Blue Suede Shoes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 08 2011

The Math Coach…

Early in the year, a math coach from the district came to my school and observed each of us. Her attitude towards Teach For America was very negative and offered feedback that I found very difficult to conceive of implementing in my classroom (no remediation? EOCT rigor all the time? I’d lose even more than I already have…). Though her unprofessionalism unsettled me, I did not take it personally, especially since it seemed that others had worse encounters with her in which she challenged their ability and credentials.

She returned twice more, never observing my classroom, though writing a positive review of a weekly assignment board I had put up in my classroom. With each visit, though, she seemed to have choice words for the teacher(s) she observed.

I guess today was my lucky day. She came during my first algebra class, which, management-wise, is definitely my worst class. I was embarrassed at their behavior and my lack of ability to control it. But what made me even madder was what she said to me after the observation while the students were at lunch.

Me:  Do you have any feedback for me?

Math coach: No.

Me: (stunned and baffled silence)

What kind of coach doesn’t even try to make her players better? She told me that because I had not listened to her advice at the beginning of the year (yes, I was remediating fractions for the first half of the lesson today because, as you observed, many of my students are still very rusty; no, I am not following the district’s instructional map, but I assure you I am covering all the standards this year), she had nothing to say to me. No tips for classroom management, no tips for upping investment. 26 years of teaching and all you have to say to me is that if I’d followed the instructional map, my students would be on “remote control”? As if the silver bullet is teaching the content in a specific order and never wavering from it. Good lord, if that were the key to the achievement gap, why am I even here?

Problem solved, America! Follow a grade-appropriate instructional map and students who are grade levels behind will magically catch up because they will take you and your structure seriously. Students who once slept through your class will definitely stay awake because you’re teaching Chapter 10 when you’re supposed to. Students who never take notes will become regular Anais Nins. Turns out they were just rebelling because Chapter 9 wasn’t the right chapter on the instructional map.

Give me a break. Despite the sarcasm, I’m trying to “operate with a sense of respect and humility,” and I know there is a lot I could be doing better in my classroom. Maybe if I had followed the textbook closer, my students would feel more motivated to use it and study more. But I am doing the best that I can 2.5 quarters into the year, and I am asking for help, and all I am hearing is, “I’ve given up on you.” She told me that “the school year is almost over,” and there’s “nothing I can do for you now [that you have ignored my advice from the beginning of the year].” When I told her I was concerned some students will not pass the EOCT and that I really do want to be a better teacher, she told me to “hang in there” and “hope they pass the EOCT.” Where’s the coaching I’m supposed to be getting? A [good] coach doesn’t tell her players what to do once, leave them to it, and then give up on them when they’ve done it wrong. Doesn’t the word coach imply that she should be guiding us, following up, and reflecting with us? Her disdain for Teach For America is misplaced, at least in that she could be learning a lot from the co-investigation process. Why can’t we sit down and discuss my progress? Why can’t we sit down and discuss how to get my students ready so that they don’t have to take this class again next year?

Can you imagine if a teacher said to a student something like, “Well, it’s too late in the year for you to catch up. You’ve continuously refused to take notes, and I’ve given up on you. So just do your best, but I’m not helping you anymore”? Not only would it be wholly counterproductive, but it would also be inappropriate. I would never say that to a student, and if I did say it, I might not have a job next year. Meanwhile, this math coach says it to me like her instructional map says “Eff It” at the 22 week mark when it comes to her teachers. Live up to your job description and coach me!

I’m still telling my failing students that I believe in them and that they can improve their grades. And it’s true: they can pass if they do the work that is expected and do it well. I believe in second chances for them. Why can’t my math coach offer me the same kind of faith?

5 Responses

  1. G

    I can totally relate to you…

  2. Kat

    My name is Kat, and I am a math coach (sounds like the beginning of a 12-step program, doesn’t it??). I found your post after a particularly bad day of trying to work with a new teacher who pretty much told me that I was stupid and should go f— myself. I’ll back away for a few days, but I’ll be damned if I’ll give up on her.

    It could be that your coach is frustrated, and not necessarily with you. If you think bringing kids to a prescribed level of competence from various starting points is difficult, try working with adults…it’s like herding cats.

    Hang in there, and give her a chance to be a coach again.

    • Hi Kat,
      Thanks for the insight from a math coach point of view. I am really hopeful that my coach and I can find some common ground in the next weeks coming up on the EOCT. I have to keep thinking that she must know what she’s talking about, and I know she achieved great results with her students. Good luck with your new coachee, too!

    • Kath

      Hi Kat,
      I am a new coach and am struggling trying to make myself utilized and effective as a math coach, not a glorified paraprofessional. Any suggestions?

  3. TAC

    I am eager for the next post!

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