MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY:
I love Laney and I love Laney students!! I work hard to create a classroom environment where all students can thrive and to let each of my students (or ANY students that approach me or email me questions) know that I care about their success and want to help. If I don’t know something, I will try to find someone who does and direct students to them. I want ALL OF YOU to succeed!!
My Personal Philosophy in Teaching Math
I try to make a community within my classroom by having students work together most days. I also check in with students as much as I can during class – to see their work, to let them know I see them working and to be encouraging. I try to learn everyone’s names and how to pronounce them correctly within the first 2 weeks of school. I know that I don’t always pronounce student’s names correctly, but I try and I ask. I greet students when they come in and I try to do that throughout the semester, even if they are late. I ask students to share their math experiences and talk about the affective domain (mindsets and how our brain continues to grow). I ask them to share their own experiences and I share my own. I try to be flexible when I know that a student is trying and I try to assume that they always are. I try to be accepting and kind at all times and in all interactions. I feel like it is my job to help EVERY student in class successfully complete my class and I let them know that I am on THEIR side, as much as I can, throughout the semester. I email students compliments when I have time. I check in on students who are missing class or falling behind. I incorporate the idea of Learning From Mistakes within my courses, so students have multiple chances to succeed. I reach out to counselors (currently Mr. Cobb and Ms. Gomez), if I am unable to find a student that is missing or falling behind to try to get them back in class/keep them moving forward. I try to be flexible about accepting assignments late and helping students out, when I can. I smile as much as I can. I ask students about their goals/desires and their hobbies and share about myself. I tell students about how I have failed and where I have succeeded and how I learned to persist, when I wasn’t doing well. I ask former students to come back and talk to my next students – to tell my new students about their experiences and talk about the course and what they did to succeed. I ask former students to be tutors when the semester is done. I ask successful people within the community to come and inspire my class. At the end of the semester I try to send each student an email. Those who pass I celebrate and let them know how pleased I am with their hard work. I try to encourage those who do not pass to retake the course, to let them know what they did well, to offer my help to them in any way I (or they) can think of. I want to incorporate material that would include student’s interests – that is what I plan to work on now. I also want to look more deeply at my own statistics and failure rates among minority groups – this is also part of what I plan to work on with colleagues this fall. When I see students on campus, outside of class, I try to go out of my way to say hi. If approached, I try to talk and listen, even if it means I will be late in getting to my next appointment. I try not to interrupt, as much as I can help it. And if a student invites me to graduation, I will go and I will cheer loudly for them (also for those who don’t invite me)!
When students contact me out of the blue, I respond to them, even if they are not in my class or aren’t planning on taking my class and I try to give them the best information I can. If I cannot find something for them, I will try my best to point them in the right direction. This happens a lot.
When I write emails, I try to be kind. I try to start with a greeting and end with encouragement and to make sure that I’ve answered their question.
Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I call a student by the wrong name…repeatedly. Sometimes I use the wrong pronouns…repeatedly. I give bad information because I failed to understand the request given or the situation a student is in. I have assumed that a teacher was a student at least once and that was awful. Sometimes I get so busy and have so many emails to return that I end up sending a short email and read it later and feel badly about it (and I try to follow up, but I’m sure some have gone through the cracks). Sometimes I can tell that a student of mine doesn’t trust me or doesn’t like me or will say or do something that is disrespectful and it hurts me and can make me angry. I try to not react and to respond with kindness, but I’m sure that I don’t always respond in the way I aim for. I try not to make assumptions, but it happens sometimes without thinking and when it does, I try to point it out loudly and apologize genuinely. If a student tells me, I try to be humble and let my regret be known. I am not perfect, but I do try to be aware and conscious of what I am doing and how I am interacting and I try not to harm.
