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Teaching is tough and sometimes I have to wonder if I’m not the problem!

I have been working with a class of fifth graders on measurement conversions and plotting those conversions on a coordinate grid. For example, if 1 pint is equivalent to 16 ounces, how many ounces are in 60 pints? It’s been amazing. They can solve, convert, plot, and explain.

Today, feeling so big and bold I gave them another conversion problem to plot on a coordinate plane. If a plant grows 10 millimeters per day, how many days does it take to grow 3 centimeters? Many of them struggled with the two-part conversion, and when it came time to plot it on a coordinate plane, forget it. We had a whole group discussion, then a small group discussion (we’ll talk more about that later). I skipped the partner talk, because I was concerned they were going to confuse one another more, then we had a second whole group discussion, which I videotaped. I was frustrated (see the photo above), they sounded like a group of uncertain crickets and the work was going nowhere. I think I heard myself say, “Anyone, anyone?”  We had to stop because it was time for recess. Thank goodness! This gave me time to reevaluate the problem and revise it. I realized I was asking them to do too many steps at once.

In addition, I watched the video later that day, it was horrifying. The whole time I thought they were the problem, when I, myself was a huge part of the problem. I confused the wording in the conversions at times (imagine the havoc this wreaked on a group of English language learners). In addition, I did not listen to what they were actually confused about and I just kept pushing them on towards my goal. Oh, the frustration I caused.

If mistakes are proof that one is learning, well then after this lesson I must be brilliant.

This story is slightly painful to tell, but it’s the truth. Teaching familiar material is awesome because we can minimize the rigor or work out all of the kinks. Teaching new material using a new approach is challenging. We often try to talk or teach our way through it, when what we should do is stop, walk away, and rethink the situation. Productive struggle is real for both teachers and students. Having your own classroom is great because everyday you, if you’re willing, get a chance to reflect on the impact you’ve made on your students, and make revisions. To all of you who so generously allow me to work with you and your students everyday, and practice getting better everyday, thank you! I am humbled. The struggle is real, and sometimes it’s me!

Tips for working your way through a challenging problem and avoid doing what Danielle Moore did:


  • Work your way all the way through a problem before giving it to kids, in order to prepare for possible challenges or confusion.
  • Just stop talking.
  • Stop and go to recess or read a book.
  • Record yourself and have a good laugh, a good cry, or a pat on the back ( I did all of the above).
  • Admit to your students when you have made a mistake and need to revise.
  • Draw pictures or use tools to model the problem because words and conversation can be abstract.
  • Be humble.
  • Try again tomorrow.