows what else on our smartphones. Last night, I fell victim to every unproductive urge that plagues my students every day, and I felt their pain.

Beyond lack of focus, however, I felt another crucial emotion: anxiety. When asked to solve a problem on my very own whiteboard & display it to the class, my mind raced. What if I get the answer wrong? What if I look stupid in front of my teacher, or worse yet, my peers? Performance anxiety paralyzed me. I sat silently, hoping to not get called on.

“Okay, then what’s the value of x?”
“Negative two.”

In an awkward pause, I offered a correct answer — an obvious one, but a correct answer nonetheless. In a moment, a flood of relief washed over me. I felt smart. Confident. I showcased my mathematical prowess while solving systems of equations. I could breathe easy.

Last night, I became one of my students, and I saw what they face each day in my very own classroom. What does this mean for me as a teacher? (1) More than just math is going on in my classroom each day. I must acknowledge these distractions, giving them room to breathe when appropriate (and potentially harnessing them) but refocusing them when it’s time to get to work. (2) My students are pushing up against the boundaries of their knowledge each day in my class. They have to feel safe to take intellectual risks — to make mistakes and move forward.

Ms. Barnett is back in action, ready to use her Meg experiences to fuel her Friday.

About this Blog

My journey in mathematics and beyond

High School

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