productive struggle

A New Kind of First Day

Today marked the first day of the 2013-2014 school year for me. It was, all in all, a wonderful day. Teaching at a relatively small K-12 school, I have an opportunity to work with some students for two, three, or even four years in their 7-12 grade experience. Seeing students who I’ve come to know so well over the past few years walk through my classroom door on the first day of the new year is a tremendous blessing, and it’s always fun to see how they have matured over the summer months in their transition from 7th to 8th, middle school to high school, or maybe even junior year to senior year.

The Highlight

I won’t bore you with the details, but the highlight of my day came in watching my AP Calculus AB roster (which appeared to have only 6 students when I checked online late last week) grow to 11 students by the end of the school day on Monday. This included three unexpected, last-minute additions, and I’m thrilled to have these students join our small but amazing group. (For reference, I typically have 10 to 15 students in Calculus, and our graduating class has been around 50 students in recent years.) I’m excited and honored that these students (all 11, really) have decided to challenge themselves with another year of math, and have even sacrificed other classes they were interested in to make it possible. Plus I think we’ll have a blast this year.

The Struggle Continues, Intensifies

Despite all the good vibes, I struggled through some parts of today. I’ve worked relentlessly over the past nine years to create as strong a math program as I could imagine at the school. If my today-self could time travel (with a USB flash drive or a link to a Dropbox folder) to meet, say, my 2006-self, that older version might think something along the lines of, “Wow! Most of what I’ve imagined for the math department is a reality. That’s super swell.”

Here’s the problem, though, and I have many of you to blame for it: The ceiling on what I can imagine has been blown off, and I’m now confronted (in the middle of nearly every class) by a dozen or so notions of how the lesson I’m smack-dab in the middle of could be improved, become less terrible, etc. These thoughts don’t even allow me the grace of finishing an example or an activity; they jump right to the front of my brain even as I’m presenting/discussing/guiding.

So after a few months of relatively stress-free hanging out in the MTBoS, I see the tension between what I believe should happen in the classroom and what I’m currently doing (the struggle between my philosophy and my practice) not only resuming, but (rapidly) intensifying.

Determined to Grow

While the MTBoS is largely to blame for this increased tension, it’s also likely to provide the inspiration for much of the personal growth I’ll experience in the coming months. It may be exceptionally frustrating at times, but I’m determined to make this struggle (my first full year of MTBoS-fueled, classroom-based struggling) exceedingly productive.