In the Classroom
How Have I Survived 25 Years of Teaching?
October 29, 2017
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Al Feldblum

Istarted my teaching career with two strikes against me.

One, I am a high school math teacher; the only school subject with a recognized, known phobia. Not only must I overcome “Math Phobia” with my students, but also I must listen to adults say, “I hated math in high school,” or “I was terrible at math.”

Second, I am a high school football coach. Although that does not necessarily seem like it is a detriment, it is tough to remove myself from the coach role when I am in my classroom. I did not really notice how true this was until a 9th grade Algebra class made me a going away card a few years ago.

In 2007, my family decided to relocate from Ellicott City, MD to Knoxville, TN. My Algebra class created a going away “card” for me. It consisted of some very nice sentiments from the students on one side. On the other side, they had made a list of “Mr. Feldblum’s Top Ten” quotes.

As I look at the list, I noticed that some of the quotes are phrases that come straight from my football coaching. As a coach, I am always trying to increase tempo to maximize the number of practice repetitions as well as mimic game speed. In the classroom, it is a technique used to maximize on-task behavior.

My big “a-ha” moment came when I realized how similar the practice field and the classroom are to me. The success of a team is due in large part to the relationships developed through the course of the season. Getting 40 football players to trust me and each other is vital. Creating those relationships is key to the success of the team.

In the classroom, the same is true. Creating and nurturing student trust, not just in me, but in themselves, is vital to the success of the student overall. Relationships are the core of what we do as teachers. I am proud to see that I could establish that kind of relationship with this class,  and they were also able to establish that relationship with me.

Back to my original question, how have I survived 25 years in the classroom? To me the classroom is the same as the practice field. I am trying to get students or players to perform to their maximum potential.

How are the relationships created that foster reaching that maximum potential? Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Be genuine – My students are more willing to buy in when I am genuine and honest with them.
  • Demand greatness – Students rise to the level of expectations. If you demand greatness you get greatness. It also instills self-confidence. Students can accomplish quite a bit when their teacher believes in them.
  • Pay attention to detail – The little things matter. Set the foundation early and revisit it often.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail – More lessons are learned from failure. It is part of the human design process
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself – I want my students to know that I am a person too, just like them.

So, back to my original question, how have I survived 25 years of teaching? Personally, I think I have survived by knowing that who I teach is always more important than what I teach.

The only thing I wish I had done differently was to document all the funny, crazy, bizarre things that happened in my class every day. Now that would have been a great read…but only fellow teachers would believe any of it.

Al has taught mathematics in Knox County for the past nine years, the last three years at Karns High School. Prior to Knox County, he taught in two school districts in Maryland, spending three years at Howard High School in Howard County and 13 years at Laurel High School in Prince George’s County. Al has taught the gamut of courses from Pre-Algebra through Trig-Analysis/Pre-Calculus. He is also certified to teach Teen Leadership by the Flippen Group. During his teaching career, he was an assistant football coach for 22 years, a head football coach for two years and a head wrestling coach for 12 years. He earned the 1997 Prince George’s County wrestling coach of the year award from the Prince George’s Journal newspaper and the 2007 Howard County football coach of the year from both DigitalSports online newspaper and the Baltimore Touchdown Club. Al graduated cum laude from Bowie State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics. He also holds a Master of Education degree in Secondary Education from Bowie State. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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