Fraud?

So I’m just going to throw it out there.

Sometimes blogging makes me feel like a fraud.

Here’s why. I’m not an amazing teacher. Most of my lesson plans aren’t exciting. I have lots of ideas but often no follow through to implement them. I plan almost 100% of my lessons the day before I teach them. I don’t use group work effectively. I rarely teach problem solving skills and don’t do honest investigation in anything other than my multivariable calculus class. I keep a teacher-centered classroom. My kids all have laptops and I never use them in class. I pretty much follow the same teaching pattern every day (warm up, homework questions, lecture, stop to practice, lecture, stop to practice). I’m afraid to give up control of the classroom to my kids.

Which are — frankly — all things I’m totally okay with, at this point. Some things I don’t want or care to change. Other things I wish I were farther along in my own personal development. And there are a number of things I know I do really well too. But there you are. That’s where I am at the moment. I’m pretty good, but I’m not amazing. (My own personal assessment, anyway.)

But here’s where feeling like a fraud comes in. Did you really think I led a teacher-centered class every day? Would you have expected me to describe myself as I did above? In other words, if you came to watch me teach, would you see what you expected?

I’m 100% certain (bets, anyone?) that the answer is no.

Two years ago, 328 posts ago, when I started blogging, I was blogging for me alone. But it struck me recently that in the past two years, I had inadvertently been constructing this online persona, post by post. Like: my online blog self is one person and my real life self another? Is it just me? Prolly.

But it’s bothering me that this online persona is so incomplete, possibly a idealized version of what kind of teacher I am in real life.

I honestly do write for me. This place has always been for me, but I know that as opposed to when I first started and I was my only reader, there are now like 5-10 people (oh! kind souls!) who read this blog in addition to me and my super awesome teacher sister. I don’t want to be a fraud to you as I continue to write here. So for you 5-10 people, in case I had somehow drawn myself into some sort of caricature teacher costume, let me just put it out there straight:

I’ve had two years in the classroom. I’m okay at what I do. I love what I strive to do.

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25 comments

  1. PS. I don’t mean this to be a confessional, or a pity party, or a cry for complements, or anything like that. Please don’t read it that way.

    I rewrote this 3 times — and I am not the type of person who rewrites things on here — trying to get away from those things. I just wanted to express this idea that has been floating around in my head. I still can’t quite articulate clearly my thoughts, which is why they are muddled, but I really just wanted to put them out there.

  2. Hmmm….I think I suck too….and that is after 20 years.

    Sometimes we are the most inept at judging ourselves–we are simply too close. We need to ask those that have a clear view of us what we are really like. The students. Do they think the same? I am not asking if you think they think….What would they say?

  3. I am one of those 5-10 readers.

    It doesn’t matter where you are, it matters that you are looking up. The frequency and relevance of your posts is what had me subscribing in the first place.

    I don’t remember when I subscribed, but it was soon after I saw you put up entire worksheets online and asking for feedback. I don’t think I am ready to do that yet. I admire that kind of courage.

    For me, it’s comforting and inspiring to know that there are teachers who also questions whether they are doing the best they can and, more importantly, who strives to create better lessons for students. It keeps me focused and upbeat. I really don’t think much beyond that.

    Maybe you have fanboys or subscribers whose presence is making you self-conscious. I am just a very appreciative teacher.

    1. Thanks. I’m really glad you said: “For me, it’s comforting and inspiring to know that there are teachers who also questions whether they are doing the best they can and, more importantly, who strives to create better lessons for students. It keeps me focused and upbeat. I really don’t think much beyond that.” Because when I started blogging, that’s EXACTLY the reason why I started too! Which is pretty great!

      As for the fanboys/subscribers, it’s not that. Nothing external prompted this. It was just looking through all my old posts one day, and being like “who IS this person?” And also some anxiety about who I am now that school is starting and I can’t claim to be a totally new teacher (who can and should make lots of mistakes) but not a veteran teacher either. Maybe @bogush is right and I am just too close to myself.

  4. I just come to steal some of your ideas sometimes… ;)

    Also, teaching a course like calculus in high school can seem somewhat isolating sometimes since I’m the only one in the whole school. Other math teachers seem to be just teaching the curriculum to pass the kids out of high school, other AP teachers have their own content-specific methods, and (of course) none of the administration knows anything about math anymore. So, it’s nice to visit your blog from time to time and see someone else working out the same issues I do.

