Last week, I gave my pre-algebra students a collection of worksheets that will cover the content for the next month of so. Their assignments have been to work through them at their own pace, either on their own or with a partner or two. I have set milestones about where they need to be and when.
The first milestone was today.
In my 1st period, 1 student is where I was hoping they would be. In most cases, the students have been working very well, but not at a speed that I deem to be appropriate. I also don't feel great about this strategy. It feels lazy to me and allows students who don't want to work an easy way out.
At the same time, it allows me a chance to see where my students are and which concepts are causing them struggle. I want to be doing activities and projects with them, but this independent work had value as well. I need to find a way to balance the two.
I made a casual mention to my geometry students about a quiz and they immediately reenacted the scene from Scanners.
Notes on what? We've been talking about critical thinking and problem solving!
I hate how anxious the idea of assessment makes them. I've been assessing their skills since day one, but as soon as a number or letter gets attached, they freak out!
It's so weird for me, as a numbers guy, to say so but they need to ignore the numbers! Just show me what you can do!
They are totally on board with what I'm trying to do in the classroom, ...as long as they get A's.
I know it's a different mindset that I'm trying to develop, but it felt as though I lost a ton of ground today.
And then they came to class. Several students were missing and the rest told me they were still with the Gifted teacher "dealing with some drama."
When they finally showed up, it was clear that something major went down. The gifted teacher came with them and thus began a 90 minute Airing of Grievances.
This had apparently been building behind the scenes for a VERY long time. Students talked about their concerns with each other, with the gifted teacher, with me, with my class, with their parents, etc. It was a discussion and not a complaining session. I was very impressed by the maturity all around as students allowed themselves to be vulnerable in front of their peers.
There were tears shed as a student talked about the trauma that happened to her over the summer and the pressure that her parents are putting on her. Another began to cry as she talked about how unaccustomed she is to the difference in expectations between 7th and 8th grade. Another talked about how she loved me as a person, but she hates my teaching style.
At no point did I, or I think anyone, feel attacked. I felt as though students with legitimate concerns were addressing them in a respectful and meaningful fashion.
At several times the Gifted teacher apologized for derailing the class. I explained to her, and the students, that this was not a derailment. It wasn't what I had planned, but it was more important. I need my students to know that my room is a safe place and that I recognize that they are more than just brains that I need to fill with math.
I feel as though we made many strides today in understanding each other and helping to build a more positive and safe community.
I gave hugs. Partially because the students looked like they needed to be reassured and comforted, but also because I needed it.
Tests can wait. Showing humanity is more important.