Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Day 70: Oh No He Didn't!

Not my best picture, but probably my favorite so far!

"We have a theory!  7 was dating 9, and 6 and 9 were 'friends' but secretly dating.  7 found out and went crazy and killed 9, his girlfriend, and is on his way to kill 6, the other boyfriend.  So 7 is now just a crazy maniac murderer."

I had a nice conversation this morning with the geometry students about the results of their first SBG quiz.  They filled out their skill sheets and analyzed the group results.  We determined that for the most part, the class is good with skills 7, 8 and 9.  Skills 10, 11, and 12 need some work, but since we haven't covered them in class yet, I was VERY impressed with the results.

I reiterated again that if they earned a score that they didn't like, they had steps to take to improve it.
  1. Identify why they got the problem wrong
  2. Review notes on that topic
  3. Select several practice problems to complete
  4. Set up a time for reassessment when ready
It was wonderful to see students identifying their strengths and weaknesses in a coherent way.  I talked about one student who earned 3, 4, 3.5, 1, 1, 0 on his 6 skills.  I explained that on a traditional test, he would have received a 50%, or an F.  On this type of assessment, however, he clearly understood half of the problems and so doesn't need to worry much about them in the future.  The students agreed that this was a MUCH better way to do assessments.

With them on board, I think it will go MUCH smoother and I'm excited to work with it further.

I'm ashamed to say that frustration boiled over in BOTH sections of pre-algebra.  I found an activity involving geoboards to help us discover the Pythagorean Theorem.  I think it's much more valuable to students to know WHERE a formula comes instead of just being TOLD that formula.

The activity dealt with drawing a right triangle of certain dimension (1X1) on the geoboard, then constructing squares along each side of the triangle, finding the areas of those squares and finding a pattern.

In the first section, we had a great discussion and demonstration to get them started.  Then when it came time for independent work, they sat and stared at the wall.  It took several minutes of cajoling to even get them to pick up their pencils.  My frustration level was so high that I didn't even care WHY they weren't doing the assignment.  I managed to sit with three students who were asking very thoughtful questions and were genuinely lost.  I worked with them with infinite patience and care, explaining whatever they needed me to, asking questions to lead them down certain paths.

In the mean time, other students began a bickering match about who stole a pen from whom.  I did my best to ignore it, but when they tried to draw me into it, I snapped.

In my mind, the worst sin a student can commit is taking away from the learning opportunity of another student.  When a student who had done nothing for 45 minutes interrupted  my work with three students who were working hard and struggling, I may have lost my mind a bit.

I have several parents to call tonight.

I think it may have scared the kids who were doing what they were supposed to.

In the second section, it took me 40 minutes to get through the demonstration because students would simply not stop talking.

After that, however, two students who are generally off task and disruptive worked incredibly well and did an amazing job on the rest of the paper.  I made sure to heap genuine praise upon them and their efforts.

When my geometry kids came back to me at the end of the day to get progress reports, they knew something was seriously wrong.  They had never seen me in such a state and I think they, too, were a bit frightened.

It's so important that when I get frustrated at students that I don't take it out on innocent kids.  When I snapped at the one today, I was able to turn around and calmly and patiently get back to work with the others who were on task.

I hate how angry I was.  The level of immaturity is not something I can tolerate.  I understand that they are still children, but at 14, the behavior was unacceptable.

Still, I hate how angry I was.

I hate even more that they saw it.  I hate that I wasn't able to keep my cool and calmly diffuse the situation.  I've been working so hard on cultivating positive student relationships this year and this just flied right in the face of that.

I'll have to pull that student aside tomorrow and talk with him calmly and patiently, apologize for my outburst, but make it clear that his behavior was not acceptable.  I think I try to have too many heart-to-hearts in the heat of the moment, while tempers (mostly mine) and frustrations (mostly mine) are still high.

They are still children, and children who are going through the toughest times in their lives: middle school.

This job is hard...