  5. Thanks for your post. I also suck!! But after 20 years of teaching mathematics to high school students I am trying to change the way I run my classroom, assess my students and integrate technology into my teaching. The power of your blog posts is that those of us who “follow” you have made you a part of our personal learning network. I hope that by having you in my PLN we can change our teaching practices together, share our successes and failures and overtime, become better at what we do. For now, we are what we are.

    1. I like this: “For now, we are what we are.” I might use that on the first day – to talk about how everyone has a different history/trajectory with math, and I understand that. But then by the end, through the crucible of the course, we will be completely transformed beings — much better for the wear and tear. And then the next teacher can start the course by saying “For now, we are what we are.”

  6. Yeah, the students are where they are, so we need to approach each of them ‘where they are’. I try to make sure my classroom is an accepting place for each student. They are not allowed to say “that’s easy”, because it’s likely to make someone else feel bad. (I might say “this is easier than what we’ve been doing lately”, but never “this is easy”.)

    I don’t think I’m amazing. I work with 3 or 4 amazing teachers, and 1 or 2 others who are pretty good, 1 who’s good for some and not others, and 1 really bad teacher. I feel lucky to work with great teachers, but I don’t get to spend much time in their classrooms, like I do (virtually) with my blogging community online. I wish there were more college math teachers blogging, but it’ll come.

    I’ve been teaching for over 20 years. I have a number of really cool lessons, but most days it’s been from the book. I do that well, I think, but it’s not amazing. (And I intend to change that.) I often plan a few minutes before my lesson. That’s the thing I most want to change.

    Perhaps my classroom is as teacher-centered as yours, but my students wouldn’t want it less that way. When we practice, I usually have them work with a partner. They get lots of that, and lots of space for questions. My goal is that our class feel like a community. Last semester, I know I achieved that in one class.

  7. In my four years of teaching back in the 80’s, I was considered a very good teacher. I think one reason is that I contrasted with most of the other stodgy old souls who had been around longer and did things in a very traditional way. Also, I was a physics teacher and had no peer. Therefore, I got away with anything because no one in the school had a clue, other than my students, of course, as to what I was talking about. I was able to keep interest up in the subject matter by always dealing with controversy and the philosophy of science. I would get students engaged by showing where science was becoming scientism, as was reflected in so much of the pop press of the day, and so many scientists were over-stepping their bounds by making philosophical and atheistic assertions with an implicit high-priestly hubris (Sagan, Hawking, Weinberg, Stenger, Gould, Asimov, and of course, now we have Dawkins and company). At any rate, to inspire students to learn the material and to “beat” these guys at their own game was a tremendous motivation. These days most schools public and private do not allow you to talk philosophy that borders on religion. This takes away the “why it matters” factor and replaces it with “that is just your sentiment regarding X. Whatever.”

    My point is that (platitude alert) motivation is central to students success. It is not enough to simply say well this education is for you and your self-worth, or, by knowing math it will help you to make the world greener. To make it personal you have to get into the students’ souls and show them how this knowledge enables one to make more sense of the universe, themselves, and their general context, and how to look at the world with a critical, sometimes skeptical, eye. The danger is risking them to become cynical or even nihilistic. But that is where the spiritual element is key. Teleology. Wow, sorry for digressing but this is what made me successful, as I look back, and see how many of my students went on for PhDs or became successful and influential in their own right.

  8. My sporadic writing is evidence that I tend to focus on the good stuff. Yet, despite knowing that, I do ascribe to each of you superhuman teaching abilities. Thank you, Sam, for coming clean. I can start the new teaching year with a significantly improved inferiority complex.

    Seriously, though, I think it’s nearly impossible to have an amazing classroom experience every day. Some topics just don’t lend themselves to inspiration. I dread having to teach decimals and logarithms each year. No matter how hard I try, I can’t infuse any excitement into those topics. However, I’m starting to think I should be writing about these things. If I shared my missteps or let it be known that my creativity ebbs and flows, my readers may offer suggestions I hadn’t considered.

    Nice post!

  9. Me too. Remind me in a few days and I’ll post my murder mystery stuff. But I do agree with you – it can’t be amazing every day.

