Posts Tagged ‘the vent’

This week was my first true first week. Confused? I started as a mid year teacher last year and never really experienced the beginning of school jitters at the actual beginning of school. To say that I was nervous is a complete understatement.

One – I couldn’t sleep the night before.

Two – I now have first block prep or on the first day, a whole prep to panic and sweat

Three – I thought I forgot how to teach (luckily, I did not).

The amount of panic I actually feel towards all the “teaching stuff” i.e. anything but actually being in front of the room, is boggling me. Why are lesson plans so hard right now? Why can’t I make a smartnotes file!? Why is constructing a homework assignment taking me an hour? Why are my goals and objectives so muddled – I wrote the curriculum for this course last year and I already taught THIS EXACT SAME CLASS! Why can’t I learn any of my students names – I mean I have one class full of Sam’s, Nicole’s and Stephanie’s so the odds are in my favor.
Basically, I’m a wreck. Thankfully, when I get in front of the students it goes away but the problem is I need the planning to be solid to have a solid block. I just don’t know why every little task feels so large and I feel so inadequate and overwhelmed.

Blues of a half new first year impossible to adjust to a new schedule-classroom teacher? The panic and anxiety are starting to wear me down and this could be a truly long year if I don’t get myself in check early. So perhaps this is just a vent post on how I need to maybe take a few more deep breaths and drink more tea…

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Is rigor relative?

I survived a grueling interview process – and it’s not over. Let me provide a small amount of background before I go into a crazy rant. I applied to a few positions for the next school year in a very result-driven prestigious charter network in Chicago. I was astounded when I got two phone interviews from two different schools within the network and that night they were calling all my references. By the following day they had offered to fly me out to Chicago for a sample lesson and more interviewing.

All they provided me with for the sample lesson was a standard (Substitute whole numbers for unknown quantities to evaluate expressions. For example: If x = 23, then [4 × (69 ÷ x)] + 2x = ?). I further inquired and learned it was going to be 9th grade honors, 31 kids who had familiarity on the standard. Now this school is famous for taking neighborhood kids and turning them into test-scoring geniuses that all get into college. But they all come into ninth grade from failing schools around the area and spend most of 9th grade getting onto grade level. It is a very disciplined and structured school and the students are extremely well-behaved and quiet.

So that was weird. Asking students to focus their attention and then getting their attention – blew my friggin mind. But here’s the thing, I created a lesson for a bunch of students I didn’t know – meaning I had no idea their behavior would be a nonissue, they would be as proficient as they were, and that they had clearly covered this standard in excess and the students knew how to evaluate expressions.

So what am I so upset about? Well, in my very small practically nothing experience of interviewing and sample lessoning I felt I should be judged on my teacher presence, lesson planning ability, flexibility, and reflection after the lesson. Did I think the lesson was challenging for these students – not really. And I answered that way in my 4 person panel after the lesson. Why not? Because the students already had a clear grasp of this standard before this lesson and so the questions that were meant to be challenging and make several mistakes that we could address as a class did not. However, students were engaged in the activity because it was asking them something different (find the expression) and so the activity was slightly challenging for them. Had I known that they were able to do these so fluently I would have changed the cards to all be more like the challenge sets and provided more challenging and scaffolded do-nows and exit tickets. (I included specific concrete examples to the changes I would make as well).

In the end, one of the principals let me know she was hesitant to hire me because she was unsure I could teach to this level because all of my experience is teaching very low students. She explained my lesson was not challenging enough for these students and did not show I was capable of teaching rigor (but how was I supposed to know the level they were at? Had I actually been teaching – not reinforcing – evaluating expressions, it would not be an issue. Their prerequisite knowledge made it so it seemed kind of fluffy). BUT THAT ISN’T TRUE.

Ok, here’s the rant and/or question:

Rigor at my school means different things (or is rigor not relative??). Asking students to complete homework every night is an extremely high expectation that I placed on them. Requiring students to come on time and complete do-nows, stay on task for the ENTIRE class period is almost unheard of in my school. Giving very challenging tests and requiring NO CHEATING is rare. Giving lots of worksheets and classroom practice and then collecting it to ensure students stayed on task. Asking students to show up and pay attention, not letting them sleep even though it would be easier for me as a teacher because they won’t disrupt the class when their head is down. These are just a few of the higher expectations I’ve placed in my classroom.

Now I realize to many schools, especially this one, those are norms. But isn’t it relative? Can’t this principal or will any principal see that the fact that I can and have asked more of the students show that I am capable of placing high expectations and consistently keeping them there? Will I be punished (again, second time now!) for working in a high-need urban school that does not prepare for students for college, which is why I am applying to your school!!!

Does the fact that I have never worked in this type of learning environment mean I would not be able to? Since I had high expectations of my students, does that not translate to all students? Are the high expectations I placed on my students not high enough? Am I not experienced in rigor at all?

Or does this mean I am just not capable of teaching the type of rigor this school or many of the “successful” area schools offer and I should just resign to working in my same school next year? Because I think quite the opposite.

