Week 2: The Best Laid Lesson Plans

Last week, I found myself as restless as the first day of school.

In fact, I got to school at 7:10am every day, when school usually starts at 8am. I racked my brain around what the next logical step is in my curriculum. Negative exponents are especially difficult if students don’t get a lot of practice with the concept, and if they can’t make a seamless connection between negative and positive integer exponents. I decided to breathe life into it by waiting and waiting and not settling for mediocre understanding, returning to the idea of folding for amount and folding for size. Tight with behavioral expectations, loose with the learning timeline. My classroom and quiz questions all sounded like this: “What is the reciprocal of 3^-4?” “What’s the difference between -2^3 and (-2)^3?” “Prove that x^0 = 1.”

Here I am, successfully proving that I can deliver middle-school-level math material with higher-order thinking. There they are, answering two-thirds of the questions correctly. Two thirds of my students passed my hardest quiz of the year thus far. I’m not happy, but I’m happier.

Usually, I wait a while before drawing bolder lines between what they can and can’t do in my class, but this week, I decided that the tough love was necessary early and often. As the pseudo-dean of the floor last year, I saw this set of students as seventh graders run roughshod over most teachers’ rules, ignoring stern warnings and detention sessions alike. I’m sticking to my “no yelling” policy, but the usually patient Mr. Vilson has a sudden sense of urgency. As I hold myself to a higher standard of teaching, I find myself expecting the same from the students in front of me. They’re responding by excelling in my quizzes. I’m onto something.

The expectations I have for them and the expectations I have for myself ought to match the expectations they have for me and for themselves. Duh.

For the first parent-teacher conference, I had plenty of parents come in, many of whom were told explicitly to come to my class by their sons and daughters. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but seeing 25 of 90 parents on Back To School Night is pretty good. I told them the same thing I’m telling you now. Students can check their grades whenever they wish. They need to work hard and there’s no such thing as a math person. Parents can ask me questions as they need to. My syllabus is available to them. When they’re concerned about their child’s behavior in my class, they respond not to me, but to their children. They thank me. Two of them remind me that I had their children nine years prior. I tell them that it’s an honor to serve them again.

It’s amazing that I’ve gotten this many chances to get it right and keep doing so. In my tenth year, Lord knows that even my best lesson plans have nothing on inquisitive and slightly sugar-influenced children. I’m not all that perfect, either.