    I don’t dread much anymore, though, if I enjoy the group of students. there was a time, about 10 years in, maybe, where I was getting bored with writing all that junk on the board. I think something shifted for me, and it became more about reaching the students, and I was never bored again. (It was always about the students, but …)

    But I don’t do much prep for the topics I find boring, and that’s gotta change.

  10. Sam –

    I really enjoy reading your blog and looking at your materials. As a math teacher I think it’s really hard to _not_ do the lecture/practice/lecture thing. You’re showing through your posts that you don’t constantly do that and I’m striving to be more like you. :)

    Also, can you tell that there are more than 5 – 10 people that read?!

    Kristen

  11. I’ve only been teaching one year longer than you, but I look up to you. I agree with one of the previous comments saying that you have courage for putting up full lessons and sharing what you do in the classroom fully. I don’t have that courage.

    I know we both probably have a lot to learn still, but what I do admire is your constant strive to better your teaching and actually THINK of new ideas, which is much more than most teachers can say.

    Many of my “creative” lessons end up being a bust. But when I do find something that works, that’s just another thing to add into my arsenal.

    Another teacher I really look up to is my dept. chair. He is constantly sharing his strategies with all of the Algebra II teachers, and I use them all the time. But I did observe his classroom once last year, and he ran it like every other classroom. Warm up, lecture, examples, practice, group work, more examples, more practice, etc.

    It was at that moment that I realized that even the best teachers don’t have the time and strength to create jaw-dropping amazing lessons every day. And that’s okay.

    Anyway, it’s not an false online persona that you’re creating. I don’t think anyone expects to read your blog where you share your everyday lessons that happens in most math classes. But we do come to steal the great ideas that you do have and try to implement them and make them work in our own classrooms. :)

  12. Sometimes I wonder if people in other professions analyze themselves as much as teachers do. I thought it was just the math people because analyzing is fun for us. I think we ‘question our greatness’ a lot because our jobs aren’t designed to tell us. Other professions give raises, bonuses, promotions, gifts, and extra privileges to let you know that you’re doing a great job. On the other hand there are also punishments, consequences and getting fired if you aren’t doing a great job. With teaching, there are less rewards and consequences because greatness is harder to define. A bad and great teacher may receive the same compensation. Not that we always need external motivators to do a great job, but that it opens up more opportunities for reflection than just to receive the obligatory pat on the back (which we generally do for each other.) Blogging makes us more and less transparent at the same time. We put things out there for all the world to see, appreciate, and criticize. But at the same time, we are only offering a piece of who we are, not the entirety. But as long as we know some of the pieces are great, it’s worth the journey to improving all the others.

  13. Totally agree with Elissa’s comments on transparency.

    Between you and what Kate said somewhere (I’m on vacation and not looking it up) recently I feel a bit reassured. I think a common goal of blogging teachers is improvement. And it’s a whole lot easier to share successes than failures. Besides imagining you all as ideal teachers gives me a more specific target.

  14. I have been reading your blog a lot this summer. I began taeching in 1996, took some time to have kids, returned full time last year at a very challenging school. I amreturning to the school but teaching all new coyrses, and I am a bit freaked out.

    I have dug deep into your blog and been motivated and excited, but also left feeling like I must really suck in comparison to this new, young, hip teacher….this entry makes me feel better.

    I too have GREAT ideas, the follow through is the hard part. Some days are too much to take and trying to put on a fabulous show for the students is impossible.

    Thank-you for letting us know the reality— you are still wonderful

  15. Howdy all. I feel like I definitely did not hit the nail on the head. I honestly have no guilt about not having a thrilling class everyday. I’m super happy with where I am now. And I know I’m good. So maybe I should have said that too.

    I’m really pleased that you guys responded. With such nice things to say. Golly gee! I can’t say I didn’t kind of LOVE it. You know, the base narcissist of me likes to come out when poked and prodded by such nice words.

    It was only later, on twitter, that I felt like I was accurately framing my thought to dcox21:

    “i really didn’t mean for the post to be self-effacing or self-pitying… it really was just about the divide between who we are online and who we are as on-the-ground teachers and if they can or even should even be the same…”

    And I guess the answer I’m hearing is: It doesn’t matter. What we look for online are for things to inspire us, things to export (and in the process modify) in our classrooms, things to intellectually edify us. We’re looking for things to engage us. We graze.

