Tuesday, 15 October 2013

My Context

I'm a new teacher. I did a math degree and spent a few years tutoring before attending what I believe to have been a fantastic Teacher Education program in Ottawa, ON with mostly amazing faculty about a year and a half ago.After moving to Toronto I have continued to tutor and spent a good amount of time tutoring (and pre-teaching) the Functions courses (grade 11 and 12) and the Calculus and Vectors course. When I got the last minute job offer to teach high school math a private International school I jumped at the chance to teach, to put teacher on my resume and to have a paid teaching job. I'm teaching two sections of Grade 12 Functions (MHF4U under the Ontario Curriculum). I'm very comfortable with the material, with connecting one idea to the other and with cycling back to reconnect to past topics. In short I know I can and will be a good teacher. I want to be a great teacher, but I know I'm not there yet. Right now I want to be a good teacher day in and day out and I'm getting there.

The set up where I work is different from other schools. I have small classes. I had 14 students between two sections to start and am now at 11 between the two. Unfortunately the split is 10 in one section and 1 in another. The classes can't be combined because they actually take place in different physical locations. Next week I may lose a few more students from my class of 10 as some are working well below the grade level. I wish there had been more intervention I could have done for the students who are not prepared for the class, but for a number of reasons there wasn't. I'm going to try harder at that next term and in future Septembers when there are students new to the country and new to our education system. I really like the small class size, but the class of only 1 is too small so to build in interactions with other students I'm going to connect to the class of 10 using a wikispaces page and encourage her to connect to other students through the Open Study site (openstudy.com)

I'm excited about being in an English Language Learning (ELL) environment. It is really great AND really challenging to realize just how high the literacy demand is for math at this level (word problems and explaining abstract concepts like limits and infinity). I'm working at reducing this demand and also at building up my students math vocabulary most every day. I have a real advantage over public school ELL situations because all of my students share a mother tongue. The international school is fed into from China and all my students speak fluent Mandarin. (So far I have failed to learn anything - I want to know the first few numbers at least by the end of term.) So our word walls have an English column and a Mandarin column and in group work I encourage the stronger English speakers to help translate and explain concepts in Mandarin to their peers. I want to keep finding ways for peer learning and instruction - another reason I'm pushing a wiki on them. If they take it up it will be a great place for them to store and share resources in Mandarin that I can't find or understand. (The only place I have yet to find anything translated from English to Mandarin and with descriptions in both is through the Khan Academy; but not much of my material is done yet and their stuff is very computational based. It's necessary, but far from sufficient for success at this level.)

More to come!

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