Teaching is two parts: parent and instructor. The state employs me to instruct math as a designated expert in the subject. But in service to that job description I have to play the role of parent, encouraging kids to be responsible with their work, take class seriously, and all of that stuff.

That responisibility part is where it gets interesting. In college, you're either responsible or they kick you out. Since lecture time is limited, there is a significant percentage of time you have to dedicate to process the lecture and do the assignments so that you are ready for the exams. Don't want to do that? Ok, bye.

In high school we do not have that luxury. I have plenty of kids who have no interest in being there on any given day, but I can't tell them to leave. And since they can't leave, one way to deal with it is pile on the 0s for assignments and freak out if the class has the audacity to not be able to finish one of your finely crafted tests in the allotted time.

But you have to decide, what are you primarily trying to teach? Math, or responsibility? If you crack down on the responsibility side by flinging 0s because they don't do their homework and take up their tests if they're working too slowly, what do you get? Students with grades so low that by February they have no chance of passing the semester and participate accordingly. And at that point, how easy do you think it's going to be to convince them they can do math? Because you've been so focused on the responsibility angle, their grade isn't based on their math skills at all.

So what do you do? Well, I decided to contain the responsibility within class time so that their ability had a chance to speak for itself. What does that look like? Instead of clicking through PowerPoints for 45 minutes, I don't do a lot of straight up lecturing. There are days, yes, where I will be up there a lot plowing through a lot of background material so that we can practice all I want to practice. But your average 45 class period goes something like this:

  • 1 question warm up (that is, do the problem that matches your desk color or number)
  • review warm up
  • add a concept that builds on a previous days topic
  • an example where I do all the talking
  • an example where they coach me
  • one more example if they don't feel comfortable
  • practice time
  • review practice

Depending on where we are with a concept, they will either spend the majority of the period working on a small problem set or I will pass out the problem set of the day, they look it over and they will be instructed to start working on it when they walk in the next day.

At no point is the word "homework" ever thrown out there. Some kids will ask "is this homework?" which I tell them it's fine with me if they look at it at home, but it's not required. My higher level ones will usually walk in the next day with everything done and will spend work time helping other kids who aren't done. The kids who would've never done homework anyway have time to work the problems and while they don't always finish, they do way more work than if they were left on their own. Plus they know I'm nearby if they get stuck.

It's shades of the flipped classroom and I like it. How does that teach responsibility? Well, it establishes that if the teacher is not talking, it means I, the student, must have something to do and the teacher is going to see if I use my time correctly. I still fling 0s, but only when a student is blatantly wasting their time.

The end result is a lot of well done test papers and I get to see who can do math instead of who can properly babysit a piece of paper overnight.

See also: Why I Don't Assign Homework

AuthorJonathan Claydon