Thursday, October 29, 2009

Goal of the week: Survival.

Thought of the day: "Considering the culture where I work."

We say there is an achievement gap. The difference in standardized test scores between different racial and socio-economic demographics is pronounced. Students that are black, hispanic, or mixed don't do as well as their white counterparts. Students from low income backgrounds in urban settings don't do as well as their middle or upper class counterparts in the suburbs or rural settings. Why is this? There are many explanations and I won't go into them because that's enough for a Doctoral Thesis and not a blog entry.

However, from my time spent as an urban teacher I know one thing to be true. These kids are no different than those from the suburbs or out in the boonies. They are still kids. They love video games, they think they know it all, they get excited and jump around, they love candy, and they want to go on to do great things in this world. Also, just like their counterparts outside the city and from higher income familes, they *don't* want to go to school.

All I hear all day is "why do I need to know this," "does this really matter," "I don't want to," and "I don't care." These were the same things I heard growing up in the suburbs and in college with fairly affluent people. Kids don't want to do things that aren't fun. That's part of growing up is to realize that not everything in life is fun and if you want something that you have to work for it.

To quote the Stones: "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." I need that written 4 feet tall somewhere in my classroom. My students don't seem to understand that you aren't always given what you want immediately. In that way, they are PERFECTLY NORMAL.

However, my students know that they can not take school seriously. Why? As a teacher, I'm not allowed to fail more than 10% of my class or my bosses downtown start to look really hard at me. Kids are smart creatures. What happens when every teacher in a district is told not to fail so many students? The kids see that they can do barely anything in class, not show up repeatedly, and still pass. That's what. This is the product of 10 years of students being *SHOWN* that they can get away with murder.

There are many other reasons for the difference in success, but that's one that surprised me. I believe in eduacation. I believe in it so much it hurts. It hurts me to see a school system effectively telling the students that they can slack off.

Frankly, it only hurts the students in the long run.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is Ignorance bliss (or "if I wanted this I would have gone into the army)

Goal of the week: Noise

Get the noise level down in my room so I can think and the students can hear me.

Thought of the day: Is ignorance bliss?

I was teaching my 4th and second to last class of the day. My students we doing fairly well with the activity because it was more "hands-on." I was instructing them to the next step of what should happen for their activity and all of a sudden 3 cops burst through my classroom door.

I was a little shocked. I asked them if I could help them with something and they mumbled something that I don't recall. I saw them scanning the room. They found what they were looking for in the form of one of my students that I've been painfully working to get involved in class.

They all moved towards him like animals stalking prey - quickly and stealthily. They went up behind him and said "hands behind your back." Within seconds he was handcuffed and they put him on the floor. He did not struggle as 3 grown men held him down.

The whole class was silent. They all just watched in fear and confusion.

The police men asked my student where "it" was. He calmly responded "in my backpack" - which was on his back. They took his backpack and picked him up off the ground by his arms. I wanted to step in and tell them not to hurt them, but thought better of it because these police officers didn't look like they were in a talking mood.

After they left carrying my student, the whole class burst into bedlam. Students were loudly talking about how scared they were, how stupid the student was, and a host of other related topics.

I had no clue what was going on.

Apparently, this student had a loaded handgun in his backpack. He'd been showing it around at lunch and someone told on him.

As I walked to my desk, I saw his hat on the floor. He loves his hat and I finally got him to take it off when in the classroom without being told. Small victories. He's a nice kid but he doesn't come most of the time and when he is here he just throws the other students off track with talking. I finally found out why he doesn't attempt to do any work except when someone he is friends with is there to copy off of. He has a 2nd grade reading level. We did a literacy test two weeks ago and I looked at the data for all of my students.

I'm extremely conflicted. This kid is a smart enough kid... he's just been passed on and he can't read at a high level. There's no way he can succeed in my room because the reading level is so far beyond him. He's given up before he even started, and I frankly don't blame him. I like him but I can't help him. He can only help himself at this point and it will be a long, hard road ahead. I know there are people out there who can help him but I don't know if he knows that. I feel great concern for his welfare knowing that he is going to go through life without an education or the literacy level to really succeed. What type of options does he have in this world without being able to use the written word?

On the other hand - he brought a weapon capable of deadly force into the room. I thought about this as I picked up his hat and saved it for him. I knew he'd come back for it because he loved that hat so. One part of me was scared. What if that gun (which was loaded) had gone off? What if he didn't like me or decided I was picking on him and he wasn't going to take it anymore? What if another student saw it and started playing with it and hurt themselves, others, or me? What if what if what if?

Now, as sympathetic as I am to his life and outcome... he has no right to endanger the safety of others. No one has that right. Not in my room or anywhere. I feel so torn right now. My physical safety and the safety of those I'm responsible for were taken away. Maybe they knew it all along and didn't comprehend but I do. I do and I don't feel safe in my own classroom anymore.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm the worst teacher - ever...

