Teaching math has given me so much joy and so much stress over my career. Out of my 35 years of experience, I would say 75% of the time I was teaching regular students. When I use the word “regular”, I’m referring to students not in a Pre-AP, accelerated or honors math class. I’m not going to lie… it has not been easy. If I had to describe to a new teacher my experience over the years, I think I would describe it as GOOD, BAD and UGLY!
Side Note: I’m a Clint Eastwood fan. I have a picture of him on my wall in my living room so I’d say I’m a pretty big fan. One of his most popular westerns, was The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. You can’t think about that film without hearing the music that plays constantly throughout it. If you’ve never watched the movie or heard the music, you should do it. Here’s the music. Play it softly while you are reading. You’ll enjoy it.
The Good: Of course the good part about teaching regular students are the students! The kids are mostly awesome. You get a turd (pardon me) in there every once in a while, but for the most part, the kids are awesome. If you will take the time to make connections and get to know them, you will find out how wonderful they can be.
How do you make connections? First of all, don’t be their best friend. You are the adult. It’s ok to listen to them tell you about their bad day, but it’s not ok to take them to Sonic and have a drink. Don’t be THAT teacher! Make connections by finding out about their hobbies. Ask questions about their past math experiences. Ask them how they learn best. Go watch their school football or volleyball games. It’s great for the students to see that you care about them, but be super smart about your actions.
Students that act out in class are not bad kids. If they talk too much, or sleep during class, there is a reason. Try to get to the bottom of the issue. You can remedy problems very quickly if you can get to the root cause. Ask them questions like:
- “I notice that you sleep during class, do you have a job that keeps you up late?”
- “How have you done in past math classes?”
- “Do you get along with everyone in this class?”
The kids themselves are not the issue in regular classes. There is much more to this! Keep reading!
The Bad: One bad thing about teaching these classes will be the size of your class. The majority of students are in regular classes, so it makes sense that these classes will be bigger. That’s bad because how do you help these students individually? It’s tough, but one solution is to let them help each other as much as possible. I like to do lots of partner work and group work which can be good and bad. You have to train the students how to act. Give them specific directions on duties and protocols. Be consistent and it will get better. If you keep them in rows and stand and talk at the front of the room all day, they will not learn a thing. Trust me on this one. I’ve been THAT teacher.
One of my favorite things to do in groups is group tests/quizzes. The strategy is to get everyone engaged and learning from each other. To learn more about my group quiz strategy, go here.
Organization can be a booger too! Here are a few things to make your classes run smoothly:
- DON’T grade everything.
- Keep a seating chart at all times. This saves so many headaches! Students see you have an expectation of where they will sit. This shows them that you are organized.
- Make use of a hall pass and keep a tardy log.
- DO use every ounce of time in class to work. Free time is not good with this type of student…which leads me to the next paragraph…
Many of these types of students do not know how to self start, so you will need to guide them in this. Motivation levels in regular students are not always the best either. How do you teach them to be motivated and be a self starter? First of all, have procedures. Students need to know exactly what you expect when they walk in the door. Phones are put away and the spiral notebooks come out! Figure out what is best for your classroom. The motivation comes over time if students are not bored, see value in what they are learning and gain some confidence.
The Ugly: The ugliest part about teaching regular math students is the wide variety of abilities. This presents a huge challenge. Is differentiation the answer? You can differentiate all day long but when you have 170 students, 11 of them are SPED, several students are dyslexic, and 59 are ESL, then it gets ugly. How can I differentiate? Differentiation does not have to be create a brand new lesson that is specialized for each person. Here are some ideas to differentiate in a math class:
- Reducing the number of problems by looking at a worksheet and deciding which ones are tougher and taking those off. Another way of reducing work and letting the student feel like they are playing a role is to tell them to do any 5 out of 10 problems.
- Choose between a digital or paper and pencil.
- Choose between preferred learning style…worksheet vs. kinesthetic.
- Create their own problems and work them.
- Record their explanation instead of writing it.
- Let them redo the work many times until they understand. Don’t recreate the wheel… Boom Learning is perfect for this as well as Easel activities from TpT. (These links send you to my stores on both sites. The Easel activities can be created using any PDF. If you see something you would like for me to change into an Easel activity for you, just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org )
- Working with a partner or a group.
I don’t want to sugar coat what it’s like to be a teacher of regular math students. It’s hard, but there are ways to make it work and make it better. I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to use to help make your teacher life more doable. Be positive and treat yourself with grace. This is a tough job, but it can be rewarding. If you have any questions, please email me. Have a great year!