A Gentle Reminder That We Are All Trying Our Best

I’ve been seeing a few things around Twitter recently, and especially since TMC is less than a month away (!!), that made me feel like we may need this gentle reminder:

We as teachers are all trying, to the best of our ability, to have students reach the best of their ability.

Like students, teachers have different backgrounds, knowledge, experience, comfort levels, and specialties; as well as different student populations and school climates.  Almost every teacher I work with is giving all that they have to give into being a good teacher, but what they have to give may vary.  Some teachers are there early every morning to tutor, but that doesn’t mean those who don’t tutor in the morning are any less dedicated. I can stay at school later than others because I don’t have kids to pick up, but I’m also not at the school until 9 coaching sports.  I tried having my class in groups this year, some teachers also had groups, some teachers had groups sometimes, and some teachers didn’t have groups at all.

Just because something works for you doesn’t mean it works for someone else.  The reverse of this is something that I feel we lose sight of in the MTBoS:

Just because something won’t work for you doesn’t mean it doesn‘t work for someone else.

Imagine you’re a teacher who has been teaching for a few years, mostly by following the issued textbook. You spend quite a bit of time on perfecting your lectures and you mostly follow the same routine of “I do, We do, You do” that you were taught in education school. Your students perform reasonably well in your class, but you’re usually not their “favorite” teacher.  You have made some students like math more (and probably a few like it less).  You’re putting in your best effort, but looking for ways to improve, so you join Twitter.  Within the next couple of weeks, you see comments like these:

“I can’t believe they actually lectured for the entire day.”

“If you don’t have solid relationships with all your students, you can’t be an effective teacher.”

“This teacher isn’t sharing her stuff”

“This teacher is sharing her stuff, but it’s on Teachers Pay Teachers.”

“Look at this stupid textbook problem, can you believe anyone would assign it?”

“_______ is the wrong way to teach ______.”

“Your role is not to tell them, but have them discover.”

“Don’t give hints.”

“Don’t give homework.”

“Don’t give answers.”

“Give answers.”

“Don’t give notes.”

“You can give notes, as long as they are on pretty paper.”

“Don’t watch Khan Academy!”

“Students shouldn’t trust their teacher to be the math expert.”

Would you want to come back to twitter? Would you want to join in this conversation?  Would you think you even had anything to contribute to the conversation?  Would you want to go back to school the next day, feeling that you’re doing everything wrong?

Confession: I was and am that teacher. Even when I was just reading blogs, I had to unsubscribe to a few of the “top” ones because they just made me feel like I was doing irreparable harm to my students. I’m so glad I took a chance on going to TMC14, because most of the people there inspired me to be better instead of shaming me about where I am.  I would also say about 95% of Twitter also inspires and I’m trying to do better at culling out those who don’t inspire me (which doesn’t mean they can’t inspire you).

Confession II: I almost didn’t want to share my files that I’ve been posting this summer because then the ugly rumor that I lecture a lot and “mama bird” my students would be proven true.  But then I thought, “You know what? A lot of students love my NoteTakerMakers and I’ve had success with them so maybe someone else will, too, or maybe they’ll take them and make something better.”  I’m trying my best. This is what has worked for me before and it is what I have to give.

Confession III: I’m not saying I’ve never made the sort of statements that I’ve listed above.  Or thought about another teacher, “She doesn’t even read blogs!” But if I had to list the top five teachers that I’ve worked with in person, less than half are or were active on the Internet.  And even though I’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to cringe when I hear “Khan Academy,” I still recommend it to my students who are struggling. Because, yes, even Khan Academy is trying to help students in the best way they know how.

Basically this is 1,000 words to remind you:

  • Assume every teacher has the best of intentions. Yes, just like with our students, there are some that perform better than others, but I doubt there are many teachers that wake up and think, “I would like to make my kids really hate math today.”  That is not to say we don’t all have room to improve, but…
  • You can only do what you can do. If you see a good idea that may be out of your comfort zone, try it out. If it doesn’t work, see if you can change it to make it better or if it’s just not for you at this time. If you see someone say that what you are currently doing is “bad,” read it and reflect.  Maybe there is something you need to change, but maybe there isn’t.
    Think of improving your classroom like getting in shape. Sure, you could do a crash diet of Three Acts and ban all sugary worksheets forever, but if that’s not comfortable to you, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Try little modifications until you’re strong enough to try the big stuff (but not everyone has to run a marathon to be in shape).  What we are doing is important, but let’s remind ourselves it’s not life or death. If you’ve been up all night with a sick kid and have your kids do a practice worksheet in class the next day, the world will still continue to spin.
  • You are all inspiring teachers. Let’s build on that by putting positivity out there (“This is something awesome that worked for me”) instead of negativity (“Doing this instead of that is bad!”). (This is not to say you shouldn’t let us know when something doesn’t work for you.)  Think about how you can inspire teachers to move out of their comfort zone without putting them in the panic zone (or the defensive zone).
  • Mold your Twitter and blog feed into something inspiring for you. If every time you read a tweet from ____, you roll your eyes, feel like a horrible teacher, or get defensive, stop following that person. If your eyes glaze over every time you see another post from ____ in your feed, unsubscribe.  (That’s not to say you should only follow people that teach exactly like you do.)

