Math Class Drops the Mic

A blog about teaching, with an emphasis on math.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

It's Your Boat


Captain, here’s what you need. You need a magic potion. Could be a little brandy to take the edge off, or coffee to put the edge back on, but you need to walk into your classroom and grab the wheel and right the ship. Or maybe the ship is maddeningly on course, like some robot ship from the future. Or there’s no ship, everybody’s in a life preserver, including you, smiling weakly because hey you’re still floating. Or everything’s going swimmingly, which makes you feel like the water’s probably a bit sharky. Maybe you’re the captain and first mate and crew and wondering if anyone else is going to do any work around here. You think you should just go back to farming. You really need a magic potion.



So what can you do? Be yourself, or your alter ego. Answer questions with a certainty that conveys authority and motivates buy-in, or admit you don’t know an answer to demonstrate that you’re all in this together. Command the room with captivating faux-thoritarian theatrics, or cede the stage to student directors. Never work harder than your students—give them ownership. Always work harder than your students—show them you care. No wonder you're seasick! It’s like a conference where the keynote is about the great new Common Child Succeeds Behind Pearson system but in the next room over there’s a guy evangelizing for a universal Pre-School Semester-At-Sea program (all grades are sink/swim). Meanwhile, you know, class starts in like 5 minutes and you still have to pee from all that, um, coffee. 

Let me level with you. The deck never will be. That’s also true for the playing field, budgets across departments, the answer blanks on the photocopies you just made, and so on. Kids love fair and as a teacher you will spend a lot of time modeling how to deal with life’s not. Accept the things you cannot change and all that. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that nip of brandy at the top, but we can’t change the past.

But Captain, there’s a lot of decisions you still get to make, and despite the conflicting salvos of advice you’ll hear, it doesn’t have to be chaos on the stacked deck of the USS "Hello, my name is ________." Because even though there’s not one right way to navigate the passage ahead, there’s a right way for you and your charges today. I know that sounds squishy as a jellyfish, but there’s a big difference between anarchic relativism and customizing your classroom to create a unique environment that plays to the strengths of you and your students. And these days, dear internet reader of internet writer, you are a pirate. Steal ideas, improvise solutions with the tools at hand, experiment and risk the Cliffs of Insanity for the sake of engaging the students in the adventure. Even though treasure would be nice (actually, really nice), you didn’t sign up for the doubloons, and your kid crew isn’t paying attention to you because they are stoked on job training per se. They want you to be a pirate, and they want to set sail. They are on board. (Even if sometimes you’d love for them to walk the plank.)

And I know that might sound a little smug, as if I’ve always been the King of the World, but some days I’ve ridden the stern of the Titanic, maybe been the ‘berg itself. Jack Sparrow’ed to keep them on their toes. Played the fearsome Blackbeard to keep them in line. Lurked secretively as Dread Pirate Roberts, hardly there except to save the day occasionally. And maybe this blog post using pirates has totally jumped the shark—ye went from pirates to zombies a long time ago, and in 2016 I should totally be doing super-heroes to keep up. Pirates was a risk, but taking risks is something I learned from a teacher once. She was pretty new, and she asked me for my advice. I told her what I thought she should do, and she took it on board. Next day she tossed it overboard like so much chum, did something else. Aye, I said, it’s your boat.



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23 comments:

  1. Taking calculated risks are always important. Good lesson for my middle schoolers too.

    -Lisa

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    1. Absolutely true for teachers and students alike. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Great post, and I love the humor in the blog to make what you are saying a little more easier for all of us. However, you are right on target. It sounds like you will make the voyage great!

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    1. I'm glad you got both the humor and hard truths in there! Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I laughed out loud at your imagery, Chris (i.e. 1) Getting kids onboard/secretly wishing they’d walk the plank 2) Brandy to take the edge off /Coffee to put the edge back on). Thanks for the fun (and brutally honest) post. I enjoyed the rocky ride!

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    1. Janice, I'm glad to hear that the risk payed off and you were able to stay afloat!

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  4. Great ideas and imagery! Thanks for a fun read!

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  5. Great advice! Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for reading Leah, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  6. This was a great read and it made me think of my first day as a school social worker. I wish someone had shared similar wisdom with me!

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    1. Thanks Yanique, I hope that it was helpful for other new teachers who might have felt like you did when you started out. Thanks for commenting!

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  7. This was a great read and it made me think of my first day as a school social worker. I wish someone had shared similar wisdom with me!

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  8. Thanks for the excellent advice and the chuckles :)

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    1. I'm glad you liked it Catia, thanks for commenting!

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  9. Student ownership!!!! "never work harder than your students" ๐Ÿ‘ great advice!

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  10. Yes to student ownership!! Thanks for the great advice.

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  11. Great advice!!!! My favorite as well as most people on here, was the student ownership part. It is my biggest take away and what my principal most speaks of. I should never work harder than they do.
    I also love that there's no right way, but there is a right way for my group and the kids I serve. Love!!
    BuggyForFirst

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    1. I'm glad that resonated for you, thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts!

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