Today was better than Friday but still rough.
One of the students who I removed from class Friday decided to take their mother’s instructions to “not talk to anyone in that class” literally and include me. They tried to give me the silent treatment the entire class. This might not have been too bad if they had worked silently but they still ended up being off-task and sometimes talking to their friends. When I tried to help them with the activity, this just shut down. It turns out you really can’t teach someone who won’t respond to your questions because you can’t gauge what they already know. I tried talking to the student outside in the hallway. They wouldn’t talk to me. I had them call their mother. They were not honest with their mother and still would not talk to me. I talked to an admin later that day. I am still working on it. I will do anything I am able to help them get back on track, but they will have to choose to do it and I can’t make them.
So that was a nice way to start the day.
My colleague A dropped by to talk to me again. She was very encouraging and told me that I can’t get too worked up about all of my students. Which is great advice that I sometimes struggle to follow. I’m still working to find that balance between making sure that all students are provided an environment for which they can succeed and not worrying myself to death when they do not choose to take advantage of that environment. And this is not just a cynical CYA thing but truly a mental health thing. I will do everything that is in my power to help a student learn, but I cannot feel responsible if they make choices that prevent that.
As Michael Pershan said to me on Twitter once several years ago, (or at least, I think it was Michael), it is:
100% our responsibility
100% student responsibility
100% parent responsibility
That breakdown hurts our inner math teacher but I think it effectively communicates what level of commitment we should have as teachers (fully) and what level of guilt we should feel if a student fails (none, if we gave our all). Or at least, that’s how I see it.
I didn’t get through nearly as much I was hoping to get through today. At first I thought it was simply because the students were goofing off (and some of it was that) but they also were genuinely struggling with the activity on absolute value equations that I gave them. It took them most of the bell to complete after we had finished the bellringer, Mathematician Monday (Emmy Noether today), and then journaled about previous experiences in math class. I am proud that most of them are getting the “absolute value is distance” concept, but they are still struggling to apply it to solving absolute value equations.
I really need to get better about assessing frequently and in smaller doses. I plan to start doing quizzes every Tuesday and Thursday and just cycle through the 3-4 most recent standards. Students will be allowed to self-initiate on older re-assessments as necessary by filling out form with signed tutoring hours and extra homework. I really am kicking myself for now getting my grading system in place sooner, but the only thing to do is keep going and help them adjust.
I spoke to several of them today about the pace and curriculum of the course because they asked me about it.
“Mr. Belcher, why do we have to learn so much?”
“Well, the state has chosen a certain set of learning standards for this course and then textbook publishers respond to those standards and put certain things in the textbook and then our district sets curriculum according to those things. More or less.”
I’m giving the Unit 2 test on Wednesday. Even though the department test is multiple choice I learned my lesson from last time and will make showing work mandatory for credit on the test. I have not decided what percentage it will be yet. I want it to be enough that students don’t think they can risk not showing work. The students who did the optional showing of work on the first test did far better than the ones who did not because I awarded partial credit. I have been emphasizing that I value process and explanation as much or more than answer and usually I reinforce this by giving open-ended tests, but since everyone gives the same test in our department I need to figure out another way to do this. I am trying to figure out what will make the students go “Oh man, Mr. Belcher is serious about this showing our work and explaining our ideas thing,” but won’t make them go “What? That’s not fair.” (On the other hand, maybe I just say tough cookies and tell them any answer that has no work will not be counted. I don’t know. I need to decide soon.) If anyone has done something similar, I’m open to suggestions.
I’ve got it down to three choices:
60% work, 40% correct answer
All work must be shown or answer doesn’t count
Maybe it sounds weird to have a test right after a quiz, but I want to give them another gut check before the test on Wednesday to help them know where they are.
In a complete change of subject, I also made a small mistake while working lunch duty today. I have a new student in my class. He’s not just new to my class but to the whole school. Today was my first day working lunch duty and my job was to move students along in a foyer area between the gyms and the cafeteria (what we call the Commons). They aren’t allowed to hang out in the foyer but they can move freely between the gyms and the Commons. Essentially for half an hour I am walking up to groups of students going “Move along, move along, folks. You gotta pick a place and go to it.” (Tomorrow I may sing Semisonic to them.)
What do these have to do with each other? While I was doing this my new student came by and I struck up conversation with him for a little bit, asking him about why he changed schools. He started to just stand there with me and talk and for some reason by brain short circuited and I said “Oh, sorry, you can’t stay in here, you have to pick a place,” but I think it would have been fine for him to stand there and talk to a teacher. I missed my chance to make a connection with a new student. Oh well. I’ll have to do it in the classroom instead.
Also, sorry that this post was all over the place. As I mentioned in one of the first posts, these are gonna to be quick and dirty with almost no pre-planning or post-editing. I’m just doing a braindump at the end of each day.
Thanks for reading!