I don’t think I’m teaching them anything

The first 9 weeks of school are over and in one week it will be Fall Break!  And I’m ready for a break, I can tell you. After a surprisingly smooth start (given that I was hired the week before school began and had no supplies or curriculum) the honeymoon period wore off and we hit turbulence!  My easy going, laissez faire approach to classroom management – letting the students pick their seats and partners when working in small groups, expecting good behavior and their attention – really only worked with one class.  This stellar 7th grade group, 27 in all, arrive ready to work, engage with the material and each other in an appropriate fashion and seem to enjoy science.  They continue to make it worth while every day.

The other 5 classes – not so much.  I am discouraged and depressed by the students’ attitudes (“why do I have to learn science; I’m never going to use it”) and disruptive behavior. After a particularly bad day during which I seriously considered walking out to never return, new classroom rules were implemented and I followed through with immediate consequences when they were broken.  It hasn’t changed the behavior of the die hard problem group but their followers are somewhat less likely to go along with them now.  It also hasn’t changed my whiney class who irritate me almost as much as the insolent spit-ball throwing, do nothing football players.  “Why do we have to study the earth?  Nothing exciting ever happens there!” says one particularly whiney child.  I wish we could take a field trip to a volcano!

Part of the difficulty is that my school uses a canned science curriculum and as I teach both 7th and 8th grade science my lessons must stay in lock-step with the other teachers.  We use science kits shipped to us in big totes with all the worksheets and tests already made up.  The textbook sets out some very superficial ‘inquiry’ lessons and we use the materials in the kits.  I find the 7th grade lessons to be about 5th grade level and not terribly connected with real life.  For instance a soil map of the U.S. that has all of 4 different soils on it.  I diverged for a day and a half, showed a video on the work soils scientists do to map soils, and then we looked at soils on the web to find out the real soils at our school, the Grand Canyon, Diamond Head, Hawaii, and places in Alaska and Florida.  Likewise when soil conservation was merely a footnote in the book I created a scenario where we were farmers loosing soil from our fields and we learned that it takes 500 years to create an inch of soil and that while it is a renewable resource we are loosing it far too quickly.  We came up with some good ideas to save our fields.  And on Monday all the 7th graders are supposed to bring in a rock from home so we can apply the skills we (supposedly) learned from the lesson in the kit to identifying home grown rocks instead of rock shop specimens.

Regardless of what I do above and beyond the kits I run into the disinterest and disruption factor.  I spend way too much time on behavior issues.  I’m showing my age but I couldn’t imagine behaving the way some of these kids do when I was in school!  So many are rude, disrespectful, lazy and full of themselves. One cheated on the test (he was doing a retake in the hallway and smuggled his science notebook out under his shirt and was copying from it when I went to check on him) and was outraged when he got a zero.  Others are hyperactive and inattentive and cannot concentrate on their work at all.  One boy flings himself out of his seat constantly.  He got up to sharpen his pencil the other day, launched himself to slide on his stomach across the floor and smacked his head into the cabinet!  It’s unreal some days.

I am lucky that I have some very real support in the other teachers, particularly the other 8th grade teacher who is head of the science department.  We co-teach the last period of the day and I’m learning a lot from her – how to manage the class and that I need to lower my expectations of what the students can be expected to accomplish.  I’m up every day at 5, at school by 6:15 and home about 12 hours later.  I’m not always up to helping my own kids out with their homework by the time the day ends!

I’m looking forward to the break.  I hope to finish building the porch, get the homestead ready for the winter (it was down to 33 degrees last night), and do a little bit of knitting and reading as well as working on lesson plans.  I’m enjoying the cooler weather – I love fall – and am happy to report that we were able to afford to have the propane tank filled halfway so when the temperatures really drop we will be snug and cozy.

My kids are well and busy – choir, 4-H Junior Leaders, drama, spell bowl and the like.  We had to give up cub scouts unfortunately as my son couldn’t attend most events since a parent has to be present and I just don’t have time to go camping or spend a day at the shoot-a-ree! Next year he will be old enough for Boy Scouts and won’t need me to go along to everything.  We pulled out our winter clothes today and discovered that nearly everything we saved is already outgrown! We will have to do some serious shopping before it gets really cold.

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12 Responses to I don’t think I’m teaching them anything

  1. Lisa M. says:

    Wow. Maybe keep your eyes open for positions in other schools? I’m guessing, since the art teacher resigned, that the administration doesn’t have your back, in enforcing limits to bad behaviors. What is the mechanism for getting a kid removed (permanently) from your class? Is there such a mechanism?

  2. boxcarkids says:

    The Art teacher resigned due to the kids behavior. And she’s an experienced teacher. My untreated blood pressure is the worst it’s ever been.

  3. Lisa M. says:

    I was just reading an article the other day about how young kids really need physical activity / breaks for physical activity, and that without it, they can’t focus well. Combined with that (says the article), public schools are getting rid of or shortening recess, making it harder for kids to stay engaged for the whole school day. I wonder if there is a way that you can take a few minutes at the beginning of every period and have everyone do jumping jacks, to release some pent-up energy.

