Friday, November 18, 2005

Choose, Fuckers! or... Not How I Wanted It To Be

Periods 1-6-7 came in worse, lower academically and behaviorally, full of rowdy boys trying to show how hard they are, how funny and clever they are, but we've bonded now. Getting obnoxious teenage boys to focus and work hard is something I've become good at. Periods 3-4-5 were less ridiculous, less low (only three years behind) but it's never fully clicked. They generally work hard when given work, but are just incapable of 1) listening and 2) shutting the fuck up. Wednesday I gave the directions signal, got attention, repeated directions twice and was about to release them to do the task when J. shouts out a dumb-ass question that revealed he was completely not listening, and I literally head-butted the white-board in frustration so hard it got silent real, real fast. I've never head-butted a white-board before, and never in front of students, but it's fast becoming ridiculous. Transitions are freakin awful, taking far longer to accomplish and always, always necessitating the use of multiple re-direction procedures/techniques. They are woefully behind in all of our whole-class reward systems and are actually going backwards -- getting further away from earning rewards.

So yesterday it was normal absurdity x10. I stopped class twice, and handed out three "Reality of School" essays, the worst consequence I have, requiring students to copy an essay subtitled "Why Am I Here," which contains great insights such as: "The teachers at this school know more than I do about what will be worthwhile and useful for me in the future. They are here to provide me with information and skills that will make me a better prepared and more self-confident individual. Because I am a teenager, and completely irrational, I may not appreciate that right now, but I will one day..." Finally, I just stopped. I made them sit with straight backs, staring at two statements written on the board:

I need a teacher.

I need a baby-sitter.

Then I sat down, and we remained like that for over a half hour.

Eventually, I passed out post-it notes and made them choose which statement was true, explaining that I could teach them or baby-sit them; it was their choice, but while I was a pretty good teacher, I was a horrible baby-sitter, and only knew how to make them sit with their hands folded in a dark room. When the votes came back saying they needed a teacher, I explained everything that needed to change, underlining the reality that in the absence of those changes we would spend periods 3, 4, and 5 sitting still and staring at the board. Then I made them choose again. At that point it had been dark and silent for 47 minutes. I told them to silently put their folders away, go home and really think about what they wanted.

"If you are truly ready to face the world with the academic skills of a 3rd grader, then fine. Admit it to me, admit to yourself, and we'll find another place for you to be. If reading, writing, and analyzing like a 3rd grader is all you want, let's stop pretending. If that's all you want, you're wasting your time and my time. Go get a job..."

Man, I hate this shit. This isn't what I want, this isn't how I want it to be, but keeping going like we were would be stupid and worthless.


Blogger posthipchick said...

I'm sorry- I hate when that happens. We've all been there- doing things we never wanted to do. Sometimes it's what they need to hear, though.

7:46 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

this is sorta how i felt when i discovered that "Get your books out. Read the first paragraph on page 118 NOW" worked better than "Ok, so how about we open our books. Can we begin reading the beginning of the chapter. . .

for these and many other reasons -- including gramsci's thesis that scholarship in adult life is virtually impossible if kids don't master simple things like being able to sit up straight and concentrate and read for at least a few hours, i am a supporter of kipp. as someone who was raised with little or no discipline or structure regarding behavior and school responsibilities, i can say that life is easier if you are given structure/strict environments.

now, demeaning kids in public is just too much. but that's another topic.

1:37 AM  
Blogger tarheelcoach said...

What exact purpose did the kids sitting there doing nothing serve? All it did was prove that adults can act like 3rd graders just as well as teenagers.
You want them to behave? Come up with some more effective consequences than blindly copying a passage. That is not a punishment to most teenagers - they would rather do that than be required to put any thought into something they don't necessarily have an interest in.
You want the kids to perform? Stop berating them and treating them like little kids, and maybe they will stop acting like little kids.
The number one indicator of success of students are the expectations their teacher and their parents place them.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Previous poster evidently hasn't ready any of your previous postings, if s/he thinks your frustrated reaction yesterday was typical.

7:41 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

To Tarheelcoach:

What did their sitting in silence prove? It demonstrated that certain behavioral standards need to be met for education to occur. In the gross absence of those behavioral standards, the educational process will cease to function, and while that may open the door to a certain machiavellian personality bent on destruction of the learning environment, that level of removal from the day-to-day offers a certain level of shock. Sit up, look around -- this is how bad it has gotten. We cannot continue like this and you, all of you, have the power to shape this environment.

As to punishmnet and consequences and the copying of an essay, it actually is effective.\ Look at their faces, their body language, their subsequent apologies. The vast majority of my students, (past and present) would rather be in our learning environment than separated, enduring this consequence. That is somewhat beside the point because I disagree with your assertion that "effective consequences" are necessary for behavior. My classes generally and typically run on the principle that the building of positive relationships, trust, and the underlying desire to achieve excellence is far more effective than a child turning his card to yellow, or progressing through the chain up to the phone call home. Meting out consequences is not how I see my role at all, nor how I choose to engage my students.

As to expectations, I may need you to step back a little. My expectations are through the roof, my friend. I teach the lowest English-conversant students in our school, which means they are the lowest in the entire 408, which puts them in the running for the lowest performing students in the entire Bay Area. One third of them are RSP and all but one are ELL. Expectations? I expect to close 3-5 years of academic shortcomings in one year. I expect perfect homework. I expect focus and desire. I expect them to come in for four hours on Saturday to learn more if they haven't been hacking it during regular school hours, which, my friend, are 51 minutes longer than every other school in the entire District. Expectations? If mine weren't high, I wouldn't give a shit. If my expectations weren't greater for these students than the average kid, if I didn't understand the amount of time and energy it will take to reach grade level and be ready for high school in two short years, I'd put up with the non-sense, the time dragging, the mediocrity.

Expectations? Are you fucking kidding me?

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I had the same kind of day with my high school seniors. I ended up throwing my white board pen down on my desk, kicking the door jam to close the classroom door (it is almost always open) and declaring in a voice just short of a yell that I refuse to tolerate intelligent people wasting time with such dumb behavior and comments. I then told them they had five minutes to decide whether they wanted to continue in a manner that respects their intelligence and mine or whether they wanted mindless book work. I then stood in the center of the room and uttered not a word. They were nervous as hell..when one or two tried to speak I just glared. After five minutes we were able to continue, without resorting to the book work. I hate it too and am absolutely ready for the Thanksgiving break.

3:28 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...


I hear you on the importance of structure/ discipline. It is clearly important, and the sooner we instill that type of intellectual/ academic stamina, the better chance our students have of being successful.

Where I disagree is the (maybe unintentional) assertion that we need schools like KIPP to teach our kids these skills. I do not think we need corporate entities to come in and show us the way; we, as teachers in public schools possess the resources to change the culture of our classrooms and develop relationships and alliances necessary to change the entire school culture. We can.

I also think that some of the value of structure is much ado about nothing. I am not impressed when I see students walking in straight lines, because 1) I believe they are capable of that and so much more and 2) human beings do not walk in straight lines. Ever. Show me students who have been taught to move through their environments as adults, with low voices, focus of purpose, and the absence of ridiculousness. Instill a structure that makes sense.

5:03 PM  

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