mathlovergrowsup

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 18 2007

Meeting with the administration

At the beginning of the year I was told that there had been a scheduling mistake with Pre-Calculus and that a number of students were misplaced into my honors class. The students’ prerequisite skills ranged from regular Algebra II to Algebra II Honors with Trigonometry.
On initial testing, it was clear that there were a huge varieties of ability levels. These discrepancies continued to be obvious as we “reviewed” the prerequisite material.
I talked to a number of people about the situation, the counselors, my department chair, but never directly to the administration. I suggested that students be transferred out of my class into something more suitable because I really believed that they were not in the right spot and, despite the TFA mantra about achieving significant gains, it was not my responsibility to catch them up to the rest of the class. I was told that they were misplaced.

Through chance, the administration learned of this at the end of the year because one of the students who was failing my class asked to have her grade changed and needed administrative approval. All of a sudden I’m in a conference, feeling like I’m under the gun and in trouble. They gave me lectures about self-fulfilling prophesies, asking me how I possibly could have told students that they were misplaced. Of course they were not going to be successful if I told them that they didn’t have the prerequisite skills. They are frustrated that I’m not following the philosophy of the school to push students forward and increase the numbers in honors. They are angered that anyone ever told me that students were misplaced and upset that some students dropped math altogether. Now I feel like I’m second guessing myself. Originally I thought that my star student was misplaced and hopelessly behind. After lots of extra help and perseverance she is earning an A. However, she still has big gaps in knowledge. I was horrified to realize that she didn’t know the Pythagorean Theorem the other day while helping her with trig.
Clearly she did not have what she was supposed to have but is successful because of huge amounts of work on her part and my part. I’ve spent more time on her than anyone else. I suppose I could have done this for more of the students, but I think, for my own sanity, it was better not to make me responsible for the academic well being of 15 unprepared students.
The administration had thought the classes were being differentiated. I suppose that makes sense and it is my professional responsibility to differentiate but it would clearly be easier to just put students in appropriate classes. They asked if “it couldn’t have been that difficult to teach regular and honors pre-calculus at the same time.” It makes me feel like a failure because that does sound difficult and I didn’t think I could. My program director didn’t even think it was possible. A great teacher could have done it, and it just reminds me that I’m not great. (yet)

I feel like the administration is upset right now because they are realizing that some things have not gone as well this semester as they would have liked.
We had a big meeting yesterday with the administration and the entire math department about the number of failures in Algebra. Students are taking twice as much math this year but still failing and they want to know why. I think this is a great question and I’m glad the administration is asking. I wanted to tell them that the scores are not high because we have 4 long-term subs and even more new teachers, some of whom don’t have degrees in math; we are all teaching too many different classes; some of us have huge issues with one gender or another; veteran teachers are not used to block schedule, and we are dealing with massive lack of prerequisite knowledge. Of course this is what I signed up for as a Teach for America teacher and I can’t claim “I can’t do my job because the kids are coming unprepared.” I’m supposed to take these kids and make them great, and that is possible, but it’s hard. Massive disorganization at the school just doesn’t make it easier. The lost minutes because of broken printers, inefficient attendance, bad scheduling, and lack of training correlate to minutes lost from being good teachers. There is a trickle down effect. Students being leveled after a month of school into new classes does not help.

I do think that my administration has its heart in the right place. I was glad to hear Dr. Geiss give a TFAish speech about the power of high expectations. I need to revisit this for next semester. I’ve been going bike riding and climbing a lot and I think today I’m just going to hang out at school and work work work until I’m satisfied that something is going better.
I’ve been feeling less haggard and it’s time I go beyond meeting minimum requirements to actually having high expectations for my kids. I don’t know how much second semester can be different from the first, but I need to try something. Man, that meeting made me feel bad though. I was so stoked to work and now I’ve wasted an hour worrying about something I thought was done with long ago.

2 Responses

  1. Teaching two classes during the same class period (regular and honors) is difficult, even for an experienced teacher. I know you put high expectations on yourself, as all who strive for excellence do, but strive for expectations that are both reasonable and high. You are a first year teacher with enough on your plate. You are making progress and learning quite a bit. Keep up the good work and progress. Don’t beat up on yourself. :-)

  2. Ms. Math

    Wow, reading this now, I see that I never needed to feel bad for this situation. Student placement into appropriate math classes is incredibly important and if a student can not build new understandings onto something meaningful to them, they will have a very hard time building new understandings at all.

    Truly, the misplaced students needed to be put in the right class, more than I needed to double plan. It is so much easier for forgive myself, when I truly see the insanity of my situation. High expectations may work wonders, but there is not reason that kids can understand mathematics they are not prepared to learn just because someone believes they can.

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