Apparently, I'm a horrible teacher.

I need to focus on getting my classroom quiet. It is so loud in my room that one of my students who has migraines is not able to come into my room. This student that I just mentioned just came up to me and told me that she will not be attending class anymore because it is too loud in here for her to function.

This needs to stop. I cannot allow this to persist.

Problems in my class:
1) students do not bring their materials
2) students cannot hear me
3) students interrupt me while I'm teaching
4) students don't know what's going on in class
5) my students think they run the show and are equal to me

Where did these things come from? Apparently, I've allowed the *children* in my room to think that their edcucation is up to them and that they can make the rules for their world. That is not the case. If there's one important lesson I hope they learn from education it is this: Life is a game and you don't make the rules... you play by someone else's rules and if you don't follow them then you don't get what you want. That was what my mother told me when I was a young person and it always stayed in my mind as something that is truful.

I'm the adult in the room. I'm paid to make sure that these kids get educated. If there's a problem in the room, it's not because of my students but because I'm not being a good classroom manager.

And I am exhausted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ugh (or... I'm trying to see the silver lining and failing)

Today's update is all about the sophmore slumps - which I'm apparently right in the middle of. What are the sophmore slumps, you might say? Well, after one year of doing something I thought I had been making progress but apparently I have not. I'm past the little gains and I'm into the minutae of teaching and how difficult it can be to make big gains.

And I'm running out of energy. My health isn't any worse but the continual effort that I need to provide in order to keep up with 40 freshman in my room 5 times a day is daunting. I've been maintaining myself with just getting by. Unfortunately, that's not good enough. Not only do I need to be here giving lessons every day to help the kids learn what's on the benchmarks but I also need to step it up and get the classroom under control, help my class to run smoothly, and control these kids. Basically, I need to control these kids.

And I'm so tired. In fact, I'm getting exhausted. I don't know how long I'm going to be able to keep this up. I love teaching but I keep turning back in my mind to the fact that I seemed to have more control of my students last year than I do this year and I don't know why.

The only major difference between last year and this year is the classroom composition, the subject, the stars, and my demeanor when teaching. I think that the class being made up of freshman isn't a big change. Most of my kids last year, regardless of age or class standing, were squirrel-ly and a little nuts. I just was able to control them better - which I was finally able to do through the seating chart. I need to control the seating chart in order to control the students. However, the students in my class this year have claimed that they are not able to bring their books because they are "too heavy" or too far away. I think that I'm going to have to do something about that. Another teacher in my building uses the tired and true method of having the kids write "I will remember my materials" 25 times. That will motivate the students to do what is asked of them. I need to think of a positive reward for students that bring their books all the time. That would be effective.

There are other differences this year. For one, I don't like my students as well. I really enjoyed getting to know my students last year and the rapport that I developed with them might have had something to do with the fact that they respected me as much as they did. Unfortunately, they saw me as "one of the kids" and didn't really think I was an adult. I decided this year to take the road of "adult" and I dress and act more professional than I'm inclined to be. This might have been a mistake on my part. I need to figure out what my style is for teaching and stick to it. Actually, I just need to figure out what works.

Also... different from last year is the fact that I'm not doing positive reinforcement visually. That might have everything in the world to do with my students are acting so horribly. Ugh.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Procedures I am (or... "Thank you Mr. Harry Wong")

Goal of the Week
Map out the next month of classes and come up with some activities for each idea. I want to have the whole next unit planned in advance. I will do this AT SCHOOL and not at HOME!

Thought of the Day
After some wonderful words of wisdom from another educator, I have decided that I've been attempting to do to much outside of school and it's killing me. I need to have fun in my classes and not be so focused all the time on being perfect. I *will* concentrate on the positive. Here it goes...

I've been making excellent progress with the procedures. After reading some out of "The First Days of School" by Harry Wong, I've decided that this needs, first and foremost, to be the center of my teaching. At the start of every year the kids need to know how things work.

This is the same for a job. When I first went to work as a professional researcher I had to spend 2 days reviewing the procedures of the lab. It was some of the most boring time of my life but it did let me know exactly what they wanted to me to do in the execution of my duties. I was "FOREWARNED." That is exactly what my students need.

Rather than facing each and every new situation as it comes up and the inevitable backlash of student confusion and hatred as they get a consequence that they didn't expect, then I need to let them know in advance what matters to me, how I do things, and how each and every part of the classroom works. That way, they can be informed of how things go.

I actually made a powerpoint presentation over my procedures (of course, this is one month into school) but after that it seems to have been helping. My students seem a lot calmer and they try to pull things less on me. Not every student is a little angel, but things are better.

Now, I just need to figure out what ALL of my procedures are. Ugh.