Back to School Issue

  • Gojak100x140 By NCTM President Linda M. Gojak
    NCTM Summing Up, August 2, 2012

    The month of August is a special time for teachers and students. Teachers are preparing classrooms and materials, eagerly awaiting the opening of school. Students are buying school supplies and clothes. Both are likely to be dreading the end of summer vacation but also excited about going back to school. This is a season of anticipation—new teachers, new students, new materials, new ideas—even new pencils. It is an exciting time for everyone. Unlike any other career, teaching offers us a chance for a new beginning—a fresh start! 

    Without a doubt, education has changed significantly since I began teaching. There were no high-stakes tests. Test scores weren’t published in the local paper or online. The most innovative technologies in the classroom were an overhead projector and an electric typewriter. Times have certainly changed! 

    However, the reason we chose to enter this profession has not changed. We must be our best and do our best for every child who enters our classroom, whether it’s the kindergarten student going to school for the first time, or the college senior who will soon begin a new career. They are our responsibility. They are why we teach.

    A new calendar year often brings resolutions to become a better person. Why not consider making resolutions for the new academic year? Think about beginning the school year with one or two resolutions that will help you become a better teacher. 

    Here are some ideas to get you started:

    1. Incorporate student reasoning and sense making into every mathematics lesson. Whether you are teaching a mathematical concept or procedure, teach to help students understand by making sense for themselves.
    2. Plan your lessons around student learning, not around what you will say or do. Think about what your students need and what will help them to understand the mathematics you are teaching.
    3. Build a library of rich tasks for your lessons. A good task is likely to take more than one class period; however, it will help students to learn the mathematics with deeper understanding and will almost certainly be intrinsically interesting and highly motivating.
    4. Work with your colleagues. Whether you share a good lesson or resource, plan together, talk together, and learn together.
    5. If you are a veteran teacher, consider mentoring a novice teacher. Your informal guidance, encouragement, resources, and wisdom will contribute to your colleague’s professional growth.
    6. Take time to read a professional article or book each month. Select a topic that you want to learn more about, such as formative assessment, asking good questions, or problem solving. When you have completed your reading for the month, pass the book or article on to a colleague.
    7. Join a local or state mathematics professional organization. If you are already a member, encourage a colleague who is not a member to join. Not only do professional organizations provide avenues for professional growth—they also offer networking opportunities. This is a great way to learn about what is happening in other schools in your area.
    8. Take advantage of at least one professional development opportunity this year. It could be a local or state mathematics meeting or an NCTM conference. Your participation is a great way to stay current on standards, content, pedagogy, and new materials you can use in your classroom.
    9. Learn something new! Whether you choose something that has an impact on your teaching or something that interests you outside of school, we become better teachers when we are also learners.
    10. Don’t overwhelm yourself! If you try to change everything, you won’t be successful, and you’ll fall back into your usual routine. Think about changing 10 percent of your practice. Small steps can make a big difference.

    Now here is the tricky part: Although intentions are good, life gets busy, and we can easily forget our best-laid plans. Hold yourself accountable. Make a purposeful effort to take inventory of your resolutions. One way to do this is to keep a journal with brief entries. Ask yourself how your resolutions are affecting you and your students. 

    As you are shopping for those back-to-school specials or when you spot a magazine with the headline “Back to School Issue,” think about your life’s work and the opportunity you have to recharge your professional battery before the bell rings on the opening day of school. And then, as NIKE reminds us, “Just Do It!”