When I compare myself as a teacher today, to myself as a teacher when I first started, I only recognize bits and pieces of myself.  Over the past two years I have changed for the better, for the worse, and back to better again.

To tell the story of my teaching transformation, we need to start at the beginning...

The first time I thought about being a teacher was when I was in 11th grade.  That year, I began tutoring elementary and middle school aged children after school.  I enjoyed helping others understand something that they did not understand previously.  Knowing that I had somehow helped people learn, was one of the best feelings I've ever had.

Fast forward to college.  I continued tutoring, helping my classmates and friends, mostly in math, and I started TAing.  It was while TAing a biometrics class that I got my first taste of teaching.  The professor was out for a class and asked the other TAs and myself to teach in his absence.  It was definitely a scary experience, but also one I enjoyed.  Instead of reaching one person at a time I could reach a whole class.

These experiences led me to Mississippi Teacher Corps.  I realized that I wanted to teach, that I felt like I could make a difference as a teacher.  Of course it was too late to become an education major, so I found MTC.

My first summer in Mississippi was a learning experience, and, for me, a gradual introduction to teaching.  I think of that summer as Teaching 101.  We learned to write lesson plans, organize units, and write meaningful assessments in class.  Then we learned how to teach, mostly by trial and error.  The first summer school session I taught middle school science.  I only had one student, so it was more like tutoring than teaching.  In a way this was good for me.  I already knew how to tutor, I knew I could teach one on one.  This gave me a chance to get used to feeling like a teacher, writing plans, writing on the board, working the overhead, talking in the front of the room, etc, without worrying too much if I was totally screwing up this kids education.

The second summer school session I taught middle/high school math.  This time I had more students, 12 to be exact.  I had gained confidence in my ability to act like a teacher during the first session, and now I could work on classroom management skills, as well as making sure I was teaching every student.  Both tasks were a challange, and still are.  I found out that session that I had a long way to go to being a good teacher in addition to a good tutor.

After summer school, it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  I am firmly convinced that nothing can prepare you to have your own classroom.  I was not a very good teacher my first year.  I had some great lessons, and wonderful units, and hands on activities, but I couldn't teach.  The reason?  Poor classroom management.  I was too busy baby-sitting my students to teach them anything.  There were days, and parts of days where I was able to teach, but they were too few. 

I learned a lot that first year, to make my second year a lot better.  The first thing I learned was that somehow, someway I had to manage my class.  Easier said than done for me.  I had to learn the hard way that in order to teach, which I love, I have to be a disciplinarian, which I hate.  I am still struggling with being a disciplinarian, though I am much better at it now.  It is something that I have to consciously work at everyday.

The second thing I learned came from my graduate classes.  One of my courses was a math methods class.  The class presented different ways to approach topics, different ways to reach different students.  The class made me look at math from a students perspective. 

One example of how this was helpful involved teaching fractions.  This was my first year, and I was teaching sixth grade math.  One of the things we did in the math methods class was represent fractions using pattern blocks.  This came at the right time for me, as I was trying to teach fractions to my sixth graders.  I was having trouble getting students to understand the concept of fractions and was getting frustrated.  Then, I tried the pattern block activity we had learned in the methods class.  The students finally started to grasp what fractions were.  The methods class forced me to look at math outside myself.  I love math and have always been good at it, and I was approaching teaching with that mindset.  Unfortunately not many students share my mindset about math, and that was where I was running into problems.  After I figured that out, teaching got a little bit easier, though planning got a little bit harder.

This year, I teach algebra I at North Panola High School, and I am a much better teacher this year.  First of all, because I could control my classroom, and secondly because I was better at planning at the students' level rather than my own.

Because I had better classroom management I was able to focus more of my energy on teaching.  At first, I used the traditional notes/guided practice/independent practice format for teaching.  I focused on giving students as much individual feedback as I could while they were working, and had moderate success.  By moderate success I estimate that about 60% of my students were learning the content, some more quickly than others.  I was not satisfied with this. 

I looked at the different parts of each lesson, and found that the independent practice where I was helping various students was when most learning occured.  I then realized that because of notes and guided practice, we only spend a minimal (maybe 15-20) minutes on independent practice.  If that is when students are learning, than that is what the most time should be spent on.  I tried different things with various amounts of success.  I did projects, gave them notes instead of having them write notes, and tried to get students to discuss math instead of just doing it.

I finally found something that worked for both me and my students with the help of an Ole Miss program.  The school had hired/invited an Ole Miss program to work with myself and Karl (the other algebra teacher), along with some middle school teachers, to improve our algebra test scores.  They, the Ole Miss people, introduced me to 'tasks.'  Tasks are student centered lessons.  Students typically work in groups on a lab sheet (or task) as the teacher monitors and helps as needed.  The labs are designed so students understand underlying concepts rather just procedural knowledge.

I started to implement this strategy in class with wonderful results.  The first of which was that I got to do more of what I enjoyed most, working with individual students or groups instead of lecturing in front of the class.  Equally important, if not more important, the students were more engaged.  It took them awhile to get used to figuring things out for themselves, but they are much more confident in their ability to figure problems out now.  Since the student is more in control of what and how they learn, they are more invested in the class.  The groups also help many students.  My students get tired of listening to me, especially when they would much rather be listening to their friends and the groups make that possible.  It also never fails to amaze me that a student could say exactly what I have said 10 times before, but suddenly everyone understands.

I have become a much better teacher in the course of two years, but I still have a ways to go.  With new technology arriving almost daily there is always something new to try.  I may have found a teaching style that works well, but who's to say there isn't a better way out there that I haven't found yet?  I still need to work on classroom management, differentiated instruction, reaching different learning styles, and so much more.  I might be a good teacher now, but I want to be a great teacher, and that means I have to keep on learning and growing in my profession.

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