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“Raise your hand if you studied for this quiz.”

((Chirp, chirp. Do you hear those crickets??))

“I didn’t know you could study for math.”

I asked that question in all three class periods (including honors!) and got the same response. Are you kidding me???????? Wait, really… wait… ARE YOU KIDDING ME????? There are a lot of things that surprise me about these students:

  1. When they are absent they NEVER ask what they missed (that includes when they’ve missed tests or quizzes)
  2. Only about half ever complete their homework
  3. They do not do quiz corrections despite the boost on their quiz grades (half of the points you missed back people!!)
  4. They blame. (Okay actually, they are teens so that doesn’t surprise me, just annoys me.)
  5. We offer free after school tutoring (hey, I work there!) and no one comes.
  6. They don’t study.

The format I used for quiz corrections (see this post) allowed me to see if students studied for the quiz or not. It didn’t surprise me that they didn’t study (they already admitted that) but their anger and frustration with their scores did surprise me. They do not see the correlation between studying, homework, paying attention/participation and getting the grade (or rather understanding). I hope that asking (and answering) questions like that will help them see the relationship between effort and scores. However there were some students who did study and did not perform well and at that point we need to address HOW they are studying.

(also note, this student did NOT turn in any quiz corrections to improve their score)

What I found most irritating (and I definitely took this too personally) was that almost all the students blamed me for their crappy grades. The honors students FREAKED out at me. Not only do I believe the quiz was fair BUT quiz corrections are available for those who were unhappy with their performance. The bottom line is they  are choosing to blame me rather than take responsiblity for their grades. “You failed me. “This teacher gave me a bad grade.” “This teacher won’t give me an A.” These are sayings I hear constantly about myself and other teachers around the school. It’s very hard for me not to take it personally but to find ways to help them learn to take responsibility and do better.

I don’t want to let them push me away, I don’t want to get so frustrated I give up. These students are good students, they are not dumb, they are not bad. But I require thinking and effort in my classroom. Some of these students are used to an inflated grade or a little amount of work – so when they enter my room they either flip out, shut down, or tune out. I realize routine, high expectations and practice will get them better at this but for now I just feel very frustrated.

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The ideal type of learner for me: the student who is struggling, doesn’t love math, vaguely interested, awake,  but respectful and sort of willing to try. I don’t need  a kiss-ass participator and I actually prefer students who have a harder time reaching solutions. The point of me saying this is that I like the challenging students, I like the ones that “don’t get it.” But right now, I don’t know how to reach this particular class that is full of “don’t get its” and more disheartening “don’t care, give-ups.”

This class is behind, very very very behind and extremely discouraged and disengaged. Almost all of them are failing, they take no responsiblity for their academic work (i.e. admittedly do not study/complete homework yet blame me), and during class time they refuse to stay awake or participate in any way (complete classwork, ask questions). Many fall asleep and even when I wake them up seconds later are back asleep (there are grading punishments for sleeping but their grades suffer anyway when they don’t pay attention so I’d prefer if they’d just stay awake!!).

Initially, this class gave me the greatest behavioral troubles. I wasn’t able to teach them for the first few days because there were so many outbursts and issues that I had to focus more on throwing kids out, disciplining or setting up classroom expectations. Finally I have gotten the classroom to a place of kind of respectfulness but now I want to it to be a place of learning. I want to help them, I don’t want to give up on them but there are so many issues inside this one class period that I’m at a loss for where to begin. Do I structure my lessons differently? Do I go slower?  Do I….?!?!

Last week on Tuesday we got a call from the Dept. head that the students would be taking the PSAT the next day, so switch gears and focus on that for the day (oh hey – just forget that quiz you were going to give today!). First of all, WTF, help with a huge test and strategies in one day? Second, most of these students will not be going to college (we are a mainly vo-tech school) and this test will only discourage and frustrate them since they are so unprepared. As suspected, Thursday one student (in that class) came in fuming that nothing he learned in this school helped him on that stupid test, what a f-ing waste, blah blah blah.

All of my students in that period were crushed. They said they couldn’t answer a single question on the test and it was heartbreaking. Some students looked like they were going to cry while others (student above) turned to anger.  They were unable to focus on the quiz review and ultimately unable to pass the quiz on Friday.

This is not the first time the class has failed a quiz. I offer quiz corrections to earn half of the points you miss back — the only caveat (to prevent cheating and encourage learning) is you must explain the error/show all work to get the right answer. Not one student in that period did the quiz corrections. (To be fair out of all 60 students only 5 did corrections and many many more should have).

On Monday I want to start the week right. I’m giving the quiz back and I want to make corrections mandatory. We will also be starting the next topic which is estimation for the next two days. I want to build their self-esteem back up a little bit but according to the co-op this area is very challenging for these students. I want to get them back involved in mathematics. I want to bring them back (actually, I don’t think I ever had this period). I really want to help them but I’m just not sure where to begin.


