Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Student and Teacher - Willingness to Succeed


            Ever felt like this during a math lesson? Ever see a kid do this in your own math class? I certainly have.

          Let's begin with the first part of the two questions. I remember throughout grade school always being pretty confident about my abilities in math but all of a sudden when I hit high school, I seemed to have hit a wall. You might have seen me doing something like this if you were my teacher.

           It was not always like this. I did well in grade 9 but in grade 10 I definitely remember feeling disinterested and disconnected from my teacher and the material being taught. It was most likely a combination of two different factors. One, my teacher, although very knowledgeable in his field, really had a hard time explaining the material to his students. He was very traditional and usually did a simple note on chalkboard lesson, which ended in a couple examples and then left us to complete the work that corresponded to the lesson in our textbooks. 

          The second reason I think I did so poorly was because of the lack of my own involvement in the learning process. Perhaps it was because we were not engaged by the teacher, or because there were no fancy gimmicks. It is hard to explain. Maybe, simply, I was shy. However, I am sure that if I forced the issue with the teacher and asked pointed questions I could have initially done much much better. Instead, I simply put my head down and pretended I did not exist (and so did the teacher) and slumped through that semester of math. Later I would drop down a level and eventually retake my grade 11 math course at the university level and finally grade 12. Although, I did not love math I did feel that it would help me in life. (Perhaps I am just a glutton for punishment.)

         In answer to the latter of my two initial questions, I have seen this sort of behaviour in my own classroom. Students who shy away from asking questions only to dig themselves a trench later on. Although, as a teacher now, I try to reach out to those students and find ways to force them to be involved with their own learning. Sometimes this may mean doing a whole circus performance in order to get their attention. Sometimes, I simply need to take them aside at recess and talk to them independently. Other times, all it takes is for me to substitute their name into a reasoning question. 
Admittedly, I feel that sometimes I do better with some students than others. What I have learned though is that it comes down to a reciprocal relationship between teacher and student.

       As a teacher I must intervene when I see a student struggling. If I did not, I simply would not be doing my job to my full potential. This means I need to go out of my way to reach that shy and uninterested student. I know, it seems so much easier to go with the preferred and willing students in the classroom but after all we are employed to teach everyone. Finally, as a colleague of mine always reminds me: "You can lead the horse to water but you can't force him to drink." As I think back to my youth, maybe my teacher wasn't exactly pulling at my reigns but he did show me the path, it's just too bad I was more of a stubborn mule than a galloping steed. 
     I suppose all I am addressing is that for some, an appreciation of math comes over time. It takes a certain maturity, eagerness, and open mindedness to learn. An old japanese proverb goes something like this: "When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear." In my personal experience, both student and teacher must simply be willing.


  1. Having blog posts about personal reflections are a great way to give yourself some personal PD. Just the act of getting this stuff down is a way to clarify your thinking on these matters.
    On a technical side, when you have a lot of pictures, you may want to consider wrapping the text around the picture to save time. Just click on the picture in Edit mode and it will give you positioning topics.

  2. Don't forget to tag your posts

  3. What a great post. I love that you chose to tackle an issue that is found in every classroom, even though not many choose to sit back and reflect on it to the depth that you have. As a teacher, I want to do whatever I can to reach out to all my students (and their parents/guardians)regardless of their skill level. But like you said, it is a reciprocal relationship and we have to hope that they reach back.

  4. There are so many great points in your blog, Liam. And you're right when you say that it takes time and an open mindedness to see or understand something. I'm sure that your honesty and willingness to take risks with your own learning has taught many valuable lessons your students as well.