Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 06 2007

Still learning from mistakes

Fourth period yesterday was a disaster. Students were spilling out into the hall at the end of the final exam. One was running at another wielding a three-hole punch that had broken open and spilled all over the floor. Others stapled a large number of my papers haphazardly together for no particular reason. Three stood around the LCD projector looking guilty. I was worried about the 1000-dollar piece of equipment but couldn’t leave the door. I had to use all my strength to close the door to keep the kids reined in. It was getting physical, the worst it had been all year. I was seriously concerned that something bad would happen and that I’d be in big trouble.
The year was over and their final test was over. I had anticipated them wanting to do extra credit and keep busy till the end but they finished the test with an hour left in class. I was wishing the clock would speed up because I could see that with them milling about the room, my authority practically gone because they had the freedom of summer in two days that something really bad could happen. I remembered at the beginning of the year when my mentor teacher told me that I needed to get the classroom under control because someone could get hurt. I saw that in only 15-20 minutes of unstructured time, the class that I had whipped into shape over the year was quickly falling apart. I couldn’t believe how quickly a lack of expectations and summer vacation undid everything I’d worked for.

As I write, I’m watching my 5th period boys quietly take their test. I learned from my mistakes. First I spent 35 minutes of the class doing a review. I figured that this would buy me a lot of time and maybe help them. It at least set a positive tone for the beginning of the test.
This time, I made the extra-credit essay questions mandatory and very easy to ensure that people would do them. One of them involves writing me a letter about the class, the other writing a poem, song or rap about math.
So far this seems to be working, at least I’ve typed all this during class. It’s amazing how much I’m still learning about teaching. I can’t take it for granted that I’ll be able to control a class. Careful planning is still very important and you can never underestimate the effects of a quickly approaching summer vacation on Freshman boys.
By the way, my fourth period got a 40 % average on their final. If one only counts the boys who actually tried it’s better with some actually passing the tough district first-semester algebra test. At the end of the period, with my back holding the door closed to keep the boys from spilling out into the hall, I told them that they treated me horribly this year and that I hope that they treat women better in the future. One of the students who has been helpful all year said, “Miss you are not going to teach again next year are you?” I told him I would but luckily not freshman boys. Maybe being honest with them is stupid, but I tend to be honest in life and this last week I let some of them know how much they actually hurt me.
I don’t know if that will resonate with any of them or if they will think about it but maybe.

2 Responses

  1. Vicki Dodge

    Quotation revised just for you –

    When you found yourself at the bottom of a deep hole in the ground, (teaching kids that did not seem to care) and your kids seemed to be shoveling dirt into the hole, what did you do do?
    YOU DID NOT give up and resign yourself to being buried, you stepped up on top of each fresh mound of dirt until you’re finally able to step out of the hole? You looked at the dirt as something that would either bury you lift you higher. You chose to be lifted higher and your ‘kids’ learned from it.
    In short, it’s a matter of attitude and perspective. Every day, problems, frustrations, challenges and uncertainty are heaped upon you. They can bury you if you let them. Or, they can lift you if you’ll step up to them.
    with alot of effort, you used the situations to lift yourself up and overcome.

    I am proud of you for being honest with them. I beleive from what you have shared that many of them have not had that expereince much intheir young lives. I know they will never forget you. 10 years down the road you willbe the teacher they talk about with fondness and respect when reminiscing about thier high school days. Give your self a pat on the back for sticking with it thorugh all the horrible and frustrating times and remember the good times that did happen as you move forward with a whole year of teaching in your experience now. Never doubt what you have to share with others. You are smart and caring and you have lots to share.
    I truly am proud of all that you have accomplished.
    I know you will go far and achieve all the dreams and goals you have set for yourself.
    Enjoy your summer and come back with your soul refreshed!! — and keep blogging — it is good for the soul (mine included)
    with love and respect for the fantastic woman you are

    • thank you vicki. I love you too. I hope you are happy :)

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Learning more about life than math…

Las Vegas Valley
High School

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