One Moment, One Decision

Teaching is hard.

As Magdalene Lampert notes in her book Teaching Problems and the Problems of Teaching, “One reason teaching is a complex practice is that many of the problems a teacher must address to get students to learn happen simultaneously, not one after another (2).”

Teaching is hard.

As Max Ray says in his 2014 NCSM ignite talk, “Teaching isn’t Rocket Science. It’s harder.” Max goes on to say that teachers make a litany of educational decisions on the fly based on deep knowledge of content and their students as learners.

Teaching is hard.

As Ball and Forzani write in The Work of Teaching and the Challenge for Teacher Education, “The work of teaching includes broad cultural competence and relational sensitivity, communication skills, and the combination of rigor and imagination fundamental to effective practice. Skillful teaching requires appropriately using and integrating specific moves and activities in particular cases and contexts, based on knowledge and understanding of one’s pupils and on the application of professional judgment (2009).”

Teaching is hard.

As Jose Vilson relates, “We’ve known for decades that building relationships is a central part of our work, but this has even larger implications when we work with disadvantaged students. The teacher-student relationship has so many subtle nuances across race, gender, and class lines that opening our eyes to these nuances would make us better educators.”

So teaching is hard, because reasons.

However, this post is just about one of those 1500 decisions I made during my day teaching, which Max referenced in his talk (and found on the internet, so it must be true!)

Before we go on shopping trips, students estimate how much money they think they’ll need for their purchases, count the money they have left in their math class wallets from our last trip, and compare the two amounts to decide if they need to go to bank to get more money or if they have enough to make their purchase.

During this task, one of my students was counting his wallet money and this happened…

He had what he thought was a stack of singles and came across these surprise five dollar bills. I waited to see how he would approach this wrench in his works. After contemplating for a second, he began counting each five dollar bill by ones.

Inwardly, I was a bit deflated. I had hoped he would group the two five dollar bills into a ten and move from counting by ones, to counting by tens, and then back again (or maybe even start grouping the singles by fives or tens). I decided to ask him if there was a faster way to count those two five dollar bills with all the ones.

He pondered my question for another second, then neatly re-stacked the bills and counted again. But this time he began with the 5 dollar bills counting them by fives, and then continued counting the singles by ones.

This was not the desired result of my question, but it was his understanding of efficiency. Count the bigger bills first then move to smaller bills, makes sense to him so it makes sense to me.

What would you do in this situation with this student?  What question would you ask?

What decision would you make?

And remember the implications your decision has on not only in this student in this moment, but on the rest of the period, the rest of the day, and the rest of the year. Because, well, teaching is hard.

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