Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mrs. Olsen's World

   I'm a little different and that's okay. We all are but as we grow from being a middle schooler where everyone wants to be like everyone else into adulthood where we learn to embrace our uniqueness there is a major transition in our thinking. The same thing has to happen when you become a teacher. When I moved to Virginia I was hired as a 6th grade science teacher. After doing that for two years I mentioned to the principal that if they were making changes over the summer (something that often happened in this very large school) I would like to go to math as that was my major and something I love to teach. Well I asked for it and I got it. But it was a much different experience than I had when I was back in Connecticut. Here there was an intense pacing guide that allowed 8 days for this concept and 10 days for another. ACK!!! My student's abilities were not matching with the pacing guide???What do I do?  So in my core meetings I would listen to what all the other teachers were doing and I would try to do things the same way. FAIL! How did this happen?? Now my students were doing even worse? Talk about stressed. I went back, re-taught things, tweaked things... and found something out. I'm a little different. Yea I know I started with this. But I did not realize it applied to teaching too. Its four years since that experience and what has happened each year little by little I have found my own voice in teaching. I have learned that what works for one teacher does not always work for me. We may use the same foldables, or worksheets, or walk-about activities but each of us implement them differently in our classroom. And that's OK in fact its better than OK its great.  
     My voice has gotten stronger and so has my confidence as a teacher. The more I am true to my beliefs the more passionate my teaching becomes. So now when students enter in the fall I introduce them to Mrs. Olsen's world. In Mrs. Olsen's world everyone loves math. Its on the homework stamp so it must be true :)  Now initially a student will want to argue the point or set me "straight" on my thinking. But in my silly way I let students know that what happens outside my door I cannot control, but here in Mrs. Olsen's world we love math. Some people may have to work harder than others but everyone can be successful. We are not mean to each other. We make mistakes, I make mistakes and its OK. If anyone is negative in class about math I will remind them " are in Mrs. Olsen's world and we don't want that negative attitude in our atmosphere, you are bummin' me out. No, no deep deep deep down you are just repressing how much you love math and its fighting to get out."  I explain "You will have trouble learning something if you hate it. So its not allowed. You cannot tell me you are not good at math, you can say I have to work harder at math than others, and that's ok."
      Last year I had one student who always came in with a depressed down attitude, he just hated being there. I finally asked him "Mike what class is your favorite because its obvious its not my class." He struggled and thought and said " Well you're not my least favorite ...I guess my favorite is English because we almost never have homework." Lol, what a reason. So after that when he would come in class sluggish, and slunk down in his seat, I would say to his friends around him "Ignore Mike because he just doesn't want you all to know how much he loves math. He thinks its not cool but I know deep, deep down inside he really loves it."   I would kid him all the time how much he loved math, that he was not fooling anyone. And you know what happened? His demeanor in class started to change. Before I knew it he was walking upright :) I saw this student who would put anything down to get the assignment over with, actually putting in effort, even helping other students that were struggling. The Mike's of the world is for whom Mrs. Olsen's world was created.
    Last year in that same class with Mike I had one of the other 7th grade math teacher's son. He was another one that walked into class with no confidence in math. She shared with me he told her this year that math is his favorite subject. He said something like:"Is it weird that I have to really work at it but I still like it?" Gotcha!