I was hesitant to put up this problem. There was part of me that didn’t want to admit I was stuck. That I didn’t know the why of the answer.
I’m a teacher. I’m supposed to be the “expert”. How could I publicly admit that I didn’t know how to do something? I thought about putting the “Here’s an interesting problem. How would you solve it?” spin on it for a moment. I couldn’t do that though. Instead of asking for help here, I thought about asking one of my coworkers.
In the end, I chose to admit that I was stuck and to ask for help. I chose to let all of you know that I didn’t know something (probably not that shocking, I know). Yet it took me a while to come to this decision. I ended up asking myself, what would I want my students to do?
So I published the question. John responded. I now understand what I was missing, which was my goal. Yet I am still intrigued by my initial responses at reading the solution. “I feel stupid. I should have known that.”, “I wonder what the math teacher readers who are reading this think of me?”, “I can’t believe I didn’t know that.” I’m not sure why I think this way. I am sure I don’t want my students to think this when they don’t know. This was a good reminder to me to continually work at creating an environment where students feel safe asking questions.
It is okay not to know. It is what we do with the not knowing that matters.
Clarification: I do not believe it is okay for a teacher to not know (or know well) the material he or she is teaching. Which is why I began working out these problems weeks before I gave them to my team. I’m also a little looser with math team than I am with my classes. At math team practice, I have no problem saying “I don’t know, let’s find out.” I just don’t want it to happen too often.