Weekly Reflection – Upping the speed on the treadmill

The first week of first trimester has seen my workload triple. Instead of taking one course on theorists I was already familiar with, I am now taking three courses: numeracy, literacy and teaching strategies. Of the three courses teaching strategy is the one causing me the least headaches (I’ve already had 4 years in a classroom as language teacher in Asia) while the numeracy paper is definitely causing the most anxiety. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about math!

Oddly my mathphobia wasn’t because I hated math at school. In fact the opposite is true, I enjoyed and did well in math up until about year 12 /13. What’s caused my anxiety is that the teaching of math has changed  considerably from the skill and drill style I excelled in during my schooling years. The focus now is on to getting learners to use strategies and build on their prior knowledge in order to solve math problems, rather than just following formulas taught to us up the front.

I think this style of teaching is exciting because I can see how it would get more kids turned onto to math by getting them to think about how they arrive at a concept rather than just blindly following a model that may (or more likely may not) have any meaning to them. But it has also challenged my own perceptions of math and made me realize that I have huge gaps in my own numeracy skills. Doing the old-style long division seems like a breeze in comparison to the multiple pathways that students could employ to get at their answers. Nevertheless, I can see how this new method might take the terror out of math for some students and deepen their understanding of numbers.

It has been a tough week to come up to speed on the New Zealand Curriculum, English Language Learning Progressions, National Standards and the Numeracy Development Project. Of the documents that I’ve been speed reading, the Numeracy Development Project documents are the ones that I am finding the most stimulating.  However I’m not sure where exactly National Standards fit into the mix of documents, other than to say I feel for all the year 1-4 teachers who are having to do assessment based on http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/National-Standards/Reading-and-writing-standards/The-standards“>when a student starts school rather than at the end of the year.*

So what I have learned this week?

Prioritize – There are only so many hours in a day and only so many concepts I can wrap my head around in one go. At the moment I am focused on getting my assignments done and grasping as much of the course content as I can. Then I’ll use the holidays to catch up on the stuff I missed.

Do or do not, there is no try – Yoda was right, there is no try. This week has flown by in a flurry of jargon, acronyms and concepts. I’ve read a lot of words but don’t feel like I’ve absorbed much meaning but that’s because I spent half the week trying to understand and feeling like I was failing miserably. Once I attempted my assignments and found I was able to bang out half of them in the space of a few hours. I’ve discovered that the best way to get a grasp on all these readings is to put them into practice.

Put away your cape – Perhaps one of the biggest pressures student teachers feel is that they have to be super teacher from day 1. The large number of documents that I’ve had to absorb this week have upped that pressure a further notch. But then I remembered the wise words of one of my friends who freely admitted that his first few years of teaching weren’t his best work and he needed time to work out his own style of teaching. Being bad when you start is normal, not being open to improving is the problem whether you are a newbie student teacher or an educator with decades of experience.

This week more than any week so far has made me feel like I am practising for real life. I know that out in the ‘real world’ there’s always going to be something for me to read and reflect on and more importantly there are going to be demands placed on my time and my students’ time.  Learning the ins and outs of what the State requires from our education system and then finding ways to make it work in a classroom setting seem as daunting as a half-marathon course at the start of the race. But I’ve made it across that finish line, and I’m sure I’ll make it across the next one.

I was also reminded how quickly education changes. While some would say this is a bad thing, education by its very nature is in a constant state of reform. New ideas, new students and new technology mean that teachers are constantly having to change the way they practice their craft and that has implications for the sector as a whole. Nevertheless, I would love the Ministry of Education to stop churning out documents for a couple of years so that I can get a handle on things.

We’ve had the slow food movement, anyone up for a slow education one ? I promise there will be no capes 🙂

*New Zealand students generally start school on their fifth birthday rather than at the start of a school year or term.

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