Teachers Corner

This discussion blog is a place to share ideas about what works best in a math class.

Stepping Out of the Shade

2013-08-17 15:48:24 agillespey

The greatest lesson I ever learned as a teacher happened to me even before I started teaching.  It all started in 1990 with a bench, some shade, and a lazy teacher.  I was in college beginning my degree in engineering when I stumbled across a job at a local day care.  I soon realized that I enjoyed being around kids and that engineering was not the right profession for me.  Within one semester, I switched my major to education and never looked back.  I started out my job with a  pretty unruly bunch of kids.  As the weeks went by I started to clean up a lot of the behavior and things were going great.  The students I was in charge of were normal kids, but I noticed as the months went by that they were slowly getting into more and more trouble fighting, throwing rocks, and causing mayhem. One day I was sitting on a bench on the shade pondering why they were starting to behave so poorly, and then it hit me.  I was sitting comfortably on a bench in the shade, doing the job that was expected of me, but nothing more.  You see it was hot out on the playground but that was where the kids were.  I realized that I had started cutting corners as their teacher.  What I needed to do if I expected their behavior to change was to leave the shade, step out into the sun, and choose to do what was best for the kids not what was easiest for me.

Unfortunately my early years in school included a long line of teachers who were doing their jobs by sitting in the shade.  To be fair I wasn’t exactly the model student.  I struggled.  I was in sixth grade before I learned long division and junior high before I learned my multiplication tables.  On the outside, I looked like just another struggling student—one more student that would “fall through the cracks.”  I was socially awkward, talked with a lisp, and did the bare minimum.  By junior high, the problems I had spiraled out of control.  By the end of my seventh-grade year, I had a cumulative grade point average of 13 and was informed that I would be attending summer school.  No one called home, had a conference with me or my parents, or asked why I was struggling so much.  The sad truth was that no one stepped out of the shade. .

Despite all negative experiences I had in grade school I made the choice early in my teaching career that sitting in the shade would never be an option for me.  I needed to ask myself daily, “Why am I doing what I am doing?  Am I doing what is easy for me or what is best for my students?”  Not only did I need to teach math well, but my students needed to know without a doubt that I cared about them and that I believed that they could be and do more than they ever thought.  Just doing my job was not enough.

My challenge to each of you as educators is to periodically ask yourself where am I?  Am I sitting in the shade doing what is expected or am out in the sun trying to reach kids. Take an honest look at yourself at least once a week.  It is so easy (it has happened to me countless times)  to start doing things the easy way instead of the best way.  If you can stay out in the sun and really do what is best for kids amazing things can happen.  So this year my challenge to you is to step out of the shade get a sun tan, heck maybe even a sun burn and watch amazing things happen.


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My Philsophy of Teaching

2013-08-16 23:23:16 agillespey

Excerpt taken from an essay I wrote:    

If a surgeon performs a surgery and doesn’t make a single mistake–and the patient still dies–the surgeon does not pat himself on the back and consider it a successful surgery.  Likewise, if I do everything I know to do in my efforts to reach a child yet fail to change that child in a positive way, then “the surgery” was not successful.  A child’s failure is my failure.  I have to be willing and able to continue to try things with a student until I find what it will takes to change that student.  In education, there are certain things that every teacher is required to do:  teach the lesson, cover the standards, call parents for failures, and be professional.  Teaching is not a bunch of boxes that need to be checked off.  Doing the bare minimum does not reach children.  There have been many children over the years I did not reach.  I tried everything I could with them, but I did not pat myself on the back and say “Good job for trying.”  Trying is not succeeding, so I consider that child a failure on my part.

Being a natural-born athlete, sports have always come easily to me.  I was usually the star of the team.  Then one day I took up golf.  It only took a few rounds for me to realize that I hated it, not because it wasn’t any fun but because I was horrible at it.  People do not enjoy doing things they don’t do well.  If I can teach my students to be good at math, then they will like it.  If they learn to like it, then they will spend more time doing it and will ultimately get better.  When a child says, “I hate school,” he is not really saying he hates school. What he is saying is “I hate failure.”  Why does a first grader love school, but in junior high the same student hates it?  I believe this is based on past successes and failures.  When a child begins a new school year, he opens the window of his heart to the teacher and says, “I am going to give you a chance because I believe I can learn.”  Some students barely crack the window while some fling it wide open, each based on his/her past experiences in school.  The art of teaching is finding a way to keep the window open.  I believe this is done by building lots of small successes each day for every child. This not only keeps the window open, but it opens it even wider.  Success breeds success.  If I can somehow make children believe that they are good at whatever I am teaching them, then they will want to learn and will enjoy doing it.  Any child who cannot be reached is a child who is saying “I don’t trust that you can change me.”

My goal each school year is to make sure all of my students are successful.  I will do whatever it takes to make sure they have high grades early on.   If a student misses a question, I don’t say it’s wrong. I say, “You were so close; if not for that one mistake.” Then we correct it.  I teach to mastery, working one-on-one with each student until all are successful. Slowly I begin to see the culture of my classroom change.  Students no longer complain when asked to do math; actually, they are happy to do it because they understand.  That is the art of teaching.

An amazing thing happens each year around Christmas.  I offer to sit down and work with anyone struggling, but no one needs help, because they all get it.  How does this happen?  I have come to realize it’s a million “little things.”  Being consistent with classroom rules and not allowing for excuses about homework, laziness, or disruptive behavior, I am not only creating an environment conducive to learning but also communicating to students that I believe in them.   I make it my goal to know about each child I teach.  The simple gesture of greeting them at the door, shaking their hands, and asking the simple but important question, “How are you doing today?” goes a long way in establishing trust with students.



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Check out the Algebra Lessons on You Tube

2013-07-14 23:31:51 agillespey

Each lesson I teach in my algebra class has been recorded as Youtube Videos.  A link to the page can be found here.  http://mathninja.org/algebra/algebra-lessons-and-teaching-videos/.  If you are new to teaching or simply need a new way of looking at things, I hope these videos can be of service to you.

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    • joe mendez on October 1, 2017 at 2:53 am
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    wow this was inspirational.. i rlly liked your stepping out of the shade

    1. Thank you, I have really tried to learn from that day over my 22 years of teaching since. When things start going bad in my class I almost always start looking at where I am not doing my job the best I can. I find that if I am honest with myself that I can usually figure out where I am not performing the way I could. It has really changed my teaching over the years.

      Anthony Gillespey

    • Arun Sreekumar on October 14, 2017 at 11:28 pm
    • Reply

    How do we get access to your worksheets on algebra?

    1. Unfortunately, the worksheets are copyright protected but my notes are free.

    • Huikang Wang on May 13, 2021 at 2:05 pm
    • Reply


    My son Kaiyuan will be a 9th grader this fall. He will enroll a local TexPrep camp in June. My friend Kai Jing told me you taught Kyle number sense very well. I’m not sure what math level my son is. And do you have class in July?

    1. has your son done Number Sense in the past? Please email me at [email protected]

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