Change was Gradual for me…
I didn’t start out teaching the way I do now. My changes are due to experience, equity training, multiple workshops/conferences, students, colleagues and friends. I started out teaching trying to be like the teachers before me and like the professors I loved in college. I would think about how I learned something and how I got it to stick and I would share that way. Where I grew up and where I work are different and it took me a long time to become the teacher I am now. I wasn’t as approachable before and didn’t share as much, though my students still liked me. I didn’t try so hard to make sure everyone was learning – it was college, so I put it more on my students. I thought that being fair meant that each student had access to the same things and I didn’t like to make exceptions because it felt unfair. I didn’t like to talk to students who missed a lot of class or came to class late or left early, or to those who did poorly on an exam, as I felt like it was putting them on the spot and might make them uncomfortable. Really, it was uncomfortable for me and I assumed that how I would have felt as a student applied to everyone just the same. I thought I was doing a good job just being the good person I was. Sometimes I would have difficult exchanges with students and those interactions would haunt me in a way where I couldn’t sleep or do much – I worry a lot about how others respond to what I say and when I know things don’t go the way I wanted them to. I would worry about causing damage to individuals or fear they would quit because of me. I realized that if students missed too much class, they wouldn’t be able to pass my class and so would try to be frank in this realization and didn’t offer many ways for student make up work (or even accept late work) or give them a way of catching up. This meant that many students, primarily those of color, would be unable to complete my class. I felt conflicted – like I needed to maintain some kind of higher standard since we were in college, yet that my rules kept some students from succeeding (or perhaps the rules became yet another obstacle for them, when learning/understanding math was hard enough!). It took me a long time to realize that by being inflexible, I was making it more difficult for students to manage the expectations of my class and learn math. Not all students grew up with an education that prepared them for college, like mine did. It also took me time to understand how complex my student’s lives were – I knew they were, I feel like we ALL have some of that knowledge, but that my structure was a roadblock that I could control. I had the power to change and give students a different experience.
All the changes I have made, the conferences I have gone to, the training/workshops I have attended were NOT mandatory. I went because I wanted to learn, because some colleagues have suggested it, because I read or heard about it. I think there should be more training available, that our colleges should mandate that we get training, that we should get professional development funding to attend important academies/conferences/training and that our deans, VPs and presidents (and district admin) should be reaching out to us to do this kind of work. Usually that does not happen and there is restricted funding (or there are limits on how many people can attend a conference because the committee thinks it is redundant for multiple people to go to the same conference – or so I have been discouraged in the past). Something needs to change.
I Ask Students to Work in Groups
I also read and observed other teaching styles and started making my class more active – instead of lecturing like my professors and teachers before, I started making my students do more in class. I was slow to make this change, as it was uncomfortable for me. As a student, I did not enjoy working with others for various reasons. At first, it would just be me asking them to do examples in the middle of lecture while I walked around and tried to engage students and see what they were doing and offering help. Then it was worksheets where I would teach some and students would do work. Eventually it was me trying to minimize lecture, have students do lots of problems and me and tutors check their work in groups. That style stuck with me because students seemed to enjoy it and I realized that when I gave quizzes (weekly) all of the students who came to class and did the work would pass them – even if they didn’t complete all of the homework. They learned and retained the material better when they worked through it themselves and explained it to their peers and to us (tutors and myself). This is how I teach now and I work really, really hard to get my students to buy in to working in class, working with each other, to work with our tutors and to trust that I am helping them in the way I feel works best.
I ask Students to Read before Class
I also tried one semester to have students read/watch videos before class and do a few problems of varying difficulty. I would look at the problems they missed before class started and make my lecture “on the fly” right then. I could focus on the hard problems, instead of the “easy” ones by looking at what students missed. This really streamlined my lectures and I could really help students with what they didn’t know. They were hesitant to do this at first, but then I would give them time to do homework in class at the end of the session. And it helped. Even if some students didn’t do the homework that I made my lecture from, it still seemed that most would have similar problems to those who did complete the homework anyway.
I Work with my Colleagues
I have a tremendous support group within Peralta. There are so many wonderful instructors who really do care about how they teach math and how they present the material to their students. We have collaborated on algebra courses (that we no longer teach!) and Statistics. We have looked through materials, projects, textbooks, handouts, website, blogs, podcasts, publishing companies, low cost textbook options, … we have created Canvas shells to house materials, provided workshops and trainings to our colleagues. I am incredibly lucky to be working with such wonderful, thoughtful, diverse thinking folks! And there is no other place I’d rather be.
Most recently, I am working on making Precalculus with Support (Math 1 + Math 215) an active course that utilized a different grading method that focuses on Goals or Standards. It makes the goal for the class very clear to students (there are 20 goals that students need to successfully show proficiency for and that is it). I am working with colleagues within Peralta, Ohlone, CSUED and SFSU to make these changes and keep the rigor of the course.
This last summer 2021, a group of faculty within Peralta created a book club around the book “Grading for Equity”, from which the new assessment style was inspired (at least for me and the folks I’m working with).
I Still Make Changes
As I stated above, I would like to incorporate different material into my class, based on what students are interested in. I have been told that this will help students engage more with the material and encourage them to complete my class successfully. I would also like to work harder to include more about people of color’s contributions to the math and sciences. I’m not sure exactly how I will do this, but it is something I would like to do. I am also trying to get my math colleagues to look at their statistics with me and think about who is succeeding in our classes and who is not and what we can do to help students who are not succeeding. I also would like to try to create a classroom where mistakes are valued and that allowing mistakes, even on exams, without severe penalty, is possible. I have some ideas of what I would like to try this fall. I believe that to be the best instructor I can be, I need to keep learning, reflecting on what I am doing and make adjustments. There is no end. In the broader picture, I believe that we as people need to do this as well. Learn, reflect, adjust.
