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motivations

December 7, 2010

I set this blog up months ago in a sad attempt to get myself motivated to write about education.  My initial focus was to write each night about what I had experienced and bring out the lessons and wonders in what I am able to accomplish as an educator.  It shouldn’t be strange that in a field like education, I wouldn’t be able to write about happiness and light on a daily basis.  Being a teacher is a struggle, and I find that my motivations are highly selfish.  I want to fix and change the things I experiences as a student, and take away the ridiculous nonsense that today’s students have to deal with.

I am motivated by a constant need to change things.

At a recent open house, I was asked if I taught any AP classes.  I’m not sure if I believe that Calculus should even be taught at the high school level, so the question of whether we had AP Calc took me a little off guard.  College Calculus is a traditional benchmark class, which is purposefully difficult in order to keep people who are not ready at arm’s length.  The experience of coming into your freshman year with a fast-paced, academically challenging class chock full of homework is not an experience that any dedicated student should escape.  Since I feel students need to be challenged, let me leave aside the validity of a gateway course, and just say that I believe it is more important to take Calculus in college than to skip it.

What is the purpose of AP courses?  Would a college rather accept a student with a 3 on an AP test, or would they rather see a wide span of academic pursuits?   At a school where I have implemented two full years of elective, advanced math courses, it is clear to me that I am focused on allowing students to entertain their curiosity, more than their need to start college a year early.  I think my students understand this.  My Calculus class is a springboard, which attempts to prepare them for  the inevitable horrors they will face freshman year.   Knowing that a student already has college credit in a benchmark class like Calculus means they should be prepared to move into higher mathematics, right?  We have allowed a test to take the place of a year of experience in the purposeful factory-of-failure known as college Calculus.

So when I am asked by a parent about AP courses, I fall into a motivational trap.  In broad terms, the question can be translated as “I want you to do what is best for my child.”  Based on my experience, I think that what is ‘best’ is to give them a wide selection of possible academic courses that will entice them into developing an amazing work sample that will impress colleges into bringing them into their programs.  I believe that what is ‘best’ for students is to push them in cycles of challenge and contemplation, to build their critical thinking skills and teach them how to solve problems on their own.  I act as though the ‘best’ student is one who has owned their education.  None of this has anything to do with standardized tests, or anything to do with skipping out on fundamental challenges in college.

Of course, I capitulate.  I explain my program, but add that I can fill in the gaps that would allow a student to take an AP test.  I give in to personal weakness, because I know that my explanation sounds like an excuse.  If institutions of education across the country find the AP test to be the highest form of academic achievement, then who am I to say otherwise?  A teacher in a small school with a BS and a dream?

Like I said at the start, my motivations here are entirely selfish.  The system of education in the US is in dire need of some changing, and I want my voice to be added to the chorus of educators trying to fix it.  That’s why I plan to write.  That’s how I hope to teach.

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