Sometimes teaching is a very lonely profession. For the majority of your day, you’re completely on your own with no colleagues to bounce ideas off of or get approval from.
This afternoon I was grading tests and the class was doing so horribly on them that I had a total crisis of confidence. I started to worry that I am actually getting worse as a teacher. The truth is, I’m a bit sick of this class. They were not a fun class last year when they were still cute 2nd graders (=American 8th graders). Now they’re in the throes of puberty and it’s become a real drag to teach them — they don’t work hard enough and therefore they’re not performing well. But isn’t that my fault as much as theirs? Isn’t it my job to motivate them and help them achieve, regardless of how (legitimately) annoying some of them are? Obviously I’m doing something wrong within the class itself.
Then I also started to worry that beyond my failures in motivating the students, maybe this test I gave suddenly exposed weaknesses that had been hiding throughout the years. Being that I am one of the few teachers teaching in English in my school, I am often completely (or almost completely) on my own and have no one to collaborate with. I like that in some ways, because I can set my own pace and design my own assessments…but what if I’ve been designing poor assessments? I was out for surgery for a week, so I didn’t have the time to focus on making my own test. So I took questions from a Dutch colleague’s test that covered the same material. They were hard! Harder than I’d normally give.
One question in particular was a killer: if , for what value of p will the function touch the x-axis just once. It should be noted that they’ve done lots of these types of problems — they know that when a parabola touches the x-axis only one time that the discriminant is zero, and they’ve worked with parameters before. What was different about this problem is that in every other problem they’ve done, the b-value was something like 3p, a monomial not a binomial. The simple act of changing b to a binomial made them all fall apart. Not a single student in the entire class got it fully correct.
I asked my colleague and she said that her students didn’t do well on it either, but does that mean the question was too hard, or does it mean that it’s a great question because it exposes faulty thinking? What if all along I’ve been giving tests that are not cognitively demanding enough? What if I’m actually holding back my students’ achievement by not only being annoyed by them but also by not properly assessing them? How do I know that the assessments I’m creating are rich enough?
I got so upset sitting in my classroom alone this afternoon marking these terrible tests (it should be noted that this wasn’t the only terrible question — and they did poorly on things that weren’t even hard), that I had to leave and have been reflecting on this ever since.
I do feel alone in a lot of ways. I’m the only person teaching three out of the five courses I teach. In one department where I work, I really truly do not have a partner. In other departments there are like-minded people, but somehow there’s never the time to collaborate. Then I read all the #MTBoS stuff and it sometimes makes me feel worse about my practice, like, shit, am I doing things all wrong, am I lazy, am I not tech-savvy enough, am I not connected enough? And even though I take some inspiration from what I read in #MTBoS, I often feel alone here too — most folks blogging are doing so within the American system, whereas I am working within the IB and the Dutch TTO system. I want to pick people’s brains — what textbooks are you using? what tasks are you giving? how are you incorporating the Areas of Interaction and the upcoming Global Contexts?
So yeah, teaching is a lonely profession.