Pull Back the Curtain: What’s REALLY Happening in the Classroom

Standardized testing has hurt kids.  Over the last 10 years, students have become more passive, more apathetic, and have become increasingly trapped in a fixed mindset about whether they are even capable of learning.

 

After we briefly explore what’s not working, we’ll talk about an exciting solution that many parents have found to help their children.

 

Ok, so how did we get here?

 

Over the same period that the frequency of standardized testing exploded, and kids were being tested in earlier grades, teachers were pressured to become more “standardized” in their practice – common lessons, taught in the same way, common tests…collect that data!!

Students have become data.  As a parent, if you thought that, you were right.  You didn’t imagine that.

student data

Only teachers who have been around for a while have experienced the shift in focus from “student-centered” to “accountability-focused”.

 

We used to have teacher meetings to brainstorm about the needs of our students and we talked about them by name.  Now, we have “data meetings” and the goal is to show improvement in the data.  Students, as individuals, are rarely discussed.

 

Of course, what happens in each classroom is a reflection of the heart of that teacher. Almost all teachers I have worked with over the last twenty years are committed to helping each child to the best of their ability.

 

But the pressure to standardize is always there because of the system’s focus on data and accountability.

 

At the district or state levels, there is almost NO discussion about kids as individuals.

 

Now, add to that a global math teacher shortage.  The temptation to standardize increases because there may be a new, inexperienced, maybe even an unqualified math teacher in that room.

 

Partly because of the teacher shortage, but mostly because of budget issues (districts may have rooms and desks but can’t afford to hire teachers), class sizes can be large.  There is no way, even with the best teacher at the front of the room, that every single student will get the one-on-one time they need to be coached through something that confuses them right at that moment.  That confusion can become a learning gap that holds them back later.

 

So parents are left to fill those gaps at home. And they are frustrated and worried – for good reason.

 

Now add in one more obstacle – no textbooks.  Again, a budget issue.  But also, an unintended consequence of the adoption of common core standards.  Those standardized exams were changed to use questions based on those standards BEFORE new textbooks were available or before the money was available to purchase those books.

 

I can personally attest to the fact that we teachers were told by the powers that be to find our own materials.  Hence, the popularity of the dreaded “worksheet packet” and why teachers needed to collaborate and standardize instruction.

 

But here’s the problem – lecturing and sending worksheets home is the LEAST EFFECTIVE way to learn how to do math.

 

The child struggles at home.  The parent is frustrated because they haven’t been given resources.  They know how to research on YouTube, but can’t find anything that looks like what’s on that worksheet on the kitchen table.

 

Next day, the child is given a quiz on that topic.  The stress and anxiety aren’t from the quiz – it’s from not having a chance to learn it before getting graded on it!

Failing Grade on Homework

So what’s the solution?

Well, honestly, it’s a systemic problem fraught with philosophical arguments and politics.  Changing the system isn’t going to help your kid now.

 

So let’s not try to fix the system, let’s talk about how to make it better for one kid.  Your child.

 

Math is a skill that involves habits of thinking that need to be coached in a similar way as a physical skill is coached when a person wants to become a better athlete or musician.

 

If your child wanted to learn how to play piano, you’re more likely to think about arranging one-on-one piano lessons for them, instead of enrolling them a class with 30 pianos, 30 children sitting at pianos, and one music teacher.

piano lesson

When I wanted to learn how to lift weights, I knew, from my teaching experience, that the most effective way to learn a new skill, especially one that requires an expert watching to correct form and provide targeted instruction, was to hire a personal trainer.  Taking a class might be helpful, but it wouldn’t be individualized to address my needs.

 

Now, I hope, you are getting an idea about why I’m moving beyond my physical classroom and changing my practice to be an online geometry tutor.

 

Please excuse me while I talk about myself for a moment, because honestly, this is really about your child. But I want you to know a little about my heart here…

  • I love teaching.
  • I love teaching math to teenagers.
  • My core values around this have never changed – what changed was the system around me.

 

I was never one to “standardize” <insert my big smile here>.  It’s always been about figuring out what that one kid in front of me needs, what they don’t understand, what they learned wrong, and how I could coach them into the correct habit of thinking about that particular skill.

 

Over the last few years, I’ve researched and implemented alternative methods of instruction that made geometry easier to learn, fun to learn, and when some kids who felt hopeless to learn math started to see “100%” popping up regularly, I knew I was on to something.

100
“I’ve never gotten a 100% on quiz before, Mrs. White” Robert, 10th grade

“I’ve never gotten a 100% on a math quiz before, Mrs White!!”

 

I’ve always known that I was part of a broken system, but I love teaching so I thought this was my only option as a teacher.  Last spring, my heart broke when I finally realized that I was complicit by staying and being forced to comply with policies that create fixed mindsets of failure in many kids.

 

There had to be a way to help kids who can’t just leave the system.  That’s why online tutoring, or rather, private online teaching, is a growing industry.

 

Working with a teacher online is an exciting option for families!  Online tutors aren’t just providing homework support.  They are providing private instruction to set kids up for success in real-world classrooms.

 

 

As a parent, you can arrange to have a private teacher for your child.  The technology has advanced now so that these lessons can be done online, but it’s still a personal interaction between the teacher and student.

 

No driving your child to a lesson.  Convenient scheduling.   I’ve met tutors from all over the world who specialize in their own area of interest.  And your child will not be distracted by 30+ other kids in the room!

 

If the instruction is organized in such a way as to “preteach” the math skills before the classroom teacher presents them, and then reinforced afterwards, learning math will be less frustrating – and maybe even fun.  (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!  There are usually some negative experiences to overcome before I can get a kid to the “math is fun” part.)

 

What if instead of staying after school in a room full of kids asking questions, your child had their own private math coach?

Head shot with Headphonesbitpape

Imagine for your child if…

  • she was coached through the curriculum, without having to share the teacher with a class full of students – what could be possible??
  • his math coach was an experienced teacher who could find the learning gaps and close them before the topic comes up in the student’s actual classroom at school?
  • your child enjoyed learning math instead of being afraid to try?  What if they knew, from experience, that they can figure things out!  How far would that propel them??

 

Personally, I’m excited about the possibilities.  Classroom teachers are amazing, dedicated people.  These are my friends and colleagues and I know their hearts.  But I also know they need help to make this current system work better for all kids.

 

But more importantly, families need help NOW.  They can’t wait for the system to change.

 

Thanks for reading!  If you have any questions or comments,  I’d love to hear from you.  If you’re just starting to research options for helping your child, check out my FAQ page. I also have free resources for parents in the Resources Library.

Tammy

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