I'm getting ready to start a new school year. As always, there's a thought that lingers over all my preparations.
I hope I don't screw up any of the kids too much.
To be fair, I'm pretty sure I haven't screwed up any kids yet. There have been a few I wish I could've done more for, but I think my track record's pretty solid. There's a little extra anxiety this year since I'm starting at a new school—or rather, my old school after several years away.
It's an interesting situation, because it's the school I went to as a teenager, along with being where I launched my teaching career. My family and I are rooted in this area, so a lot of the neighbors know I'm returning to teach there. Several of them are hoping to transfer their child into my class if at all possible.
No pressure, ha-ha.
Seriously, though, one thing I've heard from parents in the last several weeks (and indeed the past several years) is how important they feel it is that their child gets the right math teacher. A good math teacher can take a student from hating math to at least tolerating it, if not better. A bad math teacher can bring a skilled student's progress to a grinding halt. Often that damage is never recovered.
Is it the same in other disciplines? Probably, to a degree, anyway. But it seems like the near-irreparability is more severe in math. I had English classes that I hated, but they couldn't kill my love for reading and writing (obviously). Then again, if I'd been a struggling reader in elementary school, and a bad teacher only reinforced and exacerbated my struggles, that could've set me back for the rest of my life.
Once past the learning-to-read stage, moving on to reading-to-learn, it seems the make-or-break power of teachers lessens somewhat. (I hope so, considering teens I've known with English teachers of ... questionable quality.) Math works a little differently, always with a new skill, a new principle to learn.
That makes my job potentially dangerous.
Maybe a different approach is in order. Maybe if I keep the focus on helping kids develop their ability to think, to reason, to problem-solve—and I don't mean "A Train leaves Station A at 6:45 am" kind of problems, I mean real "Here's a situation and we need a solution" problems—maybe that means I won't have to worry so much about breaking anyone.
Because you know what? There's something else underlying this whole line of thought. To have the power to break, I have to keep a monopoly on the power to build.
The students need to be allowed to build themselves. Maybe they'll suffer minor breakages along the way, too, but maybe that's what I'm really there for ...
... to provide the super-glue when they need to mend their own breaks.
Have you had experiences with teachers (math or otherwise) who had that make-or-break position in your life? What made the good ones good, and the bad ones terrors?