“You don’t teach us anything!”

When I first started teaching, these were words that cut to my core.  How could students say, after 180 days, that I did not teach them anything?  How could they, after sharing so many worries, problems, and doubts- thing that this would not effect me?  After the classroom discussions, projects and assignments could students feel that nothing was gained?  These were questions that floated around in my head and gave me many sleepless nights- until I realized one thing.  What are students really trying to tell me?

Students say my class is hard.  This statement impacted me differently over the years, depending on how I viewed myself as a teacher.  At first, it was a badge of honor.  A new teacher, and man he’s hard!  That means I am challenging my students, giving them content that will stretch their ability and increase their learning.  I was SuperTeacher!  That ego lasted only semester when I looked at final semester grades.  My students were struggling.  How can that be?  I know all these techniques and concepts from my education classes.  I recently took these classes and understand the content. There was the problem… I.  I was still in the role of my students, I was the center of my universe, I was only looking at what I was doing and how I thought about things. I, I, I- it was terrible.  I started to “train” myself to take on the student persona, see what they were learning, what did they need?

When I started looking at teaching through student lenses, I started to see a whole different meaning for my class being hard.  I started noticing gaps in knowledge, partial knowledge, outside issues and peer relations as blocks to my students being successful in my class.  I began to realize to be able to reach my student’s needs, I needed to fill a different gap for each student.  I started to focus on multiple learning styles with my lessons, I began to allow students to express their knowledge in multiple formats.  Students started to think math was not so hard anymore, and were really starting to have fun and excel.  Then, once again, there was a shift in the word “hard”.

This past year, “hard” has taken a new meaning.  Hard means that I have expectations on classroom procedures and expectations.  Hard means that if you are not done with your work, you don’t get to sit by your best friend and talk.  Hard now means that I assign homework to take home that parents can’t help with.  I am perceived as “hard” because when I am asked a question, instead of giving students answers, I ask a question in return to access student knowledge.  I am hard because answers do not fall from the sky in my class, they are the result of thought, application, connections and reflection.  I am hard on my students because I do not let them opt out of assignments and receive a 0, and do not crumble on my belief that students have an inherent knowledge of what to do.  I am hard because my students realize that I facilitate their learning, not give them answers.

There were times this year where I began to waver in my belief of how my teaching has progressed, but as this year comes to a close and I hear how students talk about their math problems and thinking, see how they approach a difficult task, watch as they describe and display their work- I know that my being “hard” is exactly what they need.  Whether or not they want to admit it, I did not teach them “anything” this year, they learned skills that they needed to be successful in Mathematics for future years.

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