One of my favorite teachers when I was in 7th grade was my math teacher Ms. Carpenter. And the interesting thing is that I can't really recall anything in particular that she did that was unusual or innovative or exciting. What I most remember is that Ms. Carpenter's class was always quiet and orderly, that it felt like a safe place to be, and that Ms. Carpenter exuded competence and professionalism.
My strongest memories of Ms. Carpenter are of her either at the chalkboard explaining to us how to do something (I particularly remember learning how to calculate percents), or sitting behind her desk while we would one-at-a-time go up to ask her questions about whatever math problems we were working on. We never watched videos, or played math bingo, or had competitions to see which team could go to the board and solve problems the fastest, or made artistic math posters.
And I loved it. Ms. Carpenter was strict without being mean, and she made it clear that we were there to get our work done, and that she was there to help us do it and not to be our buddy. I've had other teachers who were more personable or fun, and I liked some of them okay as well, but they weren't necessarily any better than Ms. Carpenter.
I've been thinking about Ms. Carpenter recently, particularly as I struggle with students who have trouble focusing on their classwork. They would much rather chat with their friends, or try to distract me with non-math-related questions. And occasionally one of them will suggest that I should make the class more "interesting" or "fun."
I used to worry about this. I would worry that I wasn't a good teacher because I was boring, or I didn't have enough fun games to help my students learn math, but lately I've been thinking about Ms. Carpenter, and other teachers I've had who weren't necessarily exciting or entertaining, they were just competent and organized and insisted that I work hard. And I got a lot out of their classes because the classes were orderly, and I knew what was expected of me, and if I had questions I could get them answered.
So here's a belated thanks to Ms. Carpenter, who taught me about math and also created a classroom environment where the students were expected to work hard and, at least in my case, that's what I did.
Image by Forty Two on Flickr.