First Day of Teaching

This was my first week student teaching. Because our program moves at such an accelerated pace, I'm expected to be planning lessons by the end of this coming week, and within two weeks I should be leading a few days of lessons a week. This isn't something that I find particularly frightening, as I got into this field in order to teach. What is frightening, however, is that I'm going to eventually have to deal with not knowing an answer, with conflict, and with discipline.

My first day in the class, the students had a list of questions on the board to complete. I'm teaching a middle school math class, but in reality the students' level of math knowledge is more like 4th grade. However, I was stumped the first day. There were 5 questions on the board. The third, fourth, and fifth questions were along the lines of "write 'ten thousand two hundred and fifty-two hundredths,'" but the first two questions were a type of math I'd never seen before:

"What are two characteristics of effective groups?"
"What is an above the line action?"

I thought back to elementary school math. How did we group numbers? What would an effective group look like? Would it be whole numbers? Rational numbers? And what about above the line actions? Would that be something like putting a line over the final number of a repeating decimal?

I walked around the classroom attempting to read student responses, but none of the damn students knew any of the damn answers and I just thought, "Damn, damn, damn" in my head. It was a pretty frustrating experience. A student asked me to help him with the first question and I asked him what he thought the answer was. He, of course, didn't know.

Finally, the teacher started the class and asked for answers to the first question. "What are two characteristics of effective groups?" No hands went up. She prompted them, "Remember, we talked about this yesterday." Finally, one of the kids in the front raised a hand timidly:

"Talking quietly?" she hesitantly mumbled.

I felt bad for her. She didn't look like a dumb kid to me, but then again I didn't know what an effective group was, either.

"Correct," the teacher replied.

Wait a second, I thought. That doesn't make a damn lick of sense, because why would decimals care about talking quietly? And rational numbers? I can't see them caring about the volume of your voice. In fact, the entire set of natural numbers has contacted me by telephone--it was a party line--and they said that the volume of one's voice has no bearing on their being a particular subset of all numerals.

Then it hit me: This wasn't a damn math question.