Beyond my control?

There’s a minimalism to teaching and learning math that I’ve always loved. With just a pencil and paper I can become a mathematician. With just one good question I can launch a math class. But now there’s a lot more I have to rely on, and plan for. And it’s all beyond my control.

It’s an interesting time to be a veteran math teacher. Not an easy time, but an interesting one.

So says Mr. Honner in his recent blog post.

And who, you might ask, is this “Mr. Honner”? What’s with the title instead of a first name? The second question is easy enough to answer: like many (most?) teachers, he apparently wants students to pretend that he doesn’t have a first name, and he believes that his students need to see his honorific instead — presumably as a sign of respect, or at least a sign of avoiding too much familiarity. If that sounds snarky, it’s not meant to be. Mostly that’s a story for another day — see my blog post from January 11 titled ”Call Me by my Name” — but let’s return to the first question: Who is Mr. Honner?

Patrick Honner is an award-winning mathematics teacher from Brooklyn, New York. He has been recognized for excellence in teaching mathematics both locally and nationally, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Patrick is a frequent writer, speaker, and presenter on mathematics and teaching. His work appears in the New York Times, Wired, and Quanta Magazine; he runs workshops for teachers and students; he presents at local, national, and international conferences; and he participates in mathematical outreach.

So let’s return to the question of what’s in my control anyway? I absolutely agree that teaching through Zoom gives me much less of a sense of control than in-person teaching. Honner talks about how using modern technology in general can lessen the teacher’s sense of control, but of course there are two sides to that coin: more often technology has increased my sense of control. Zoom in particular, not so much. I do feel much more at sea. But, I’m sorry, IMHO the reduction of control brought by some technology is more than balanced out by the increase in power and capabilities; I’m not here to diminish what Honner says, just to disagree with him. Teachers have too much of a need for control: it’s not the highest value in life, or anywhere near the top! That’s why team-teaching, as valuable as it is, make so many teachers nervous. Give up some control: as Monk would say, “You’ll thank me later.”

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Technology