The Ebb and Flow

As I alluded to in my last entry, I’m really starting to pick up on major changes in some of my students.

One girl started the year barely attending school at all. When she was present, she could barely keep her mouth shut. She showed little-to-no effort in her work. Then she started showing up consistently, and being a consistent thorn in my side. I had to throw her out of most tests and quizzes for disruption. Most days, she didn’t do a lick of work, and she was really dragging down one of my best students, who idolized her for being the class clown. Then I started dedicating part of my walk-around time to really working with her one-on-one. As it turned out, she was way more capable than she was letting on. I think like a lot of my students, she lacked confidence and would rather not try and fail than try, fail, and look stupid. I complimented her for doing better work. As the semester went along, I tried to devote some time to getting her started on her work. By the end of the semester, things hadn’t turned around completely, but she was doing some of her classwork, attempting to take test and quizzes, and refraining from disrupting class most of the time.

I can name a whole bunch of other students who have shown similar turnarounds. Most of them no longer act like they hate being there. Although I’m happy with the direction of these students, unfortunately, many of them are still going to fail their first semester of Algebra I. I hope that it’s not going to be too discouraging, but they need to understand that you can’t piss away most of a semester, put in average effort, and still pass the class. They’re starting to learn how to work, but they’re going to need to learn just how hard that work needs to be to succeed. The HSA test at the end of the year is going to show them no mercy, and neither will I. So the challenge for me this new semester is figuring out how to take these from walking in the right direction to sprinting.

I’m slightly excited about next week. My student are going to take the NWEA, a standardized exam for measuring overall math abilities. They took the test for the first time this past Fall, and it indicated that I’m teaching students ranging in math ability from 2nd grade, all the way to 10+. The 9th grade average performance is on-par with the average American student halfway through 5th grade. The Algebra I HSA is a tough test. Needless to say, it’s almost audacious to expect that all 100 of my students will grow enough pass. However, if I can push them to make more than a year’s worth of growth in math, at least they are on track to catch up with their peers.

The big goal for my class is to grow an average of 2 years in math ability. A tiny handful of my kids have already maxed out the scale, and a couple are on the low end and probably haven’t moved much, but I think there’s a big chunk of kids in the middle who will hopefully show some major gains. I’m looking forward to (hopefully) seeing some good numbers on academic growth for the 1st semester.

A Long Overdue Update

I haven’t been doing such a good job lately of keeping this journal up to date, but I see that people are still checking in, so an update is in order.

Most of my days since coming back haven’t been too eventful. I think my biggest problem lately is that I’m struggling to attain the level of respect I should be receiving from my students. I’ve been hammering on them. My homeroom class has been the toughest to deal with. They’re still super snotty, but I think I’m making some progress. I’ve had to make a whole bunch of phone calls, punish the entire class as a group, and be extremely vigilant. It’s been hard, but I hope it will start paying dividends. They need the biggest kick in the butt. My interim assessment scores show that all my classes are performing dismally. But my homeroom significantly lags the other three. I’m hoping that when/if I can finally break them, we can start moving them forward. I am excited that Ms. Cleveland, our most experienced teacher and our best at relating to the students, will teach them every day, because she will hopefully have a big impact in getting them into shape.

One thing I’m concerned about coming up is that a large number of my students are missing very major assignments (i.e. tests and quizzes). I’ve gone out of my way to post due dates and past due notices for make ups, and still, most of missing assignments are still outstanding. It’s so frustrating. On one hand, I do not want to baby these kids. They need to learn to take care of their own responsibilities, and learn that there are major consequences if they don’t. On the other hand, some of these kids are already on the verge of being lost.

Another thing that is a major concern to me is the ebb and flow of individual students. It’s amazing how far some kids have come over the year. I can think of several kids who started the year off severely behind, completely unmotivated, and/or totally unmanageable and have turned their acts around. But there are a handful of kids who have moved in the opposite direction. I can think of three, all in my homeroom, who started off way ahead but have really been crashing and burning for the past couple of months. They are supposed to be three of our best, and right now, everybody is at a loss as to what to do with them. I talk to each of their parents just about weekly, to little effect. We’re all busting our butts to get them to stop throwing their lives away, but at this point it’s on them. First semester is about done, and they’re going to have to lay in the bed they’ve made for themselves.

On the bright side, January is glorious: winter break, two weeks of school, 2 days off for MLKJ Day and Inauguration, exams this week, and then professional development days next week. Supposedly, I’ll be paying dearly in February and March. Days off will be fewer and far between, Hopkins will be back in session, and HSA’s will be becoming more and more urgent. I’m enjoying the slower pace, but also trying to buckle down as best I can.

Round Two

Coming back from break was harder than I thought it would be. Having almost 2 weeks off was fantastic, but it almost felt too long. By the end of the break, I was starting to feel tired of being aimless. I was looking forward to having structure again.

But as soon as my alarm went off, reality set in again. The first day was a struggle. Strangely enough, nothing went horribly wrong that day; I was just not into to it. I had planned on coming back with enthusiasm, but that morning, it was tough to muster the energy to interact with my students. It was one of those days when I just didn’t like any part of my job. A full day of butting heads with students and dealing with dozens of manifestations of social problems was a lot to handle after such a break from responsibility. I came home exhausted and slept most of the evening away.

Fortunately, after some long conversations, I cheered up considerably. I realized that maybe it was too much to expect that I’d set right back in the groove where I’d left off before break, and that maybe I’m not abnormally bad at or ill-suited for teaching.

These last couple days have gone much better, at least in terms of my feelings internally. And although my classroom is far from the well-oiled machine I’d like it to be, I really do feel more comfortable in my role. My lessons are going way better lately, and my ability to assert my authority is definitely coming along. It’s still hard as heck and exhausting, but I’m not feeling so dismal anymore.