My teaching style

I was told today by one of my students that some her friends from the class are seeking extra tutoring from other teachers in the school. The reason they gave was they didn't like my teaching style.

I understand that. My style is very non-traditional. I don't give them all the information they need, or if I do then it is hidden within some information they need to sort through to figure out what part goes where. A traditional-style teaching (which the students are wanting) would be something like this, that I've seen other teachers do:



Teaching this way is comfortable for the students. After four days of working with tens of problems like this each day, they learn the skill of finding the y-intercept.

The next step: let's spend four days finding the gradient of the line.

After that, put those two things together and find the y-intercept and the gradient.

Finally, put it all together in an equation that looks like y=mx+c.

It's easy teaching. It's easy learning. Barely any effort has to be put into it.


I can't teach like this. I mean, I can. It's easy enough that anyone can print off worksheets filled with problems like these or hand out a textbook and let the book be the teacher. But no. It's not for me.


I have this strange idea in my head that students need to use their brains. We need to remove information from the questions so that the students need to do some planning, some preparation, before getting to the final answer. They need to understand what it means to be the y-intercept. Why is c=8 in that first question above? Is it just because that's where it crosses the axis? Or could it be found another way? Getting away from the calculation, what does the y-intercept mean? What is the context surrounding the problem? Perhaps the problem is about the number of pies there are in the fridge. After three days, there are four left. Given the equation of the line, how many were there to begin with? Oh, it's eight pies. Going further, thinking about whether this type of graph would actually work for such a context. Does the number of pies continually decrease, or does it happen in discrete values? We need to think about things in this manner.


That's what it is to think.


Below is a recent Google Slide I made for the class (with the artwork, the ideas, the scaffolding work, the designing, the research, and the math, this took just over 3 hours to produce).


I don't give them all the information. They have to go online to find it. At this point, they have been introduced to the gradient and the intercepts. They know what they are and how to calculate them. There is a little bit of work to do when talking about rates-of-change as the gradient, but that's covered in class. The problem with this type of task? It has too many words and the students have to think about the context behind it. They just want the numbers to plug-and-chug.




This task gets us to come up with the equation. We need to search for the rate of change and the y-intercept. We need to think about why these are the m and c in the equation. Then we need to use our algebra skills to make a prediction based on the data. We're going to communicate our thinking so others can check if we're right, and we can check if others are right. We're going to not only check with others in the class, but with others on the other side of the planet. Finally, we're going to think about why our model could be wrong: What assumptions have we made? Number crunching isn't math. It's these thoughts. Instead of doing 30 questions from a textbook in a period, we do one or two problems. Quality over quantity. Understanding over basic skills.


Back to this students friends..


I had a chat to the other teacher, saying that the students might come to him for help. He told me that I can tell them to f*** off. That's exactly the response I wanted. These students need to come to me for help. They have made no effort for help. Of course, I won't tell them that. I asked this teacher if he could tell them that when they come to him. He was very happy to oblige as the same thing has happened to him in the past.


I get lots of emails from students every day. None of them from these students.

I get people staying back after class to discuss the work. Never from these students.

I get students working in class, raising their hands, talking on task with each other, discussing the problem. These students socialize in class.


Where is the effort? It's the math problem all over again. They're looking for the easy way. The path of least resistance. I can't give them that. Why? Because I care about them. I care about their futures. I have evidence showing how struggling through problems increases persistence and gives a greater understanding than working on skills. (I'll be adding this to the other website soon as my database to refer to at times like this).


If you're a student reading this, you need to understand that the teacher is there for you. They are there to help you. If you are struggling then ask for help. One-on-one teaching is so much more effective than whole-class teaching. I can't go at your speed and level when I have 30 kids in the class all at different stages. Ask for help.

Ironically, none of them want to be mathematicians when they grow up. They often ask "when will we use this in the real world". Ironic because they're never going to use this math directly in the real world, but it's the stuff they're complaining they want to do in class. Ironic because the skills that my tasks provide are the things that they are going to use as photographers, or actors, or hairdressers, or mechanics... and these are the tasks they want to avoid.


As you might know, I've been really struggling lately and rethinking my career choice. Over the week, I've been putting in the hard hours with professional development and talking it through with some people. The depression started to subside and I have been feeling encouraged and re-invigorated about teaching. Now, with this kind of feedback from the students, and a little something extra from another part of the school, I'm back to thinking I won't last in this profession long. It's a job that just keeps beating you down.


I apologise to the students that do like me and my teaching, but it seems the negatives outweigh the positives and I will always put my mental health first before anything.

© TheMathLab