20 November 2008

The Year So Far

I was so excited to teach sixth grade this year. My last group of sixth graders was wonderful; granted, they devolved into snotty, entitled, hormone-charged brats by eighth grade, but when they were sixth graders, I loved them. Generally, I like the age group and I developed several units that they found engaging, units I'd tweak, improve and reuse.

So at this point, with about a quarter of the year finished, I’d say that I’m disappointed. While I do have a tendency to look back with rose-colored glasses, I don’t think I’ve ever been this continually frustrated with my students. Overall, their behavior is not good; calls to parents and lunch detention haven’t helped. They don’t listen at all. I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve asked them to do something simple, like take out materials, hang up jackets, go back to their seat. They look at me and continue doing whatever they were doing and I have to ask at least once more.

Of course some of the kids are wonderful, hard-working and well-behaved. But there are more who don’t fit into that category. As for the parents, they seem to fall into two extremes: helpful or not. I’ve been using an online grading program this year, and it’s been a life-saver. There’s a component for parent access, so I was able to get several e-mail addresses so that I can send them grades and behavior logs. I’m more optimistic about those parents, but then there are parents who know that their kids are struggling, either with behavior or work, and they don’t want to get involved.

I need to do something. A few weeks ago my husband mentioned an article in the New York Times sports section about Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, who is a college basketball coach. The article mentioned Robinson’s policy of punishing late players by making the whole team run sprints. He said that they were all punished to remind them that they were accountable to each other.

It got me thinking about accountability, and these kids, and how they’re really not accountable to the system. Their parents aren’t either. Teachers are the only ones who really get the heat when the scores are bad. And that’s a problem for a lot of reasons. Granted, the kids get bad grades, but most of them don’t seem bothered by them. They know they will go to summer school and get passed on to the next grade, especially the kids who are already multiple holdovers.

I thought about making the whole class do lunch detention the next time a few kids were bad. Then a light bulb went off in my head, reminding me of how pissed I get when my school implements things on the fly, and in a half-assed way. So for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how I can make these kids accountable to each other.

I think I’ve hammered out a decent plan. It still needs tweaking, and I won’t bore anyone with details, but I have hope. Instead of the whole class, the kids will be in small groups of four or five kids, and they will be accountable to their group for work, behavior and punctuality. They’ll get points for doing what they’re supposed to do. I know that I’ll have to build in some lessons about teamwork and what to do about the kids who absolutely won’t come on board. They will all be working towards a point goal instead of competing against each other. I’m aiming this more at those middle kids, the ones who aren’t doing terribly but aren’t working to their full potential. So far this year I haven’t taken any trips, because the kids just haven’t deserved them, but trips will be the monthly reward.

Once the ELA is over I think I will also enjoy myself more. I’m about to cast everything aside and do nothing but test prep until the test. I don’t feel great about it, and it will bore the shit out of all of us, but I feel backed into a corner. It’s pretty clear that test scores are the only thing that matter. Thank goodness that at least a few of my kids really do have genuine curiosity and a desire to learn. I’m sure as hell not cultivating it. By my standards, I’m not doing the job I want, but if the kids pass the test, at least the Tweedians will be happy with my performance.


Schoolgal said...

I'm glad you are not going to punish the whole class, and that would only get parents up your a$$ and you will make your better students unhappy.

Isn't it something that we as professionals have to think up ways to deal with this nonsense simply because the parent doesn't take an interest. Yet, we are the villians.

yo miss!, formerly in bushwick said...

I actually have a system very similar to this in place for my eighth (!) graders. It works like a charm. I also have an individual incentive system running in place alongside it. Yeah, it's sad that we have to do stuff like this at this stage in the game, but it's either find something that works or go crazy.