Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 12 2007

disillusionment sets in.

Last week I encountered my worst day so far as a teacher. I came into work on Monday morning feeling excited and energized to be at school (I had managed to be very productive over the weekend, and it was the first day of Spirit Week at my school). I felt proud of myself because I was giving a test that had taken me three hours to write, with the result that it was more comprehensive and better written than any I’d given so far. My enthusiasm dimmed as soon as I gave out the tests during my first period class. Despite the fact that I had explicitly retaught and reviewed all the material during the last two days of the preceding week and that they’d had all weekend to study (this time with a study guide, too), I heard numerous students say things like “I give up”, “I don’t know any of this”, and “I have no idea what to do for this”. I was at a total loss for how so many of them could struggle so much – I prepared them so much better for this test, and even though it took me a long time to write, it was not significantly more difficult as a result! I watched in dismay as practically no one wrote down any responses during their listening section, and the dialogue they had to read (which was practically identical to two we’d practiced reading the previous week) also drew looks of consternation from my students. You’d think I had given them a French test instead, such was the extent of their cluelessness. I graded their tests as soon as they left the room, and 11 out of 17 who took it failed. I was so disheartened that I couldn’t bring myself to grade any more tests that day, and I still haven’t finished them. The reactions of the other classes was largely the same; fourth period in particular seemed to know exactly as little as first period. By the end of the day, I’d heard “I give up” approximately 20 different times. As third period was leaving, I asked some of my nice boys if the test was overly hard or if they felt it had tested them on anything that had not been on the study guide. One student said “no, Ms. Wergin… there wasn’t anything on there you hadn’t told us to know. It was a fair test.” I’m certain that the reason they did so horribly is that many of them didn’t do their homework the week before (which means that even before this test, about half of my students’ grades were D’s or F’s from all those zeros) and they didn’t study over the weekend. One student said to me without the slightest bit of shame or remorse “well to be honest Ms. Wergin, once I leave school on Friday, I don’t think about it again until Monday.” (And this is an IB student!) It’s very frustrating for me because I’m working myself to the point of exhaustion, and it doesn’t make an ounce of difference unless my students put in the time. They can’t understand me when I speak in Spanish to them (or understand the written Spanish they see) because they’ve forgotten practically everything we learned before. It’s 12 weeks into the school year (the equivalent of three quarters, since my class is double time), and I still have students who are asking me how to say “they” or “are” – concepts we went over weeks and weeks ago, and which I’ve retaught several times since! It may be partially my fault if they don’t remember vocabulary, but it’s not my fault at this point if they don’t understand the basic concepts of conjugation. I’m not going to teach it a fifth time just because people aren’t bothering to put in the time to commit those fundamental concepts to long-term memory.

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