  1. Sounds like one of those days! No matter how much we try, there's always that point where enough is enough. Like you, I rarely reach that point, but when I do...look out! I hate the way it feels and always end up having a calm conversation the next day too. Typically the students understand. They know we're human too (at least most of them think this) and that we make mistakes just like them. I haven't yet had a student hold it against me after a nice conversation with him or her. Keep up the great work in your classroom. It sounds like you're providing great learning opportunities for your kids and creating a really positive environment for them. I envy your candor and the amount of reflection you do on a daily basis. Keep it up! Also, just remember...winter break is almost here!!!

    1. I will say that I'm trying to provide learning opportunities, but I have to honestly admit that for each one that I see them squandering, makes me less positive.

      I would like to find a way to maintain it, but I haven't yet. If you figure it out, let me know.

      It doesn't help that I am constantly being given new students who throw off the established dynamic. The approaching break is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it makes the kids crazier

  2. Hey Justin,
    I'm going through the same battle a lot in my Period 6 Algebra 1A class, which is basically a middle school class. They are all ninth graders who were recommended for a Basic Math tuneup, so in other words somebody said, 'These guys are not ready for Algebra." So they all dislike math, and it's after lunch and they're all tired, and I'm a sleep-deprived mess whose coffee has run out by then. (Item for Christmas: Coffee-maker for my room.)
    So ... I'm standing up there at the front of the room as they work on their Key Curriculum (Key to Algebra) packets and I'm frustrated but at the same time I know that some of them are just overwhelmed and not understanding the material, and I feel inadequate because my plan for the class is not exactly what it should be ... I'm trying to focus on the positive students and just overlook any negative behaviors, but ... some things just strike me as so inappropriate that I snap ...
    My temper outbursts--I think I'm making myself a victim dishonestly if I say that there's only so much that I can put up with, after which point I snap involuntarily. That's not even true. No, a lot of times I "snap" because I've realized that "snapping" WORKS. So I unleash it, and when I do that, I am hurting our relationship, now and in the future, so I can have a quiet classroom RIGHT NOW. I want what I want and I want it now, and I know how to get it.

    Of course that's not the only thing. Office referrals and other punishments or threats thereof are like that too. And each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Anyway ... I'm returning to this "Comment" after having run a couple of errands so I kind of lost the thread. Just happy to have the forum to share at ... TTYL

    1. I don't think that snapping necessarily damages the relationship. It may in the short term, but if you are able to talk to the student later and explain that it was the behavior and not the student that caused the anger, I think they understand. Admit that you could have handled it better and ask them how they could have changed their behavior.

      The kid I snapped at yesterday and I had a good conversation today. He didn't do any more work than normal, but he wasn't sulking or angry.

      They are kids. They forget easily, but they also remember everything. It's a weird age.

  3. Hey--your first two commenters are the dudes who met at Asilomar over the weekend. What are the chances?

    1. I so glad that you two could meet up! I can't wait to get out there and hang with you guys!

  4. When I've had a really tough class and the next group comes in I sometimes say to them, "Listen, my last class was NOT good. It's not your fault that I'm now in a bad mood. I don't want to take it out on you because that's not fair, so let's see if we can be productive, okay?"

    More often than not the students (usually 9th graders) look a little nervous but are appreciative that I'm being honest with them and giving them a chance to avoid my wrath.

    We all have bad days. That's why we get 180 of them.

    1. Absolutely! I have had several times when I've said just that. Or "It may seem like I'm in a bad mood, but I just don't feel well. If you could help me out, I would appreciate it."

      The kids like the honesty. They already spend so much of their lives feeling locked out stuff.

  5. Justin (and Mark in the comments above)

    I totally get being mad at yourself about visibly being mad at your students. In no way do I condone being mean or immature, but I DO believe honestly that showing your emotions - the good, energetic, happy ones as well as the grumpy, disappointed, frustrated ones - is generally a positive thing to do. I agree that we should be quicker with the happy ones and possibly exaggerate them somewhat, but I feel that an honest display of frustration/disappointment is fair when it's warranted by the behavior of the students.
    We all need to be hard on ourselves, but we don't need to expect to be superhuman.

    1. I agree! I do so much reflection on here that I forget that I don't really do any IN class, in front of the kids. If I want them to be real and reflective, I need to show them what that looks like.

      Thank you.


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