My sister asked me this past weekend: "Are you going to make things easy on yourself and actually teach the same thing next year?" I argued that I had been teaching Algebra I for four years, with occasional forays into other areas (especially this year). Nevertheless, it made me reflect back on how difficult it had been to teach a full Algebra II class for the first time this year.
In Texas, Algebra II wouldn't be much different than Algebra I because the standardized test (the TAKS) forces teachers to spend a lot of time reteaching the same concepts students were taught the year before.
In Massachusetts, in a charter school where I had a bit more freedom and less extremism in response to test scores, my Algebra II class was allowed to be something closer to what it should be. Unfortunately, I think one of my biggest failures this year was that I haven't done a good job teaching it. There are a number of simple reasons:
- I haven't taught a great deal of the material before--in some cases, I haven't done the problems since I was in high school. There were times when I felt like a first year teacher again in this situation.
- Having no experience with teaching these concepts means that I didn't have a wide range of engaging, innovative strategies prepared. My resource books didn't push far beyond basic Algebra and I didn't have an exhaustive list of online resources that covered topics like these. Sometimes it was an exhilarating challenge, but mostly it resulted in me beating myself up for perceived incompetence.
- Frankly, I taught a lot of topics very poorly. I spent a lot of time fumbling through lessons, realizing I had left something important out or failed to notice a simple way to explain a difficult concept until after I had done so in the most difficult way possible. There have been many days where I've to reteach something from scratch, telling students to basically forget what I said previously. It's embarrassing.
- I've held back some of my brightest, most advanced students. There are some kids who are ready for Pre-Calculus if not AP-level work, but my lack of familiarity with the material makes it hard for me to prepare something ahead of time.
In a Sentence
Teaching a new subject is an incredible challenge no matter how much experience you have.