Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 27 2007

end of 1st quarter and beginning of 2nd

I meant to write last weekend and somehow never got around to it. Here’s an update: our first marking period ended last week on Wednesday. It’s really amazing to me that I’ve made it 1/4 of the way through this year… that sounds alternately like a really long or short distance. If nothing else, time goes by really quickly when you’re a teacher, especially one as busy as most TFA corps members. When my typical day consists of getting up, going to school, going to graduate classes, lesson planning, and going to sleep, it’s a pretty swift progression from Monday to Friday every week.
Anyway, let’s start with last week. It was kind of a weird one at school because we only had three days of class before a very welcome four-day weekend. For me, it was even shorter: I didn’t go to school on Tuesday because I had a Model UN networking event to attend at Gar-Field High School in Prince William County (a school that always comes to WMHSMUN and is very familiar to me). When Jay got an email about it, he immediately told me I should go. At first I protested by saying truthfully and with no desire to sound egotistical that there probably wasn’t much they’d be able to tell me about MUN that I didn’t already know, but Jay just looked at me and said “Kendra: I am offering you an opportunity to get out of this building for an entire day. You’re going to go.” I am very glad he decided that for me! Although I discovered on Monday that it is in fact MORE work NOT to be at school because of all the stuff I had to put together for the sub, it was so lovely not to have to get up at 5:00 on Tuesday… I had the entire morning to relax. I was correct in predicting that I wouldn’t learn anything new at the networking session, but it was cool to see a sponsor I already knew from my work at WMHSMUN (William & Mary High School Model United Nations), and even better, they started recruiting me to work in Prince William County after I’m done with TFA. I don’t have any intention to continue teaching, but my love for Model UN is such that the offer to come be the Model UN sponsor at one of the Northern Virginia MUN powerhouses is tempting! I was mostly just amused that they essentially called dibs on me for after TFA.
I returned to school on Wednesday and was surprised to learn that we were giving the PSAT that day, so no one was going to teach in the morning. I was assigned to the auditorium with the freshmen, who had a class meeting/assembly for three straight hours. I can sum up that experience by saying: I am terrified of having to teach those children next year. I have never seen such disobedient, rude, and disruptive students. We didn’t even have the entire class there, but despite the 10 teachers plus their administrator in the room, we couldn’t get them to settle down! We would have needed one teacher seated every five students in order to maintain quiet and order. They talked right through a very engaging man who came to tell them his story of how he avoided making bad decisions while he grew up in the projects and how important it was for them to pursue their education, and they talked even more at the end when representatives from the University of Maryland came to talk about a program they’re starting to help prepare students for college. I just have never seen anything like it. They were absolute monsters!
That night we had parent-teacher conferences. All of the faculty assembled in the cafeteria and set up camp at tables labeled by content area, then the parents who chose to come could walk around and talk to whichever teachers they wanted. I was really surprised by the number of parents who came. After Back to School Night when I only met 5 parents, I was not expecting to see the cafeteria flooded with people. I think I met something like 12 parents over the course of the three hours – not as many as some people, but still a good number. What’s more, two of the parents I met were of the students who tend to give me more trouble! I particularly enjoyed talking to one student’s mother. Her son consistently arrives late to my class, has a tendency to leave early or not return from lunch, and often talks to people seated at other tables. He’s a smart kid and is never rude to me, so I’ve been trying to get him to reach his academic and behavioral potentials, but it’s hard going. Well, I told his mom all of this, and she was just like “well that stops RIGHT NOW. I’ve always emphasized to him the importance of getting a good education and of learning another language, and this is just not acceptable!” I felt so triumphant after talking to her. (He’s still coming late, but at least now I know if I call home, I will have an open and concerned ear to report to.)
My grades for the first quarter were both encouraging and discouraging. On the one hand, I gave out 24 A’s. It’s worth noting that my students all got a reprieve for things like homework that I didn’t do a good job of keeping track of, so they got a little bit of a boost that way… but on the whole, I don’t feel their grades were significantly inflated. On the discouraging side, I gave out 14 N’s, which means that the students missed 5 or more classes (without an excuse) and now will fail for the year if they do not bring their parents to school to protest (and even then, only the principal can take the N away). I really didn’t want to give N’s to the kids who had missed five; several of my students have missed over 15 days, so clearly they deserve to get that… but I feel bad doing something so drastic to the kids who do generally show up and participate. The policy seems pretty strict to me. I think it’s also designed to help weed out some kids. In Maryland, the state is only required to educate a child up until the age of 16, so if a kid is REALLY far behind or just failing everything, they’ll be kicked out when they turn 16. I’ve been told that a number of students will leave starting around January because of this. It’s pretty sad. At least out of the kids who were eligible to get an actual grade in my class, none of them received an F. I had a couple of D’s and then a fairly even mix of B’s and C’s, but no one failed who had been coming. We’ll see how that might change with this quarter when I have more of my stuff together and hopefully the grades will be a more accurate reflection of the amount of effort put in by the students.

This week had its ups and downs. I had to yell a lot to get them to stop talking, and even then it wasn’t always effective. Wednesday was United Nations Day, so I came prepared with a mini-lesson on the UN. My first period class could not possibly have been less interested, and they absolutely REFUSED to settle down and get focused even after I moved on to the Spanish content for the day. I’ve never felt more angry at 9:00 in the morning. Fortunately third period was quieter than usual, so that restored my faith a little bit. My students can just be so inconsistent about behavior. It makes me wonder about all the things going on in their individual and collective lives that I am completely unaware of. (I think part of the reason they were worse than usual this week was because it’s rained for the past four days straight, and it doesn’t really put anyone in the mood to learn or stay awake, especially after they have to run through the rain just to get to my classroom.)
I meant to start this quarter with all these amazing plans and procedures to help me be more organized and generally more on top of my game, but that’s much easier said than done. So often I just wish I could go back to the first day of school and do things differently… it’s very hard to change it up in the middle of the year, particularly when what I need most is to be a better disciplinarian. It’s so true when they say that it’s easier to be tough in the beginning and ease up than it is to be nice and then have to get tough. I really wish Institute had given me more practice at classroom management; it’s definitely my weakest thing. Still, at the end of week 10, I still don’t feel defeated… and I keep myself motivated by the thought of what I want my students to act like and be able to do at the end of this year, and I have faith that I can make it happen… somehow.

One Response

  1. Teachfromtheheart

    Discipline is tricky, I think. While you want your students to be invested in the learning process and you want to connect to them, many of them will walk all over you if you aren’t a super strict disciplinarian. It is sad to say, but it’s what many of them need. At the same time, I know veteran teachers at my school who started out quite strict with their students who still have behavior problems in their classrooms. Being super strict to begin with is not the magic bullet for successful classroom management. It may help some, but it won’t solve all of the behavior problems. Balance is key, as well as holding high expectations. School is still not a military academy last time that I checked. Hold high expectations, but realize that you can’t control students’ behavior. Focus on what you can do – You can influence, you can model, you can teach proper behavior, you can realize that your messages may not get through to some/many students until much further into the future. Just keep fighting the fight!

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