    And because of this, the notion of being a fraud doesn’t really come into play. Which is what I’ve gotten from all y’all. Because people just don’t seriously think in those terms — of who the real person is behind the online persona. They think “how does this post relate to me?” The person writing the post is irrelevant. The ideas/activities/worksheets are not. Those are what we graze for. Not the person behind the post. We read selfishly. As indeed we should.

    Sam

  16. Wow, I really needed to read this post and more importantly the comments. I also am a 20+ year veteran. At times I do suck. Over the years I’ve stumbled around classroom management issues, getting to a place where it works most of the time. This year I’m getting three challenging sections of under-performing students where what I’ve used to do will not work. I’ve been teaching this course for the last few years so I’m fairly well prepped. Needless to say, I’ve spent my time this summer reading classroom management books.

    Without going on, this paraphrased quote from the Thomas Friedman book: The World is Hot, Flat and Crowded sums up where I’m going this year:

    Do the same thing you have always done and get the same things you have always gotten.

    This year, a new teacher!

  17. Ok, here goes, and it goes against the grain that has been established here…I am starting year 21 of teaching and I consider myself to be an excellent teacher. I do lots of wonderful things with my students–projects, fieldtrips, guest speakers, advance organizers, background information, group learning. My classrooms (I teach in two different rooms each day) are a beehive of activity. My students complain that other teachers don’t do anything and I try to conjole them into believing that they do, but I wonder.

    I have laptops and desktop computers in one classroom and the students use them everyday. In another room, the computer is the tool, I am but the guide on the side. I encourage my students to try new things, even when they fight me tooth and nail to just sit there and do nothing. At the end of the year, they are either too exhausted to say anything or they thank me.

    Although I do not teach core subjects, and therefore do not matter to the administration, my students pass the state mandated tests with higher scores than the district average, especially in language arts.

    If you were to meet me in person, you would say I am the same person as I am in my blog. It would never occur to me to be any other way. My students, current and former, would chuckle at that and say, “yes, Mrs. Zody is who she is, all the time.”

  18. Dear Sam:
    Your post is an introspection, something one needs to do once in a while. It is very healthy.

    I taught for many years in my younger days – high school, 2 year community college, 4 year technical college and at university. I was not a good teacher. I was never well prepared. However I was awarded the Best teacher award (very dear to me) in a very surprised presentation by my students who even prepared special dinner for some 50 people and served that with full professional attire (even with a white towel on hand!) – they even sold me the ticket to this surprise event so that I will not get a hint of it. They said that the award was not teaching Physics but teaching professinalism in dealing with life.

    They were correct. On my introspection of the event I realized that they did not honor me for my teaching of Physics, they honored me for being a Teacher, period. Teacher of life in general. Teacher who taught them that the life is not about being spoon fed. Life is about constant learning all through out life (at age of 65 I still take on-line courses), life is about dreaming. Teaching about learning to think, peeling the onion to go to the core (and cry while peeling – sometimes with joy of solving too!) vs. just plug in numbers in an equation for a projectile trajectory. Teaching about Curl and Divergence through example of toilet water when flushed. It was about teaching by taking them to the world famous Fermi Labs, Argonne Lab, Uni. of Chicago and other institutes of learning and being exposed to top scientists, their professional lives, their work and possibly get inspired by that.

    My real reward came in an elevator at Bell Labs. There was a young fellow in the elevator and he greeted me, “Hello Mr. Shah.” He said that he was in my Physics class when I used to teach before I joined Bell Labs. I did not recognized him so I said, “Well. you must have done well in my class to work at Bell Labs.” He said ” Mr. Shah you failed me!”

    While I was trying to jog my memory, he said “Actually Mr. Shah I failed myself. I took you for granted like other teachers who were intimated by me being black and who used to just “flush” me to the next grade and you stopped me and taught me the value of learning. When I came to Bell Labs for interview I was asked how come I had all As in Jr and Sr year vs, C, D & Fs in freshman and sophomore years. I told Bell Labs interviewer that that was because of a “mean” Physics teacher Mr. Shah.”

    No wealth or awards in the world can give me the pride and joy that I got from these two events (well, other than my marriage and births of my lovely daughter and son). What I learned was – No, it is not the lessons, home work, teaching plan etc. that are important; it is the person behind those who cares for the total well being of her/his students as human being and not another row in the class room roster.

    Love

    Jay Shah

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