    Regarding the bad behaviors, I wonder if this strategy might work: have a punishment that applies to the whole class, and that you will inflict after the 5th infraction (by anyone). So, kids can misbehave 1, 2, 3, or 4 times, and any kid can be responsible for any of the infractions, but when the 5th is reached, *everyone* pays. That may encourage the kids to start to use peer pressure to try and rein in some of the bad behaviors.

    I enjoyed some of the questions that they are asking….since I’m not in the trenches, they sound like the fodder of a sit-com. “Why do I have to study the earth?” Because you live there.

    “I’ll never use science!” I guess you’ll never take medicine, then, or eat domesticated vegetables, or know to not eat mushrooms you find in the forest, (etc)

  4. Barb says:

    I too am a teacher at a middle school. This year I am blessed with my students. I feel like I died and went to heaven – 11% poverty. Last year I was at an elementary with 90% poverty and I had a group of 4th grade boys that loved to beat each other up. My advice is to: be very structured, logical (not at all emotional), and strict. Offer rewards to the good ones. It’s a tough job and so I hate it when I hear the attitude from some outside of education that teachers don’t work, short hours, long breaks etc. I always invite those folks to follow me around for just one day. Never has happened. However, the English teacher in me must tell you that the proper word is “losing” instead of “loosing.” This is a very common error and I have taught this. Sounds like your lessons are very engaging. I try to make up games as much as I can because that seems to engage them. Hang in there. The most important thing is to be consistent. Never slack off on even one.

  5. Maryl says:

    So much of their behavior is the result of their home life. I had this discussion many, many times with my daughter when she would bemoan the behavior of other kids in her classes. I asked her to remember that she lived in pretty rarified air compared to many of these classmates: she had a stable home life; we didn’t get evicted or simply move multiple times. There were no string of “uncles” or other men, women and/or children passing through our home. She knew that there would be food in the cupboards, water coming from the faucet and the utilities would be working – unless a transformer on the street blew. She also knew that Mom wouldn’t be strung out or drunk or absent. If you find the time, take a look online at a PBS documentary called “The Rule.” It just aired on Friday but it’s available to watch online. It’s not going to solve all your problems but it might give you some ideas. You never know what you’re going to discover about these kids’ inner workings through a little one-on-one time that will resolve some of the issues. Plus, these kids need an alpha – a leader. That’s you, Teach. Embrace the role and move onward, Chantal. Onward.

  6. Kim says:

    Can you have the kids do push-ups? Drop and give me twenty!

  7. Lynn says:

    I bet you are teaching them more than you realize. We all notice the noisy, disruptive kids, but elsewhere in the class I bet there are many who really want to learn and are about as frustrated by the behavior of the few as you are. The cheater who got the zero learned something about cause and effect, too, whether he liked it or not.

  8. Nancy Haddad says:

    Hang in their, Chantal! The first year is tough. Kids will test you! Have you spoken with parents yet? Are these year long classes or do you start over with a new group second semester?

  9. Nancy Ives says:

    You will probably be amazed at what they retain when you think they aren’t learning anything. Please don’t take anything they do or say personally. That sliding kid reminds me of my nephew. He is a smart kid, but he does the dumbest stuff!

    Makes you appreciate what great kids you are raising, though.

  10. Em says:

    And this is why I could never be a teacher, though God Bless you for doing it. I briefly considered a career in education, realized that I could not stand the poorly behaving and performing students like those you describe when I was a student myself, even as a first grader, let alone in highschool (or college), and decided that a school is the last place I need to be. My parents raised me to “Sit Down, Shut up, and LEARN. Be grateful that the teacher is willing to impart knowledge to you, and if you misbehave you will wish you’d never been born.” While we’re slightly less harsh on our own children, our expectations are high as is the understanding that no matter what other peoples children are doing, it will not excuse poor behavior or change our expectations in the least. Our first grader was horrified (as were his friends parents) to find that misbehavior leading to a loss of recess privileges for a day also lead to a loss of all privileges at home for the same day. There have been no repetitions of said behavior.

    So much has changed just since I graduated (10 years ago), yet I cannot find a logical reason for the rise in behavior problems in so many kids. Family life is probably more stressful than it was years ago, yet how that can change expectations and allowed behavior as much as it seems to have is inexplicable.

  11. Linda P. says:

    It sounds as if you’re teaching them a lot. I can’t speak to those who throw spitballs and disrupt class, but I can remember that my children were also worn out by their new school year routines soon after those first exciting weeks. Band practice, sports, dance classes, scouting activities and church activities all competed with study time, leaving no time for rest and recuperation. Old friends had new friends, with the resultant upsetting disruption in relationships. Worn-out students and worn-out teachers must not make for a happy union at times. My mantra in tough situation is that other people have done it, so I can do it, too, and I know you can. I bet some of those students are going to remember those soil conservation lessons years into the future, when you thought they weren’t paying attention at all.

  12. Richard Moore says:

    Enjoy the fall break. My wife is a retired public middle school teacher (Special Ed) and she lived for those breaks so she could catch her breath. She has talked about how some kids find it impossible to keep still in their seats but I had to smile at the image of the boy sliding across the fl0or.

    Teacher pay is a shame and educational funding is getting squeezed from all sides when state budgets are developed.

    But you have a regular income and are back in the mainstream. I know this was a dream back when I began to follow you in California. I think of you often and am proud of your achievements.

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