8 comments on “Complaining about what students don’t know vs. learning how to teach that stuff yourself”

Complaining about what students don’t know vs. learning how to teach that stuff yourself

It’s a lot easier to complain that students don’t know, say, their multiplication tables than to actually teach multiplication.

Setting aside the oft problematic mindset of a teacher complaining about what “these kids” don’t know for the time being, consider actually teaching to the gaps you feel are present.

Let’s be clear: not a single one of us have entered the school year 100% satisfied with where 100% of our students are at math-wise. There’s always something that was allegedly “covered” in previous years and for whatever reason was not retained by the students. A couple years ago I was at a relatively well-off suburban school where 99% of their students graduate and go on to college and even those teachers were complaining about what their students did and didn’t know.

Often under the guise of unspecific complaints about students “not knowing their basic math facts” or “numeracy”, teachers sometimes pass blame upon students, The Calculator, or their prior schooling. What I often don’t see happen is addressing those gaps in knowledge. Sometimes a cursory remediation worksheet is handed out, and after-school tutoring is offered, but many times I don’t see teachers actually teach to those gaps. Y’know: teaching kids these lugubrious “basic math facts.” Even more specific complaints about how students “don’t know how to do fractions” (whatever “do” means) are ripe for teaching opportunities, rather than tsk-tsk-ing.

Which is unfortunate because there’s never been a more robust cache of resources to remediate in a healthy, fun way. It reminds me of that bit from Arrested Development where Lucille Bluth brushes off her poor raising of Buster because “kids don’t come with a handbook.”

[Ron Howard voice] In fact, there are countless books that address the very learning gap you’re complaining about. NCTM has so many publications that would probably be perfect. Or go here and click on the grade lower than you. Shoot, just go to amazon and type in what you feel your students are struggling with.


If you feel your students lagging in a particular area of their learning, I’d suggest rather than complaining and sending them to a worksheet or instructional video, consider doing some learning yourself and find a book, blog, text, paper, resource, or teacher to teach you how to teach to this area. I’ve learned so much from my non-grade level colleagues about teaching number sense, rounding, fractions, ratios / proportions, and even an alleged area of expertise of mine: algebra (thanks Andrew!).

I mean, if you need a specific recommendation, I’d consider learning how to facilitate some number talks via Elham and Allison’s Intentional Talk and go from there. Or follow ’em on twitter and get their awesome advice for free! (But seriously, get their book.)

Also, we’re not talking about shutting everything else down classroom-wise, lest you’re worried about losing precious class time. While coverage is overrated, let’s put that aside for now, shall we? We’re talking 10-20 minute activities and discussion here, maybe a couple times a week. Stop complaining and start learning how to teach this stuff. If we want students to learn, we probably ought to do some learning ourselves, no?

Besides, teaching these skills and concepts is fun. This has probably been my biggest takeaway of the year so far: leading number talks is so fun, I’d do it even if I wasn’t addressing learning gaps.