This is what I write in my syllabus, if you’re interested…
I am so glad that you are here to take this course with me, online during this crazy time. I hope that you find this class a welcome break from the new of the day, work, taking care of kids, etc. I understand that this transition to online may not be your choice, as it was not mine, and I will do my best to make my presence felt, without seeing each other on a regular basis.
The theme of our class is “Learning from Mistakes”. This means that we will all need to share our mistakes with each other (with an emphasis on MATH!!). I know how difficult it can be to share mistakes – you may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about making mistakes, but making and learning from mistakes is a part of life, regardless of what we are learning. I would also like to get to know who you are and why you are here. It’s so easy for me to get to know my student when we are face to face, but online I will ask you to share with me (and sometimes your peers) a bit about yourself, how you learn, what you are interested in, etc.
Since I am asking you to be a bit vulnerable by sharing, I think it’s only appropriate for me to share a bit about myself too. I would like you to know a bit about who I am, why I am here and what my teaching philosophy is.
I am a native Californian, my parents hailing from Hawaii and Illinois. I know I look odd – people often stop me to ask what I am (isn’t that a strange question that could be answered in various ways? Check out the book Part Asian, 100% Hapa, if you’re interested!). This has generally been a source of interest and occasionally a seed of shame and embarrassment for me. I am half Japanese and half white (Irish, German and Swedish according to my deceased father but in conflict with my DNA assessment). I grew up staunchly “middle class” in Benicia and to most, I appear white, so I have enjoyed the privilege that goes along with that appearance. My goal growing up was to just blend in and not stand out – I am more introverted, but can be social, as needed. I was a student who did not like to work in groups, but I have both thrived in group work, as well as suffered! Because of this, I will ask you if you prefer to work in a smaller group (a pair) or by yourself and I will do my best to help accommodate your needs (though in the beginning, I will keep you in groups to get to know various folks in the classroom). I have always loved math and was a tutor at a young age. During my undergraduate years at Davis, I also was a tutor and it seemed a natural transition for me to become a teacher upon graduating. Did you know that the same parts of your brain light up when you learn math as when you learn a language? That might be why I double majored in German and Math! I even studied abroad in Germany for my junior year of college and worked there for one summer after my return. After graduating, I taught at Berkeley High for 1 year as a math teacher (2000-2001), but when I started working at Laney, I really felt at home, so I went back to school to attain a master’s degree in Math at CSUH (that’s right, Hayward, not East Bay – I’m that old!). This enabled me to become an instructor at Laney and I couldn’t ask for a better community to work with. As I learn more and more about equity, different cultural and ethnic groups, “othering” (a group I feel like I belong to), gender bias, microaggressions, unconscious bias, how our privilege affects our place in this world, etc… I try to adjust my approach to interacting with people in a thoughtful and positive way. I am not perfect and I do feel shame about some interactions I have with friends, colleagues and students, but I want you to know that I am trying to be the very best teacher I can be for you and I am trying to be equitable, though I am still learning how I can do that in my classroom. In fact, during the shelter-in-place months, I took a “Teaching Men of Color” course, I attended a “Black Minds Matter” series offered online and I took a “Humanizing Online Learning” course (which had some very similar content in part to the “Teaching Men of Color” course!). And last fall, I recruited a group of STEM instructors to participate in the STEM Equity Institute and subsequently, we created a Laney STEM Equity Committee and I have just recently co-created a district-wide Math Equity Committee in the spring to work toward closing achievement gaps in our math courses. Over the summer a subgroup of the Math Equity Committee met regularly to read Grading for Equity and we worked together to think about what we would do this fall. This semester, we will implement Standards Based Grading, which I have been told (in several workshops from conferences, webinars, etc) will lead to more equitable (and flexible!) grading. I did this last semester for the very first time and I believe it was an improvement!! Let’s see how it goes for us.
I know that math is a struggle for many and it might make you feel good to know that I have had several students over the years tell me how they just never understood math or did well in math until they took my class. I don’t believe that means I’m a magical teacher, rather that now is the time when perhaps your brain has matured in a way that enables you to focus and take in the material we are going to learn together or maybe it is just more important to you now to succeed. We all have our stories of how we got here and why we are here now, we have struggles and accomplishments and we are all here to successfully complete this semester. Let’s work together to help each other! It is my goal that if you put in hard work and effort, you will pass this class…that success is attainable for each and every one of you!