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More than ‘odds or evens’: teachers’ prep extends far beyond class time

By Margaret Pendo

Students spend six hours a day at school, but most of us don’t think about how much preparation goes into those hours of activity.  The Oak Leaf sat down with math teacher Robin Sarvey to find out what she does behind the scenes for her classes each day.

Sarvey preps for her next class. Photo by Margaret Pendo
Sarvey preps for her next class.
Photo by Margaret Pendo

The Oak Leaf (Q): How did you start making your lesson plans?

Sarvey (A): My sister (retired math teacher Karen Harrington) was here and I used to sit in her class and watch her lessons and look at the material she used.  I used the same material or developed new material based on what she taught. Most of my actual lessons are Powerpoints that my sister wrote originally. I didn’t spend that much time on them but she did … I supplement a lot so that takes a lot more time.

If you work straight from the book you might have to do more planning of your lecture but I spent more time on finding supplementary material to go with the lecture.

Q: What was your first teaching experience like?

A: I substitute-taught my first year. I had one book but different lessons because of the pace of the students. The more classes you take, the more time it takes. At one point, I think it was my second year, I was teaching three different classes so I had three different preps. That was a lot of work and I was still in the credential program. I was taking classes on the weekend so I wouldn’t get home until 9 o’clock at night every day, probably the first three years I taught.

You would have to pick homework problems, some people just assign, ‘do odds or do evens’ but I didn’t do that. I went in and made sure that the problems I assigned were ones that the kids could do. I didn’t want to leave anything up to ‘oh give them something I haven’t taught’.

Then there’s grading–lots of tests and quizzes to grade that takes a lot of time.  It depends on how many students you have… The more you give a student the opportunity to improve, the more work it is for you.

Q: How much time does it take you to grade one test for all your classes?

A: Anywhere from 8-16 hours, it depends on how hard the test is. I can’t grade a test in an hour because there’s 35 students… The test I am grading now, there are over 2,400 problems. It’s 35 students times however many problems there are.

Q: Where do you get your motivation to keep spending all these hours working for students?

A: I like to help people get over the fear of math. I like to help students feel confident that they can do math and my joy comes from being able to help students learn and feel better and grow. Math teaches you to be a problem solver… In life no matter what you do you have problems you have to solve, and math helps you think logically. It’s important in life. It’s not necessarily that you retain everything you learn in math but that you learn to be a problem solver, that you learn to look at things analytically because there are things in life that you have to do that.


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