‘The blogosphere recapitulates the teacher’s career’

Earlier on today I came across a blog post from Michael Pershan collating a whole heap of golden posts from 2016 (from other bloggers), as well as a few interesting reflections. My interest was piqued when Michael wrote:

When I started reading and writing about teaching back in 2010-2011, it seemed to me that the vast majority of math teachers were blogging about the activities they made or used. Most people were embedding slides or worksheets, or describing progressions of questions they had used.

Michael then shared what he’s most been enjoying most from the year just past…

I think of many of my favorite posts from 2016 — like Lisa and Grace’s above — and they focus on relationships and culture. But how do you talk about relationships and culture? This is hard stuff! It’s what, perhaps, teachers will be blogging about more in years to come, but it’s not easy to figure out how to talk about. The language isn’t always there for us in the way it is about designing a great task.

I was struck by these ideas off the back of a conversation I had with another early career teacher today in the maths staffroom. My mate Ben and I were talking about our responsibility to our current Y12 students, and how our No. 1 goal is to prepare them for their end of year exams; ‘we can’t let them down’. As our brief chat ended and Ben swivelled back around to his desk, I was left thinking. I was struck by the gap between my main focus at the time of lesson planning, giving my students the skills required to have success in the exam, and the more grandiose teaching values I’ve espoused over time; develop questioning and critical thinkers, independent learners, considerate democratic citizens, (etc).

Rather than becoming depressed at this apparent gap between ideals and reality I was somewhat liberated by my inchoate understanding of the difference between novices and experts, and simultaneously somewhat tickled by a phrase that came to mind somewhere out of the recesses of my long term memory. That phrase was, ‘Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny‘*, or as I took it to mean, ‘The developmental stages of the individual’s life mirror the evolutionary stages of their phylum’.

I realised that a parallel could be drawn between the above phrase and Michael’s observations regarding the development of the maths blogosphere. Maybe the blogosphere, in a way, mirrors the development that I currently feel myself going through. The equivalent phrase could be something like, ‘The blogosphere recapitulates the teachers’ career‘.

I’m at a time in my novice development where I’m really focussing on the ‘what’ of classroom instruction. As I develop and bed down the basics of good instruction, space will open up in my working memory (I hope) whilst I’m in the classroom by enough to enable me to ask more complex questions, instruct and guide the lesson more spontaneously, and think more about classroom culture and the other ‘hard stuff’.

Perhaps the we’ve just seen the development of the first cohort of maths bloggers move from novice to expert, with the content and focus of their posts naturally progressing from the concrete to the abstract. If it is fair to say that I’m part of a second generation then I’m just glad there’s now a (sometimes slightly overwhelming) repository of content spanning the entirety of the developmental progression that I can now sink my teeth into!

*It’s a nice quote, but it isn’t necessary true!