Pep talk for the coming school year

Here’s a transcript of something I said recently. It was in response to a common question, “That’s a great idea, but how can we fit that in when there are so many things we have to get done?”

That’s one of the things I struggle with. It’s clear to me that since I left the public school classroom in 2000, that the kinds of pressures and constraints under which teachers operate are quite a bit different. I have seen, over the years I’ve been working with teachers, a great degrading of teachers’ feelings of autonomy and ability to make meaningful decisions for their kids; particularly large decisions about curriculum, but even sometimes on a day-to-day lesson basis.

All I can say is that when I do work with teachers who are under those kinds of constraints, the thing that I try to remind them is that curriculum—whether district curriculum or published textbooks—is really a framework, and it is a teacher’s job and responsibility to flesh out that framework in ways that will create powerful mathematics learning for kids.

So I encourage you to not stray from the agreements that are necessary to make as a district or as a school—in terms of sequence of content, or basic resources we use in our classrooms—but that we have a tremendous amount of leeway in terms of setting the tone. What kinds of questions are we going to ask? What kinds of mathematical contributions are we going to value from kids?

I think it’s important for us to retain that responsibility, even when we’re feeling disempowered by forces that are outside our control.

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4 responses to “Pep talk for the coming school year

  1. Thank you so much for the pep talk. I personally needed it. As you know, I am transitioning from a charter school where I had more freedom to make more decisions about what I’m teaching to a big district regular public school where the math curriculum is not at all of my taste. I have not meet with my colleagues in the math department yet, so I am not exactly sure how things are done in my new school. But, I have been sort of planning for my classes, and I don’t want to use the teacher guide for planning my lessons. I hope not to get any pushback because I am not following everything the textbook suggests.

  2. Thank you for this pep talk. I go back on Thursday for orientation, and this is an important reminder.

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  3. Thanks, iskovholt and Elizabeth! You know I’m also talking to myself in this pep talk, right?

  4. Succinctly and powerfully put – I think I will tape this up in my office. Thank you.

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