Tuesday, August 6, 2019

#MTBoSBlaugust - Do No Harm

This month, I am participating in a blogging challenge called #MTBoSBlaugust.  To read posts from other participants, click on the logo above.

Last week, my school hosted a math conference.  Over the course of the day, I had many people comment about how nice it was to have math specific PD and the need for it.  It took me back to earlier this summer when I finally had time to dig into one of the books high on my "to-be-read" list - Necessary Conditions by Geoff Krall.

You can preview (or purchase) the book on the Stenhouse website by clicking here

In Chapter 1 of Necessary Conditions, Geoff tells the story of Damien, a high school senior with big plans.  From the story, you get the sense Damien is a great kid with a passion to help his community, a kid not unlike many of the kids we see each day in our classrooms.  As Geoff shares the conversation he had with Damien, you get a feel that Damien's math education was fine, although not very cohesive, and then you get to this quote...
"For an education environment that strives to standardize instruction and student outcomes, there is remarkably little consensus about what a quality secondary math classroom looks like."

Whoa... did that just hit you in the gut like it did me?  As I was reading, I quickly scribbled this quote down in my reading notebook and put a mark by it to discuss with my Secondary Math coordinator.  What *does* a quality math class look like?  sound like?  feel like?

I teach at a large suburban high school and have been there for 20 years.  I know that at the district level, there have been those discussions about quality instruction, but not as much on the site / department level.  As I read this book, I kept coming back to this question and Damien's story.

Further in Chapter 1, you see these statements:
"What's particularly troubling is that none of Damien's high school teachers were derelicit in their duty. ... But with no common understanding of what high-quality math instruction looks like or what students are experiencing in their classrooms, gaps in learning and in attitudes toward math will continue to widen."
"Adding urgency and magnifying the issue is that math is often the biggest - sometimes the only - hurdle to an otherwise prosperous educational career.  The lack of a sufficient math background can be the death knell for students once they reach university."

Honestly, this is frightening.  Last week, I was at a Career Readiness workshop and Damien again came back to my mind.  Our courses aren't just a ticket punch on the way to adult life.   Our courses can be significant barriers to our students as they approach their post-secondary careers.  What have I done to contribute to that barrier?  What have I done to actively attempt to break down that barrier?  What can I do going forward to advocate for students like Damien?

I think about the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take - the idea to ethically treat patients and do no harm.  I think about Damien and his teachers; I think about my own past students.  There was no intention to harm, but has harm happened anyway?  By not having a cohesive definition of a quality math classroom, how many students have hit the barrier to future success?  How many students could have made powerful mathematical connections instead of seeing the courses, units, and chapters as these disconnected requirements that they just have to get through.  How many students (or even teachers) have been deprived of discovering the joy and beauty of mathematics?

Two weeks from today, I will meet my students.  I will again have an opportunity to shape their thoughts on math.  I have the power to help or to hinder.

And that scares me.

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