7 Deadly Sins of Teaching [Maths]

‘Tis the eve of FDOS (first day of school, duh), and I’m no longer nervous or anxious. I’m washing these laptop covers for my homeroom students only because that’s what some of my colleagues did with their kids’ covers. I will not let a kid taunt me on FDOS with, “How come Mrs. So and So gave her students clean covers?” Oh yeah? Well, did you ask if she’d adopt you for the next 180 days?

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I committed all 7 sins at one time or another, but there’s no shame involved — says a recovering Catholic — instead, it is a reflection of sorts.

Giving extra credit. I don’t care where you teach, how old your students are, what your zodiac sign is, you’re going to have at least one kid who’ll ask for extra-credit “work” at the eleventh hour of the grading period. Don’t do it. Say no and walk away because the tears might come streaming down his/her face and you have to ration the use of Kleenex. And you should be ashamed of yourself for giving students extra-credit points for bringing in copy papers, sticky notes, dry-erase markers, tissue boxes, doughnuts. Yes, you should send me some.

Giving timed multiplication drills. Maybe there’s a well-documented success story behind this madness that I’m not aware of, but to me, it perpetuates the myth of faster-is-smarter. This practice raises self-doubt and affirms the why-should-I-even-bother mindset.

Giving out the equation. That’s like giving away life’s secrets to someone who flies to Paris to have lunch. Meaning, they don’t need it, nor did they ask for it. Your students’ conversations, their conjectures, their models — are all at the heart of a math class. To give away the equation is to passively (and aggressively!) dismiss our students’ abilities to think for themselves. It’s okay to eventually give them the equation in due time, just don’t start with the equation. Imagine if I just gave my students the equations for slope and area of a circle.

Teaching from one source. No one source is that good. The creators of that source would be fools to not concede that point. It’s like eating out at the same restaurant or boasting that you can make chicken 50 different ways. No you can’t, and nobody cares. Let one or two sources be your structural outline, your mainstay, then supplement it with your favorite lessons or other teachers’ favorite lessons. Remember, any well-crafted lesson outside of the textbook that you can bring in is your gift to your students. Tell them that. And with our prolific #MTBoS, you cannot afford not to supplement.

Talking, talking, you’re still talking. I pretty much end every workshop with this reminder: The more you talk, the less your kids learn. I plan each lesson using this as my go-to guiding principle. Math is a highly social endeavor, so for the love of Ramanujan and Lovelace, please stop talking so much so your kids may talk! Every question you pose is an opportunity for your kiddos to ponder [quietly by oneself first] and share their thoughts with peers. Every question! If you fret that your kids don’t talk in class, then I wonder about two things, 1) Do students feel safe enough to talk in your class? and 2) Is the question you’re asking interesting/worthwhile/challenging to even bother? (I must have asked hundreds of lame, boring, worthless questions, but I’m not giving up. I practice and get better.)

Keeping up with the Joneses. That colleague whose hair and complexion are always perfect is just not as funny as you are. That teacher whose students all adore her probably owns a cat that wants to kill her. And that “amazing” teacher whom everyone talks about probably sucks at everything else in life! And he might be a compulsive hoarder of all things creepy! So, don’t mind them. We’re not here to compete with one another. We’re here to make mathematics rock for our kids. There is one you and 24 hours in a day. Make time for yourself, make time for your family. We all have shitty days that rob us of our wits and sensibilities, but recognizing that and committing to having a better day tomorrow are worthy endeavors. Our students need us more than they care to admit.

Being an asshole. I already stated from the beginning that I’m guilty. No one wants to learn from someone who’s mean and angry and bossy. When we try to establish authority in the classroom, we may inadvertently end up being perceived as this person. The meaner we get, the less students want to have anything to do with us, so the angrier we get. It’s a vicious cycle, and everyone is losing. We’re the adult in the room, charged with a magnificent duty to establish a learning culture, which will not happen if we don’t behave like an adult. Children are said to be resilient, but they are also impressionable, and their impressionable minds are vulnerable — vulnerable to criticism, to shame, to false praises.

Let’s pray for more patience, more kindness, more badass. Here’s to us — and to a great school year!

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