Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day 27: The Educational Suicide Bomber

I should have called off today.

I have been feeling irritated and on a short fuse all day.  Over the past 9 years, I've gotten much better at not taking it out on my students, but it does mean that my patience is a bit shorter for nonsense.

After speaking with our instructional coach and the other teacher in charge of pre-algebra, we have changed the sequence of the course to reflect the PA Common Core Domains.  If you were to ask me what any of those things are, I will show my best impression of someone who has no idea.

What I DO know is that the other teacher went through and reorganized the course sequence based on the way that the Pennsylvania Department of Education wants us to teach it.  I am deeply grateful to him for this work, because it's not something that I would have done.

For my part, I'm going through and making packets for the students that will cover all of the material in the new sequence.

I love packets.  They are lightweight, easy to get new copies of, don't need to be returned and, if well designed, can be the only thing other than a pencil that a student needs to bring to my class.  In the past, I've added notebook paper into the packets so they serve as notebooks as well as worksheets.

My students are pretty terrible at bringing materials to class.  Since they are not allowed to carry backpacks, they often carry nothing.  This means that when they DO take notes, it's often on a piece of loose paper that is left in my room, or their next class and never seen again.  I don't assign text books for students to take home because I don't assign textbook homework and I don't want the books to go missing.

A well curated chapter packet is a great way to solve all of these problems.  I have found in the past that students will forget notebooks, textbooks, etc, but if they have a packet with all of the work for the chapter, it will be there more often than not.  I think part of this is knowing that if they lose it, they will have to do it all over again.  In addition, when students are absent from class, they know to simply work further into the packet.  They don't have to worry about having the right assignment because it's ALL the right assignment.

But much like most of the important things on my to-do list, it has gotten postponed.

As soon as it's completed, some of my stress and distress will be alleviated.

My conversations with a colleague lately have centered around what I can control and those forces that I am powerless against.  I am very clear on the extremes.  There are district policies that are out of my control and I've been doing a great job of not worrying about them.  The assignments that I use are well within my control and those are the things on which I chose to focus.

The things in the middle, however, are where she and I disagree about level of control.

There are many students whom I have not won over to my way of thinking or teaching.  My growth-mindset wishes me to add the word "yet" to the end of that sentence, but my colleague claims that there are students whom I will never reach.  Intellectually, I know this.  There will always be students who slip through the cracks, no matter how hard we try.

But isn't it my job and responsibility as an educator to never stop trying?

When I moderate #MSMathChat on Monday nights, the question often comes up of "when is it ok to cut your losses and move on?"  To be accurate, it's usually a kinder version of this.

Or, to make a second sci-fi reference in 10 seconds:
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Or the one."

I can't answer this.  I will say that there are days when allowing a student, or a small handful of students to remain in the room destroys the learning environment for everyone else.

Today was one of those days.  Halfway through period 8/9, I just sat down.  I apologized to the students within my earshot for the substandard education that they were receiving as a direct result of my inability to convince their classmates to get with the program.

The "program" being "allowing me to teach the other 23 kids in the room."

I have made phone calls home, I have assigned them leadership roles, I have spoken to them privately.

I am out of interventions.

I am starting to feel as though the things that are out of my control are getting to be more than I can handle.

We will see what tomorrow brings.

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