Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Me Retire? Ha!

It happened twice in the last week and never before. Two people, separately, asked me how long I've been teaching for.

Me: I'm in my 28th year of teaching.

Them: Wow! You must be getting ready to retire!


My boss chuckled to himself at my reaction to the first woman, as we were at a conference together and chatting with others at our table.

Am I really ready to retire? No! And here's why.

  • I'm 48 years old. Yes, I got my first teaching job right out of college, and got the offer the night I graduated college...and yes, it was weird that I called them back from the pay phone at the Econo-Lodge bar, where I was celebrating with my friends. Forty-eight is still young, right? RIGHT??? I was always the youngest in my group, and now I've got the most seniority in my department...I actually think I've had that seniority for like 10 years?? True, I've gotten to the age where I am generally older than my student's parents. But so what? They keep me young, so I've got to stay!
  • It just keeps getting better and better. I feel sorry--actually very sorry--for new teachers. It's AWFUL. My student teaching experience was terrible. I was horrible and could not control the students. In fact, I was up for an award at graduation, and after the department chair observed me, I saw him shake his head at my mentor. I knew I was bad. The first year I taught, I had a horrible, horrible geometry class. There were two boys, in particular, that were rude and loved to disturb the class discussions (Jim and Bill. I still remember.) I literally did not know what to do with them. However, if I did not go through that, I never would have known how to handle classes later. And thankfully, with the bad classes, came the good ones, where kids would just smile and be happy and love your class. Sure on occasion, I still get a bad class - we all do - just a strange mix of kids. But you have good days and bad days, and my good days now FAR outnumber the bad ones. In the beginning, every day was a bad day. Every weekend, I had tears about this student or that student, and my grandmothers (in blessed memory) listened to my tortured soul. I never thought I'd last as a teacher in the beginning. NOW is the BEST, and why would I want to leave?
  • The explosion of #MTBoS, or the Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere has changed my math department from 11 people to thousands. I update and change lessons constantly based on what my tweeps are suggesting. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But in the beginning, all I had was me, that purple ditto machine (with toxic fluid), and overhead transparencies that left me with a perpetual blue/green tinge on the side of my hand, and maybe one other teacher who taught the same subject as me, who in my mind was so much better, there was nothing I could do to be that good. In time, came confidence, which you can't gain any other way, in my opinion, than from getting a clean slate each year and knowing what works and what doesn't.
  • Apps such as Apple TV, Notability, YouTube videos, Google drive, and tons of others. Although not always perfect, these apps have changed my teaching tremendously. Technology has exploded and I can send students my notes in seconds, can work on documents on any computer with ease without emailing back and forth to myself or to colleagues, can find a great video to send my students if I want them to preview something (gosh do they love https://www.youtube.com/user/Mathbyfives), can create one wicked game of Kahoot!, and the list goes on. 
  • Deep, reflective workshops. Don't get me wrong, back in the 90's, NCTM conferences were my jam. I went to them religiously. We were forced to join in college, and I went every year for YEARS, but I started getting annoyed when you had to leave one session 15 minutes earlier to ensure that you get into a session that you wanted. I attended Twitter Math Camp for the last two years, and it was AMAZING. But this year, there was a lottery, and I was bummed, because for me, I get A LOT out of talking about the workshops with a colleague that attends with me. In fact, I think I get more out of that than going alone, as we can discuss how to apply it on a deeper level in a setting that we both know. So I didn't apply, knowing not all of us would get to go. I hope they change that next year. Last week, I went to Jo Boaler's workshop on Teaching Mathematical Mindsets. It was great! She had us think deeply about how to get kids to problem-solve without worrying so much if they were right or wrong, but more about just getting them to think and talk mathematics without fear or stigma of getting it wrong. We did a really fun activity that I will add below...so good, in fact, that my boss and I dragged 14 boxes of sugar cubes back on the red-eye so we could do the activity that morning. This summer, I am going to take a course at Cambridge University on Thinking Mathematically. I just decided one day to look at the Oxbridge catalog, and boom there it was. I won't stop going to workshops because they make me think differently; they change me to make me a better teacher. I keep looking for new ones because I keep wanting to learn. Having an empty nest certainly makes that easier!
So no, woman 1 and 2, and all the others who will probably start asking in the future, I am not planning on retiring soon. I am having too much fun. NOW is the time to teach. To those of you who find teaching hard...know that confidence comes with years of experience, and it will get better, as long as you have the time to put into it. Find conferences that speak to you. Don't be afraid to apply for grants. See what's out there and just go for it. Network with the people you meet who may become friends for life. It's a big world out there, but mathematically speaking, there are many other people just like you looking for new, innovative ways to teach. 

What's my point? This old dog CAN and WILL learn new tricks. And I will do so for many years to come, G-d willing. Here's to another 28 years. 
Students then discovered formulas for an nxn cube - facinating relationships!!

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