And if you ever need a little more inspiration in your day, Coach needs to tell you something:

(link here if embed doesn’t work)  Now go be the awesome teacher that you are.

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37 comments on “A Gentle Reminder That We Are All Trying Our Best

  1. I love reading blogs that say what I feel and you just said it. What a great encouragement to teachers. We are so often maligned or misunderstood by those outside our profession that we certainly don’t need to be maligning and discouraging each other. Although teaching methods do make a difference, I think that any teaching method can be inspiring if the teacher is passionate about math and conveys to his or her students “I believe in you!”

    • Thanks for the comment–you expressed in 20 words what took me 1,000! 🙂

  2. Thanks Meg. You expressed it beautifully.

    • Thank you for the lovely comment. 🙂

  3. Yay you! Maybe I’m one of the few who often thinks,
    “I would like to make my kids really hate math today.”
    but I’ll try not to push my philosophy on others :).
    I love your words and sentiment and it’s nice to “hear” it frequently as a heads up.

    • Thanks for the comment, Shireen! On hate-math days, I try to at least warn my kids, “Today is not going to be your favorite math day, but THEY decided you need to…” (I blame a lot of things on the mysterious “THEY” in charge of math.)

  4. Thank you for this post. I have gotten better at not taking to heart comments, generally well intentioned, that are negative with regards to methods that I employ in my classroom. You are quite right that the world continues to spin if I have to use a worksheets or if I use more direct teaching than the average MtBos member. It is comforting to read your reminder.

    • Thank you for the comment; you are quite welcome. We all need to be reminded every now and again that we are awesome, right? 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for this timely post. Just today I was in a group discussing problem based learning and almost everyone there was talking as though it were somehow sinful to engage in direct instruction. And I was a bit too intimidated to speak my peace and let them know that I feel like there is room for all kinds of strategies and different kinds of teaching and learning. I never worry about my students judging my teaching. But it hurts to feel that other teachers may be judging me. And I’m afraid I do too much of that myself. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Oh my, I’ve been there before-what an awkward situation! It’s hard to walk that fine line of, “yes, project based learning is a great and powerful tool to have, but it’s not the only tool” without (a) insulting someone and (b) sounding resistant to any change.
      I think as teachers we are way too hard on ourselves! I’m glad this post gave you a little reminder that you are awesome no matter what method you use to reach your students!

  6. Such a great post! An important reminder that we are all in different points in our teaching journey. 🙂

    • Thank you, Annie. And it definitely is a journey with many different paths! 🙂

  7. Thanks for the great post! I was thinking this morning, that I tend to read about others’ practice with an attitude of, “This is what works for this person, and it works so well they took the time to share it with the world. What aspect of it might work for my kids? Why might it flop for my kids?” It took me a while to understand just how very different different schools and classrooms are, and I think that as a result, I’ve toned down my various evangelisms. So now I tend to write from a stance of “Hey, here’s something that worked for me, and here’s how and why I think it worked for me, and maybe you’ll find it useful.” I have much better conversations when I’m just curious and I assume everyone is smart and well-intentioned (which sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but I think it’s also easy to not make those assumptions if I’m not paying attention). Anyway! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Kate. I think sometimes we get so excited by success that we think we’ve found the magic potion that will work for everyone! I will also try to remember about everyone being smart and well-intentioned when yet another mandate comes from the administration. 🙂

  8. Thank you for this blog post, Meg. I’ve felt like you probably the last two years with regards to “The Internets”. I’ve mostly stayed on the fringes, and at times I’ve posted my feelings on things, only to be made to feel stupid for thinking such a thing (but not often). Just when I’m getting braver to speak my mind to a wider audience and jump in, I sort of retreat back to the edge of the pool. This post summed up my thoughts perfectly!

    I’m changing roles next year in my district becoming an Instructional Facilitator and keeping my HS Math Coaching roles, and all of this is great material to keep in mind. This is how I try to approach all the teachers I work with in my district, and want to continue to in the future. We all have our unique strengths; there is no one magical correct way. However, we all have to support each other in all of our main goal: helping students.

    • Ooh, that sounds like an exciting new role for you next year! I will admit I lurked a LONG time on the MTBoS before contributing (probably something like 5 years before even commenting on a blog–and even then, I think I felt really stupid after submitting it, like, “duh, of course this smart awesome math teacher-person would already have thought of that”) and lurking is great, but I hope you jump in some more! I’m sure you have great ideas to share!

  9. Awesome! Thank you! I hope I am not guilty of this but I feel like I have been…

    • Thanks for the comment, Ryan! I think we most have been inadvertently guilty of this, but with the best of intentions!

