NCTM: Starting the school year by unpacking your why

Robert Q. Berry
Robert Q. Berry

By Robert Q. Berry, August 2019

For many of you, the school year is about to start or has already started. This means that there is a lot of work that needs to get done before embarking on a successful beginning of the academic year. For some, it may mean creating a list of what tasks need to get done before the opening of school. This list may include making sure that you have necessary resources, arranging the classroom to optimize learning, and figuring out what you are teaching and how you might teach it.

Before you delve completely into your to-do list, I want to propose that you don't start with what you need to do, but instead start with the why. Why do you teach? Until you are clear on your why, it may be difficult to think intentionally about your what. I recently had a conversation at NCTM's Leadership Conference in Denver with a seventh-grade mathematics teacher who discussed why he teaches math. His thoughts were so provocative that I tried my best to write what he said:

"I teach math because it's beautiful. I want my students to appreciate the beauty of math, like art and music. I teach math because I am a critical consumer of knowledge. I want my students to use math as a tool to be critical consumers. I teach math because it's fun. I enjoy seeing my students play with math."

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