Wayward Journalist

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 30 2011

A little respect

Poster reads: "GOAL: To become active readers and great writers ready to wear BLUE SHIRTS in 8TH GRADE!"

This week had a lot of unmemorable moments.

I honestly have no idea what we did on Monday; but it must have gone okay because I have a note from my CMA saying so.

Tuesday was pretty much a disaster: while problems in my class had typically been four talkative male students vs. me; on Tuesday, there were points of the class when I didn’t have a single one of my students on-task. I know the B-M-C says that if students are off task, then your instructions sucked, but seriously, this was bad. I think most of the problem is the time I have to devote to discipline in this summer school class – I hate taking time away from the whole class to punish specific students who are wasting our time, but on the other hand, at the point where so many of my students were in their own little worlds, I needed to kill the lesson fix the problem.

On the heels of that mess, today was a lot better. Granted, it wasn’t really me being any better; we had two major disruptions, at exactly the same time, and the first period teacher moved the students in question. That was good, because I could teach, but at the same time it made me question the authority that I had in the class. It already seemed pretty low, but when that happened, it seemed like it couldn’t really go any lower. (that being said, as the other teacher was handling the problematic students, I had two of my lowest-performing students entirely on-task and extremely engaged in learning, which was arguably a first).

At the same time, I think today, for the first time, I started to doubt whether these students could learn. And I don’t mean that in the sense that they are unable to learn. Rather, in conversations with students, I learned that they had all failed between one and four classes in the past year, and that attending summer school had become an annual thing for many of my students. I absolutely believe that these students can be inspired to succeed — they keep me on my toes, but they’re so much fun to work with.

The problem, really, is that I feel that my students really need a lot of one-on-one attention to get them to that point. In 13 days, and the extremely limited amount of instructional time I have, I really don’t know if it’s realistic to think that I can single-handledly change their view of the world and get them to believe that there’s something better out there, while simultaneously drilling the concepts into them that they will need to just get to eighth grade. This fall, I’ll have the time and the ability to commit myself to this cause, but it’s really tough at institute. And I don’t want it to be that way, but while I feel like my students will do well on the post-test, I don’t believe I succeeded on this second goal.

So along those lines, I was looking over the concepts that students wanted to review. One of them was inferences. I don’t have any idea where that came from, because I never taught that, but the first period teacher did. Because the first period teacher and I both needed to attend a session after I taught, I asked an amazing third-period teacher, C., if she would be willing to go over inferences with my kids for a few minutes after my class. The kids were initially pissed, because that meant that they would miss some of their “educational computer time” (read: Facebook time).

C. quickly found out that the kids knew their inferences. But that there was something a lot more important that was missing. In her hard but caring manner, C. explained to the class how neither the first period teacher or I needed to be there. All three of us had passed seventh grade, and gone far beyond. C. talked about the amount of “acting a fool” that she’d seen in these students over the course of the last few weeks, and about the lack of respect. A lack of respect for really everything. For learning in general. For me. For them.

And it was at that time that a lot of things clicked. Respect, in any form, was never the foundation of the classroom in the way that it perhaps should have been. It was a constant effort to build a relationship between me-and-individual students, but in doing so, it was never an effort to build a relationship between me-and-the whole class. I think I went through the class rules in 30 seconds on the first day. I know now that was a bad call.

But perhaps, if I could had students invested in a goal that incorporated the struggles I later learned about, and if I could have put assigned seats into place on the second day, and if I had a one-strike discipline system, then students would have been more invested in my class, in themselves, and in the belief that I had some kind of impact on them. Granted, the Teach For America CM teachers that they had last summer (and who my students said they preferred to us) weren’t able to pull these students out of the cycle of summer school either. I know that these kids can achieve. But to teach students to thrive in a culture of achievement is going to take a lot more time than I originally thought possible.

C. used care to threaten my students to complete a 10-page handout I gave them for homework. I’ve never given them homework before. But I actually think they’ll do it. They’ve always wanted to get to the eighth grade, and that’s a goal I have been able to get them to believe in. To get there, they’re going to need to show respect for their own abilities, and if they do the handout, then they will.

But I’m also really excited to tell everyone who does the handout and succeeds that they were actually working on problems that eighth graders in Oklahoma complete to become high schoolers. And on that reasoning, there’s no reason that my kids can’t get there either.

One Response

  1. Kurt (Community Manager)

    Congratulations! Your post has been featured on the Teach For Us homepage slider! Keep up the great work.

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About this Blog

Houston Institute '11 alum. Now a rural E/LA teacher.

Rio Grande Valley
Middle School

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