  10. Great post, Meg.

    As you mentioned, I think we all craft our tweets/posts/comments/etc. poorly from time to time. When I started blogging, my voice in the MTBoS and beyond sounded a lot like the examples you gave above. For me, I felt like I had something to prove when I started blogging and tweeting which made my opinions come out in a blunt, my way or the highway, sort of fashion.

    Over time, I’ve learned so much and I am now living the quote: “the more I learn, the less I know” which makes me want to undo many interactions I’ve had.

    Fortunately for you, it is clear that you are well aware of how negative sounding we can all be at times. When I’m posting, I will definitely keep your comments in mind.

    Thanks again,


    • Thanks for the comment, Kyle. I, too, am definitely at fault at making these type of comments (especially with 140 twitter limit a lot of things come out wrong. Or not as funny as I thought when I typed it.) so I think I wrote this as a reminder to myself as well. Love that quote, too! 🙂

  11. Wonderfully inspirational!

    As a friend and colleague told me years ago, each teacher has to sing his/her own special song, and doing so doesn’t make it wrong. Your post reminded me of this.

    • Oh, that’s a great quote! Thanks for sharing it and for the comment!

  12. Meg-
    Thanks for all of the blogs and word docs. This was my first year teaching and I taught 4 sections of PreCalculus. I definitely stole some of your stuff and adpated some of it(thanks for the Word format). Your material saved me several times (the times I thought I was ready and then decided at the last minute that what I was going to teach was NOT good at all ). Even when I didn’t use it, it was really helpful to read your blog about what worked and didn’t and why. Thanks for sharing!

    • Aw, thanks, John! I’m glad I could help a first-year teacher out! There is so much other stuff to think about as a first-year, that sometimes it’s nice to have a head start on the notes! I was debating using PDFs since I use weird fonts sometimes, but then I figured that (a) you all were smart enough to download or change the font and (b) you all were smart enough to edit them as needed for your students (and also (c) I’m too lazy to convert to PDF).
      This comment is totally going in my “warm fuzzies” file.

  13. This is a great post! I especially like how you approached it. There are so many aspects about it, too, that’s worth discussing. I wrote about something similar back in Feb.

    At the same time I have been trying to draft another post of a similar nature: except this time cautioning people to not simply copy what others do – to put more of themselves in it – to make it their own. as I read your post, I am reminded of all these things that I’ve been thinking about, except you’ve definitely thrown on a more positive tone. I do hold a similar belief that there’s so much to learn from any teacher — or any person in the world. Although I am unsure about that piece of advice about unsubscribing. I don’t think that I would personally do that – but that’s just how I am. (although I haven’t had time in the past while to finish everything in my feed)

    Once again, this is a great post and I am glad someone else wrote about it 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Jim! Oh, I’m about to go read your post and see what advice you have. About unsubscribing…I think I maybe unsubscribed from maybe 5 blogs? And it wasn’t even that they were “bad,” more so they were talking about a lot of things that didn’t pertain to me and didn’t “spark” me. For some reason, 5,000 unread gmails doesn’t bother me, but I must have 0 unread items in my feed.

      • wow I’m impressed – 0 unread items. I need to get on that!

  14. This really resonated for me as well. I periodically retreat for exactly the reasons you describe. I appreciate the reminder to reframe other’s intentions. Thank you!

    • Thanks for letting me know you got something out of this post, Jasmine. I hope it encourages you to join in more (but sometimes a break is quite refreshing–we can’t be All Math All Awesome all the time!)

  15. Thanks. It’s helpful for a newbie to hear there is a place for all.

    • Yes there is! You just need to find it. You already started with a good name. 🙂

  16. Thanks for the post! It reminded me of Steve Reinhart’s great MTMS article “Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say” (way back in 2000) and in particular his point about “making a commitment to change 10 percent of my teaching each year”.

    (And indirectly, that while we’ve largely switched to a publish-then-filter world, of which the MTBoS is an example, and our increased comfort sharing incomplete thinking has enabled some great collaborative stuff, the old filter-then-publish world has some great stuff that we might want to check out too!)

    • You are welcome, Sendhil. I was just thinking of that quote the other day and did not know where I had seen it–thanks for the memory jog! And yes, I am a bit guilty of forgetting that filter-then-publish has a lot of good, well-thought-out and well-intended stuff, so thanks for that reminder, too!

  17. […] an example from the community. Meg Craig cares about kindness and empathy. She wrote about this on her blog recently. She urged us all to remember that We as teachers are all trying, to the best of our ability, to […]

  18. […] Craig’s “Gentle Reminder” resonated with the feeling of hesitation I’ve had and was also very encouraging.  […]

  19. Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to tina.cardone1@gmail.com whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.

  20. […] Thanks Justin, Casey, Brian, Annie, Megan, Becky, Amy, Elizabeth, Andrew, Ilana, @Mr_Harris_Math, Meg, and soooo many more of […]

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