Thursday, September 30, 2010

Middle of the Night, Stuck in a Bad Place

The last time I wrote about my classes is over two weeks ago. I'm discouraged. (I'm up in the middle of the night because I couldn't sleep. Is my restlessness due to my concerns about my teaching?)

The most embarrassing part to report is that I still have one class that's definitely not with me. Most of the high school students are definitely not engaged. [There is a high school housed at our college. I have 13 high school students in this section. In the section that's going well, I have 5 high school students.] I've also had continued trouble with a bunch of the students who are on the women's basketball team. I can blame students who come in not caring about learning, or I can blame myself for not pulling people in. Of course blame gets one nowhere. But that class is distressing for me.

There's more. The hardest part to write about is my questions about how to handle students who continue to disrespect the needs of other students. I've mentioned my trouble to the high school principal and the basketball coach, and I've sent a few students to the dean of students. I don't like having power over students in the first place, and yet I'm using others to do what I'm not comfortable doing? Yuck.

I gave a test on graphing yesterday, and it's not good. I've looked over all the tests from my 10am section. (I marked each problem with a C or an X, but I didn't put a score at the top of most.) Only a few people did well enough for me to put a score on their paper. The rest will have "Redo" at the top. The 10am class has been delightful, people are working hard and having fun, and still, most of them did really badly. I gave them a practice test. I was clearer about which textbook sections have the problems they should use to practice. We went over the material in lots of different ways. They study together outside of class. They still bombed it. That section is a great group, and I'll be asking them what they think. But they might not know how to study more effectively. I love that group, and I feel stuck.

I feel like graphing is a great topic to do in engaging ways. I did a scaled down version of Dan's stack of cups problem with them. I want to do the egg bungee drop problem, but I haven't gotten the supplies, or tried it out. I need to find time to prepare for that. (I had time yesterday. Why didn't I pull it together?) But I feel pressure from the students (and myself?) to lecture, and to make it all organized and clear. (I cannot make it clear for them. That comes from struggling with the problems, and asking why each step of the way.) The projects feel like extras sometimes...

I'm reading blogs about Waiting for Superman and the Education Nation (the NBC series that has hardly any teachers, but purports to discuss education), and I keep running across the notion that getting rid of 'bad teachers' will improve education. (Obama really approved of the Rhode Island firing of all the teachers in a school?! That shatters my illusions. I know, that was months ago. But it's hard to digest...) I can't help feeling like a 'bad teacher' right now. I should have read more of the Doug Lemov book...

Blame my distress on insomnia perhaps, but I'm thinking my insomnia is caused by this distress... I may come back and add a bunch of links later, but I think I'll lie back down now and try again to sleep.


  1. This happens to me more often than I like to admit. One thing I've tried, to see if the trouble students had was with the math, or reading the math test itself is to change the values in the problems, and give the test again - orally. I read it aloud, and it has made a big difference in outcomes.

    Losing sleep over these things sucks, but I'd be bored with any job that never kept me up at night.

  2. Reading what you've written today, and previously, I'm sure you are one of the good teachers, and I'd hazard a guess perhaps among the best ... you obviously care!!

    I hope you get a good rest and feel less distressed tomorrow. Maybe define a few goals for them if you haven't. Not always knowing how to respond to attitudes and behaviour issues perplexes me too, so I look forward to reading other responses. I hope you do find some solutions ... maybe a play-based lesson as you suggested would be the answer.

    I did a few quick searches, and these ideas may be a bit simplistic but I wanted to send some encouragement :)

  3. Hang in there--your heart is clearly in the right place!

    Here is a song I like to listen to when I get discouraged:

  4. Mary, I love that song, thanks!

    And thank you both, Doug and Butterfly. It was good to see these replies when I woke up.

    It's been a mixed day today. My first class went fine, and at the end one student was in tears (happy tears) because she's had to drop the class at this point multiple times before, and she passed parts of the test, and only needs to redo a couple of problem types. I told her another student (the one who's always encouraging others) needs her help now.

    The next class saw all that happen, and we proceeded on our way. About 5 people walked out at different times before class was over. I have no idea why, and I struggled to ignore it. (What else can I do?)

    I was explaining about thinking of slope as rate of change and using units, and writing full sentences to explain what it means. One student told me afterward it was a wonderful lecture. Lots of emotion today. I got lots of gratitude for what I'm helping them with, and I sure appreciate it.

    This week is almost over, and I'll try to get ready to come to the next week with some good ideas.

  5. stunning post.
    no... let me rephrase.
    *insipring* post.

    "how does it feel to be the teacher?"--
    there's only a few of (ahem) us
    with the gonads (ordinarily i'd've
    said "yarbles", but see this thread
    in ben blum-smith's [astonishing]
    _research_in_practice_) to take
    this as our topic and use examples
    from our current practice.
    brazen and j. spencer come to
    mind (and this is high praise).

    yay sue v.!

    meanwhile my class (first in over a year)
    is ripping me up emotionally; hints at
    certain details may or may not emerge
    in MEZB. it's great to be back so don't
    get me wrong. but who do you *talk*
    to? g-d bless this world wide web.

  6. Sue,

    I just saw this post today.

    Since I'm not in a classroom yet, I don't have any advice, but wanted to add my voice to the chorus, saying it's obvious you are a good teacher.

    A bad teacher would have chalked up the failures and moved on without reviewing.

    ((((Sue)))) I hope you feel better.

  7. Owen, call me anytime to talk about classroom stuff. I'd love to have that conversation.

    Jennifer, I think those were hugs you put around my name. Thank you! If you saw my post from yesterday, you know I've been looking at some of the good things too. But of course I'm still concerned about the class that's caused me all this difficulty. I have another post in mind, about 'power over', but it will take some time to write that one.

  8. Thank you for writing about your struggles. It's so helpful to know that other teachers are having a hard time at this time of year too. We all begin the semester with so much excitement and things often seem to go so well at first. I often find late-Sept and early-Oct to be a challenging time. It's helpful to see that that's the case for other teachers out in the blog-o-sphere. It helps me to feel much less alone.


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