A Middle School Math Teacher’s Most Important Job

If I had a dollar for every time this year that I’ve heard the phrase, “Can you switch my seat?” I would be able to take my wife to a nice restaurant and treat her to a fancy meal.  Seating charts strike fear into the hearts of middle school students, especially when the core of an instructional strategy like mine is (insert daunting music here) group work.

A teacher’s most important job?  We have many of those–caregiver, instructor, leader, guide, confidant, etc.–and I could also list several things I want my students to be able to do because of my leadership.  But, according to the voices of the colleges and workplaces of the changing world, there are two main skills that will lead my students to success.

They must learn to collaborate and communicate.

I teach mathematics.  In my middle school years, math was the dry accumulation of calculating and solving word problems with prescribed algorithms or steps.  I sat in a desk, in a row, and watched the teacher do math problems for 50 minutes.  It was dreadfully boring and I’m pretty sure I learned nothing, other than how to draw a really cool logo for my band.  Back then, the most important job skills for high-reward jobs were work ethic, ability to tie a tie, effective sales techniques, and the ability to press the “snooze” button no more than three times.

Now, according the Workforce Readiness Report Card, our kids are looking at some serious competition.  Well, so were we, but this time it’s global.  Our children must be prepared to communicate and collaborate globally and digitally.  Which means, when you’re talking about the average middle school student, we have some work to do.

Over the next week or so, I would like to add an entry for every idea that I’ve come across to make this happen, especially if I’m planning to implement it next year.  I will also look eagerly for comments on this site and on Facebook for other ideas that I hadn’t thought of.

It is this author’s idea that we must start teaching our kids to work together productively from the elementary years.  We have to get them to start seeing problem-solving as team effort, where we all have common goals and a common interest in the outcome.

Then, we’ll need to somehow convince the politicians and administrators.

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About Kris Nielsen
Kris L. Nielsen has been a middle grades educator and instructional leader for ten years in New Mexico, Oregon, and North Carolina. He is a graduate of Western Governors University’s Master of Science Education program, with emphasis on child development and instructional technology. Kris is an activist against corporate education reforms and has had his writing featured in several online magazines and blogs, including those of the Washington Post and Diane Ravitch. Kris currently lives in New Mexico with his young son and beautiful wife.

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