How Far We’ve Come

About six years ago, I was a naive teacher who was starting out my formal teacher career in an inner-city school in east end Toronto. My first lesson involved showing Grade 7 students that the interior angles of any triangle add up to 180 degrees. I made lots of newbie mistakes. I gave out the scissors first. I didn’t instruct the kids not to make straight cuts on the angles. In the end, no one was listening and everyone had hacked up triangles, but not a single child knew what was going on! It was a pretty big disaster and I laugh now when I think back on it.

Fast forward to 2016.

I pull this lesson out for a Friday morning before the bell. I know what to do and how to execute it all without needing to write it down. I know what materials I need and I can see all the pitfalls ahead before they even happen. A lot happens subconsciously now.


And it’s amazing to be reminded of how far you’ve come. Often, we don’t realize our own progress. We can take our skills for granted. At the odd moment, you are reminded of how long you’ve been in the classroom.

It was nice to have a reminder of my progress this morning when B., a tutor who has been helping in my math classes for the past three weeks, gave me a compliment.  I don’t recall what was said prior, but he told me that my classroom was the best math class he had ever been to. My students are engaged and are listening. They are focused and they are working. That is not the norm, he said.

I felt flattered and to be honest, I can’t remember if I said thank you in return! To be clear, I enjoy positive feedback, but I have, in the past, a terrible habit of dismissing compliments when I receive them. I will brush them off, I won’t look people in the eye or I will silently stare back awkwardly in silence. Of course, we all like compliments. I simply just don’t know how to react to them!

But it was nice. I appreciated it. And it just made it that much more of an excellent teaching day!


Using Privacy Partitions

Back in September, I bought a stack of privacy partitions. I had never used them before, but when I saw them in a school supply catalog, they intrigued me. They are plain, black cardboard pieces with two flaps. They fit most school desks and are meant to help students focus on their work.

Since they arrived in the fall, I’ve been using them for test days. I don’t use them often, as the boards are meant as a environmental signal that things are getting SERIOUS!! It’s helped immensely. When they come into the classroom and see the boards set up, they stiffen up and sneak around the room quietly, making sure not to disturb anyone else who’s already arrived. Whispering and discussion between kids has now gone down to minimal and they seem to be able to focus better.

Here is a shot of y Grade 11s writing a math test.

Today, I also began collecting cellphones and electronics too. Most of my Grade 11s are fairly respectful and know how my classroom works, so no one batted an eyelash or hesitated when I produced the basket with an outstretched hand.

Definitely a great investment if it’s in your budget!