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The honors kids and I are not friends. In fact, we don’t even respect each other. Actually, that’s the real problem. Here’s the thing, I was a brat in high school, I was similar to these kids. A know-it-all, hate-authority, bratty little straight A no respecting snob from the suburbs. I thought I was smarter than every teacher in the school. In fact, sometimes I thought I was just plain BETTER than a teacher in the school and decided to make their days hell for no reason. And of course, my 8th period is chock full with mini-mes.

I relate to them, I get it, but I don’t like them. And I don’t know how to deal with them. When I look back and think about how teachers dealt with me I can only remember the bad ones and how lately I’ve been acting like them. More authority and sternness will not work with the honors like it works with my other classes. I then try to remember if there was any teacher who I liked and respected in high school. The only teacher was my Spanish teacher who let me cut her class and knew I smoked cigarettes outside of the building. I loved her, the other students loved her but I’m not sure if she’s the role model I need to help me reach out these students.

I’ve tried to challenge the honors in different ways but unfortunately they are not thinkers, they are formula reproducers and fantastic memorizers. They are frustrated with me for asking them “why” and “how” and “explain” instead of solve and evaluate. They don’t like when I go slowly (aka structure lessons for understanding) but they panic if I ask them to explore before I explain. I’m stumped.

How do I inspire and encourage students who think they don’t need me, need this class, need to think or need school?

I’ve thought about having a discussion about how I relate, I’ve thought about asking a disruptive know-it-all student to lead the class to 1) see how it feels to be disrespected or 2) to learn by teaching. I’ve thought about creating entirely different lesson plans for this class alone – and that thought really makes me cry.

All in all I realize that part of why I love teaching  the lower achieving students is that they NEED to see why and how they can’t memorize the formula. But the problem is this period is acting out, bad. And somehow I need to get them back, engaged and learning.

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Yelling… the road to respect?

I was told never to yell to get kids attention. Many methods have been suggested such as talking quieter so students have to lower their voices as well, flickering the lights or making a silent signal (and practicing it the first day). Okay at my school – these kids respond to yelling and discipline. I realize this is not the “right” thing and there’s a part of me that doesn’t even want to blog about this for fear of judgement and criticism but you know what, a silent signal doesn’t friggin work. Maybe it would with the freshmen or sophomores perhaps even my juniors would be kind enough on a good day to let me be that hokey but the seniors – FORGET IT.

I overhear the seniors making fun of other teachers all the time and today they were particularly cruel to a new teacher at the school. He apparently uses a silent signal and guess what, it doesn’t work. What did I hear this lovely student suggest he do? “He should just tell us to shut the F up, I mean he puts his hand up like some idiot like that’s gonna work.” And honestly she’s kind of right because that’s what many of these students respond to since it is what they know.

One student has been giving me a hell of a time, shouting extremely disrespectful and disruptive things at me during class. Finally he walked out of class so my co-op told me to write him up. After class the student came up to me and lost it, I mean I thought I might get punched in the face. But I stayed calm (despite my terror) and told the student he needed to respect the rules of the classroom or else there would be consequences. Today he was an angel, will it last? Probably not, but today he didn’t call me any names so that was nice.

These students do not respect authority inherently. If you talk quieter, they don’t care. You have to earn the right to be heard. If you talk about something interesting sometimes lowering your voice does actually work but it’s when the engaging intro or classwork has ended and the procedural work has begun that the students can often tune out. I have to be tough but kind.

What I have noticed works really well is talking to them like adults. After class saying thank you for listening or please try to stay awake tomorrow or I really like your input so please keep participating. Individually addressing issues both good and bad to let the students know I’m noticing and I’m interested.  I think the more students realize I am teaching them for their own learning and not for myself will lead to earning their respect and less behavioral outbursts. The new issue (isn’t there always one?) is how to get them to see I respect them, I’m tough and I can help if they let me.

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Strippers don’t pay taxes

What seems relevant isn’t always relevant; this is one of the many things I am learning in this student teaching experience. The senior course “Business Math” that I will be teaching consists of all important and “relevant” math these students will need when they graduate. We cover hourly wage, overtime, savings accounts, writing checks, taxes etc. Now this is that “real” math those students are always asking for while they’re factoring or playing with quadratics. So imagine my surprise when these seniors show they could care less about this course. They are bored, uninterested and find this content extremely non-relevant.

After a grueling 5 days on hourly wage and overtime pay my co-op made the comment that, “Hey – this isn’t even what you get to take home, but we’ll talk about taxes later.” A couple of students groaned and one student called out, “Yea, well strippers don’t have to pay taxes so…” And about three other girls started nodding their heads. Now, I don’t even care if these girls want to be strippers or that one student did divulge to Mr. M last year that her dream in life is to become a pole dancer my honest reaction was, “Shit, this is just as irrelevant as Trig.”

I need to always remember the student context when creating my lessons. I don’t want to take this course content for granted – just because it seems more practical they should want to learn it for the sake of learning it. I am starting to realize that this class may be even more challenging than my PSSA prep class but I’m looking forward to finding (appropriate) and engaging ways to hook these students.

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