Monday, March 10, 2014

Day 116: Running on Empty

Daylight Savings Time is a cruel joke.  Just as I begin to feel as though my morning commute will be nice and enjoyable, watching the sun shine its first rays down upon a mostly sleeping community, we switch the clocks and I am, once again, driving in the dark, desperately trying not to fall asleep at the wheel.

I arrived at work exhausted and never really recovered.

It worked out well in Geometry, where I asked the kids to continue whatever they were working on while I did more conferences.  Sitting and having a conversation with students is not something I've ever really done.  I have done conferences before, but it wasn't really a discussion.  It was me talking, asking questions, and them answering very briefly.

This time, I had them talk and I listened.  I asked clarifying questions and waited for them to expound on what they said.  I asked them to self-evaluate and tell me why they felt they deserved an 8 instead of a 9.  I asked if they wanted to go back and try again and many of them did.

I am hoping to instill in them two separate skills.

First, more transparently, I want them to be able to explain their work thoroughly.  I feel that their ability to do this will help them to develop more critical thinking skills, which is my ultimate goal in my classroom.

Second, I want them to take pride in their work.  It starts with me actually asking them "Is this the best you can do? Are you happy with your product?"  My hope is that, eventually, I don't have to ask, but they will have my voice in their heads asking.  Ultimately, I want it to be their own voice that's urging them to do better, to be proud of what they produce.

This goes back to what I was talking about on Friday.  I want students, when they score poorly on tests, to be upset because it doesn't adequately show what they know.  Similarly, before they turn in an assignment, I want them to ask themselves "Does this accurately express my knowledge?  Am I proud of this work?"

It's a long and difficult process to go from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic, but I truly believe that schools will not succeed until we are able to do that.

My lack of energy made my pre-algebra classes more difficult than normal.  I don't know if it's the weather, the time of year, or the change in the clocks, but I simply don't have the energy to fight with them anymore.  Kids tune in and tune out at the drop of a hat.  When I try to do more interesting projects and examples, they refuse to do the work.  When I grind through problems slowly, laboring over the details, the slower students happily stay with me, participating well, but the faster students tune out.  When I try to give them more challenging work, they won't do it.

If they can't reach the apple from the ground, they would rather starve.

I pulled a student into the hallway when her laughing, chatting, singing and snacking got to be too much me.  I didn't yell, or scream, or insult, or threaten.  I told her that she was going to have to start making better decisions if she didn't want to be here next year.  I told her that she was making it very difficult for me to keep trying to help her.  She stayed in the hallway for a few minutes, then returned and was on task.

I made a special point to tell how thankful I was that she decided to join our learning environment.

I am getting increasingly concerned that my responses to student behavior is becoming too harsh.  My patience at the excuses, the rudeness and the lack of effort is almost at an end.

I could make a list of things that students say and do that drive me up a wall, but any teacher could do the same.  What I NEED to do is figure out how to better deal with it than I am.  My reactions are not good my students in the long run.

I feel as though, at least in the pre-algebra classes, I had better learning outcomes when I spent my class time doing skill and drill.  I HATE that that might be true.

If it is, then I need to finally admit that I have no idea what I'm doing and find a different profession.  I've been trying for 116 days to drag them out of the cave, kicking and screaming, and I don't know if I'm anywhere closer to the entrance.

Maybe I just need to sleep more.


  1. Is there some way to "accentuate the positive"?
    Is there some way to make the Step By Step stuff have a side thing happening that will engage people who don't need that?
    I think the most important thing to convey is that it is painful for you to watch them tune out, etc. because you *want* them to succeed (which it sounds like h
    appened with the person to the halls).
    SKill and drill is extremely helpful and necessary... but it's only a part. Once I reconciled myself to its necessity, and the fact that a lot of it was boring to **me** more than them, I was free to do more with the non skill and drill... because they had the skills to do mroe challenging things. I still did end up getting out of the classroom, though ;)
    Here, our students have a few tons of drill drill drill on ALEKS -- but if they've got it all done, they don't have to show up on Friday at all, which means that Fridays can be devoted to the folks who do need the extra help... *and* they've got me in the computer lab to help them get the bigger picture.
    No answers... just tangential thoughts and genuine sympathy.

    1. I appreciate that. Focusing on the positive has been my MO this year. It worked to a moderate amount, but while I expected it to bring the negative influences to a halt, it only emboldened them into a sense of impunity.

      They have grown larger than my ability to shut out.

      Especially now that I care about the success of my students.

  2. I don't know how this would work but could you split your pre-algebra into two groups? Allow the faster students to work more independently and extend ideas together, and work more slowly with the others? It would require some extra planning, but I think after a little bit that would become more natural. Just a thought.

    1. I have tried to differentiated my assignments, but overall, what I have found is that students who do the work will do whatever I give them. The ones who won't, won't.

      I don't mind the extra planning, but from everything I have experienced so far, deep or shallow lessons, it's the same kids who do them.

  3. Justin

    Thinking out loud here… You have mentioned their comfort level with the skill/drill approach. I understand both sides of this struggle you are engaged in. You want more for them, you want them to think to be challenged and to find their own path. They - especially the Pre Alg kids - don't know that this is even a real possibility. Does it feel to you that it would be retreat or defeat if you sneak some skill/drill back in every few days? Once a week or so, let them sink back to that comfort spot so that they know they can anchor on firm land every once in a while. It might make the other explorations more rewarding and successful.

    1. I don't mind doing skill and drill every once in a while. I know that it has great value in solidifying the mechanics of math. My concern is that I don't seem to be able to transition them from skill and drill to anything else.


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