Returning to the classroom

After 20 years of teaching, I took a foray into bureaucracy. For five years, I conducted and coordinated research and evaluation in my school district, and for the past two years, I’ve been on secondment to the government, working in various areas of curriculum development.

And now it’s time to return.

This September I’ll be teaching high school mathematics (plus International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge). And I have to say that I’m stoked.

I remain convinced that high school mathematics is grounded in technique: arithmetic and symbolic manipulation are to high school mathematics as scales and arpeggios are to musical development. And I remain convinced that technique by itself is uninteresting, anti-motivational, and useless. Students need to deploy their technique to make their mathematical experiences come alive. This can be explored through practical application, through stereotyped problem solving and through exploration of abstract ideas that have nothing to do with the physical world.

The art of teaching is to find the right balance, to match students to the experiences that will matter the most to their developing technical skill, mathematical understanding and, yes, their aesthetic sense of learning mathematics.

Being out of the classroom has the wonderful benefit of giving you time to think, to reflect on what it is you do for a living. I have enjoyed this immensely. Being out of the classroom, I’ve had time to think about student assessment, about motivation, and about understanding.

But being out of the classroom has a tendency to lead to romanticized notions. When I’m thinking about all the wonderful things my imaginary students and I will do, well it’s pretty amazing. We’re brilliant together. But I will have to live with the uncomfortable friction that will arise when theory and reality collide in the classroom.

It’ll be fine. No. It’ll be great. I’m excited to be back.

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