The MEGnitude of Change

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 24 2013

Feeling like a terrible teacher isn’t always a bad thing

“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Proverbial wisdom has been ringing through my head recently (primarily in the form of Florence & the Machine). Not because I had experienced the hope of dawn, but because those words became all I had. I returned to some pre-fall break state of depression & angst. I felt like a terrible teacher, a failure, and I struggled to find room for hope in my classroom. Each day, I was trying to cover an unruly amount of material — too much for my kids to grab onto & master. Each day, my investment in my own positive behavior management strategies was waning. Each day, I felt less & less effective in the classroom.

That’s where I was — feelings of utter failure.

Today, I walked into school with a bit of a sense of recklessness: what did I have to lose? I had been failing miserably in each class…so, let’s go. Let’s see what happens.

What happened?
– In my fourth period, I keep trying to tackle too much in each lesson. We’re moving too fast. Today, one of my students stayed after and said, “Ms. Barnett, we’re going to get this. Even if you confuse us, you always come back with a new idea that makes a topic clear to us. This stuff is cool — we’ll get it.”
– In my fifth & sixth periods, we tried a new idea. We wrote down everything that was frustrating us, crumpled it up in a ball, and threw it in the trashcan. Me too. We let our frustrations go & got down to work. It felt good.
– In my sixth period, a few of my students got hyped on the math. Who knows why, but they got excited about it. They went around the room helping other students, giving high fives & fist bumps. Offering genuine “why”s, not just “what”s. Even asking questions. WHEW.

The truth is this — my classroom is rarely calm. Almost never. It’s usually filled with noise — hopefully positive noise, but sometimes angry or frustrated noise. It’s filled with something. My job is to acknowledge all that’s there & figure out a way to channel the energy into math & education & all that jazz.

Today, a few things happened. Maybe I needed to feel like a terrible teacher to begin to feel like a semi-decent one again.

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My journey in mathematics and beyond

High School

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