At Elkton High School, National Board certified teacher, Michael J. Fell, continuously challenges his math students with rigor and high expectations by creating a learning environment based on the principles of Ruby Payne. He is actively involved with MSDE as an item writer for the HSA Algebra Exam and served a three-year term on their Content Coordinating Team. As a School Improvement Team (SIT) member, Mr. Fell assists other departments as they drill down to make sense of data. The College Board has certificated him as a trainer in their Mathematics with Meaning and Pacesetter programs, and he was elected to the Executive Board of the Cecil County Classroom Teachers Association. He founded his school’s SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter and unwinds by serving as the varsity tennis coach.
How has the way you teach changed over the course of your career? What lessons have you learned?
There have been many changes in the way that I teach. The only advice I received during my first year was to stay five pages ahead of the kids. Now, I have a more holistic view when it comes to preparation and delivery. I have a better sense of where students have been academically and where they are going. I have more experience, which allows more possibilities for real-world applications. I am more comfortable in experimentation and trying new things. I am more responsive to the needs of individual students and am better able to appeal to multiple learning styles. When I look back, I used to be the hardest worker in the classroom. Now I am a facilitator and my students are the hardest working people in the room.
I have learned many lessons over the 20 years in the classroom. Depth is more important that breadth. That is, covering key concepts deeply is better than covering many topics superficially. It is good to get to know the students outside of the classroom through other activities, such as coaching and clubs. Preparation is the key to classroom success.
What advice would you give to a teacher who's starting their first year and feels overwhelmed?
Before giving advice to new teachers who feel overwhelmed, I try to listen to their concerns and let them know that we have all been there and they will succeed. I would offer specific tips on how to deal with paperwork or preparation if that is where they are feeling the stress. Maybe the teacher needs to get better organized. If classroom management is an issue, try to form a bond with your students.
What do you think the key has been to your success as a teacher?
I would say that the key to my success is that I am able to form a relationship or a bond with each student so that they will want to learn from me. After that, students will rise to the level of expectation that I have envisioned for them.
How do you keep your students engaged in the classroom?
There are many things I do to keep students engaged. First, I use humor to lessen the fear of mathematics. I use many varied activities that appeal to the interests of the students in that class at that time. I try to build on things they already know so that they can succeed. We reward successes. I try to make my class the place to be.