This has been a year of reflection. Actually, every year is a year of reflection, but this year is different. In fact, I have reflected so much that at one point (and maybe still), I felt as though I was (am) having a bit of a teacher identity crisis. You know, like that friend who hits 40 and suddenly she cuts her hair, starts working out everyday, and quits eating carbs? Yeah, you know who you are. My identity crisis has come from not knowing who I am or what I am as a blended learning teacher; I do not know how I fit into this new teaching world. I know exactly who I am in the face to face classroom, but I cannot seem to translate that into blended learning. My colleagues and I keep going back to the analogy of being a student teacher or a first year teacher. As a first year teacher, you had an ok idea of who you were as a teacher - what your teaching style/philosophy was. You were a risk-taker because you were young and unafraid of taking risks, and most importantly you had an older and wiser veteran teacher there to keep you in line and offer guidance. This veteran teacher didn’t have to have the same philosophy, mine didn’t, but he knew what good teaching looked like based on how the kids responded. In our case, there is no older, wiser veteran teacher to keep us in line. We are rookies, but other teachers and administrators tell us we are brave and amazing and brilliant... what about our students? This past week almost 40% of my enrollment dropped; I have lost more students this week than in the previous 10 years combined teaching my face-to-face courses. Those around me have been supportive by making up every excuse possible, that doesn’t involve me being the problem, to try and make it seem like this is ok. The fact is, I have failed to translate myself digitally. “File install failed. Parts of the program may not function properly”; we have all seen this error message and now I am living it.
So now this weekend, looking at my reduced student roster, I am trying to find a way to fix this. I need to experience some sort of success so I can look at myself in the mirror again and not feel as though every student I walk by in the hallway is thinking, “There’s that shitty teacher who teaches that horrible online math class.” I need help from an older and wiser veteran who knows what the heck he/she is talking about to give me advice and guidance. Criticism does not hurt me; no, please do not be afraid. I have 15 weeks of student journals full of information about everything I did wrong, so a faceless person offering criticism will not hurt me a bit.
Here is who I know I am as a face-to-face teacher. I teach students to learn how to think, how to learn. I do this through discovery and inquiry - when I learned about the constructivist philosophy as an undergrad, I salivated at the mouth. After my students have explored, questioned, and have developed a good idea about the topic being learned, I follow it with the formal presentation of the concept and theory. Then we learn together by doing problems - the students practice basic skills at home and solve rich problems in small groups. I have flipped my classes intermittently to allow for more of the rich problem solving to be done in class. My favorite time of year is actually right now when my AP Calculus students are finally over the “I can’t answer your questions out loud, because I risk being wrong;” instead, they come to class and offer strong, firm feedback to each other. They have learned to not give each other the answers; they guide each other through the thought process of finding the answers, and in special cases, they encourage each other to find the best way to the answer or even extend that idea to a bigger one. I literally had tears in my eyes this past Thursday when I heard a quiet, “never outwardly participate in the thinking process” student say to another student, “Yes! That’s right and why did you decide to do that? What is ‘y’? Ok then, plug it in! What do you see?” At the end of the year, my kids are successful - nearly 90% of my students earn a 4 or 5 on the AP exam. Part of this is because they are good kids trained by highly qualified and amazing teachers before me, and part of it is because I think I do an ok job.
So why do I not translate digitally? Maybe the better question is, why would I want to? How can I do what I do better, or at least as good, in our chosen rotational blended model? 40% of my students have spoken. Yes, I know there are many reasons that students might drop a 5th level honors math course (especially if they had not taken an honors math course previously), but at the end of the day I did not deliver; I did not engage them. I did not teach them to think and I did not teach them how to learn in their digital space . So what does it take to be a good teacher in a blended environment? Tech savvy? (check) Successful in the face-to-face environment? (check) A risk taker? (check) Open to change and experimentation? (check) How about this list: 25 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers (from the blog TeachThought)? (check).
I had big ideas for this course and what I wanted it to be; my students and I were going to explore the unexplored together, but it is just not working for me. Maybe all highly effective, tech savvy teachers just do not translate to the blended learning environment to be effective blended learning environment teachers...file transfer incomplete.
Christina Hamman (@hammanmath on Twitter)