Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 30 2007

it’s pre-Christmas crunch time…

I really wish I had the time to write here more often. I could easily write an entry for each day in the classroom, but alas, I’m overcommitted to non-teaching activities. I realized yesterday when trying to schedule something that I have an absolutely crazy schedule right now. I’m at school from 6:30 until at least 3:00 each day, then I have graduate school on Monday and Wednesday from 5:30-8:00 (which means I get home at 9), swim practice until 6 on Tuesday and Thursday, and Model UN meetings crammed in between other things at least one day each week. This is the first week I’ve had that schedule, and it’s definitely been a change… but I find that I LOVE being involved in extracurricular activities.
I’ll speak to my positive experiences as a coach in a bit, but first I want to give the usual update on how my Spanish students are doing. After the disaster of the previous test, I made every effort to make sure that we were practicing the new material as much as possible and that I prepared the students for their next test. I just completed a unit on family, so my students learned how to say pretty much every family word imaginable as well as some key grammar objectives (possessive adjectives, two new irregular verbs, and the difference between ser and estar). I also gave them their first project: they were to make a poster of their family tree (real or imaginary) and present it to the class. I had already modeled this for them through my teaching; I created a family tree using celebrities and said in Spanish who each person was in relation to me. I gave the students a very detailed rubric for what I expected of them, and they had two weeks to do the project. You’d think that’d be enough for 100% of my students to complete it, and to do it well… but sadly that was not the case. I’m still missing projects (now nearly two weeks after they were due) from about 1/6 of my students, and of the ones I did receive, about 1/3 were late. I had students still gluing on pictures during class, and I had kids who had the audacity to say “give me more time, I’m not done yet!” when I called on them to present their family tree after having just given them 20 minutes to write out exactly what they were going to say (they also had to describe each person). It’s so discouraging when they choose not to complete something so easy, especially when it’s 10% of their grade for this quarter! That’s not to say that I didn’t receive any good projects – I had some that were truly outstanding and will definitely be on display for a while. I often wish my students would do more to encourage each other.
I was very nervous about giving the test for this unit given the overwhelming failure that was the last test. In an effort to avoid a similar outcome, I gave the students a practice test to do. I spent a full five minutes describing how they should prepare for the test (study, take the practice test, study some more) and explaining that I would have absolutely NO sympathy for anyone who failed because they didn’t study (which is why 99% of my students fail). I did not feel that anything about the test was more than usually challenging; in fact, on the whole, I think it was one of the least complex assessments I’ve given. Nonetheless, out of 46 people who took the test, 12 failed, and another 20 got less than a B. Most frustrating of all, the objective they did most poorly on was one that had been tested in the previous test and that I had taught a total of FOUR times. I still had a significant number of people leaving that section entirely blank. The average grade on the test was a 67, which at my high school would have been an F but in Prince George’s County is a D+.
I guess I was a little more numbed to the many failing grades this time around, because I didn’t feel emotionally drained after I finished grading the tests. What I did feel was defeat. For the first time, I wanted to give up. I was at the end of my rope – what more could I possibly do to get my students to care enough to study? I still feel that way, 48 hours later. I’m just out of ideas. They don’t like failing, but no one can be put to the trouble of studying or paying attention in class. The people I am constantly hushing during class are the ones who do the worst, despite the fact that many of them are very bright. They’re tired in the morning and in the afternoon, so only my class in the middle of the day is awake enough to absorb the information. Most of my students have to work immediately after school, so they can’t stay after school for extra help even if they wanted to. There is not a school-wide lunch time, so they can’t come in for help during lunch. They feel so discouraged by their lack of success thus far that they can’t get past the psychological barrier that makes them feel they can’t ever understand Spanish. And they are so used to making excuses that they’ve lost the ability to distinguish between legitimate and ridiculous reasons for their failure.
Still, at least they respect me, and that gives me hope. If my students hated me, there’s no way I’d be able to move them forward. I think many of them recognize that I should be challenging them but have trouble overcoming their innate laziness long enough to translate that recognition into effort. This morning I had one of my smart slackers say to me, “you know what Ms. Wergin, I respect how dedicated you are. You’re the most dedicated teacher in this school.” I still feel like I need several more hours in the day in order for me to be a truly dedicated teacher, but it means a lot to have a student say that to me completely unprompted. Several of his classmates concurred with him, and another told me that I was very kind. If nothing else, at least I can serve as a good role model for my students. It is fun getting to know them (there’s still so much I don’t know), and they enjoy finding out about me as well. This week I let my 3rd period class (which has an extra half hour of class that we don’t use) play music from my iPod, and they were pleasantly surprised at some of the music I had. Osei discovered that he and I have a mutual appreciation for the voices of the Backstreet Boys, and I joined my students in singing along to a Nelly song from five years ago. We continue to unpack our assumptions about one another, and music is such a good way to promote that process. My students don’t know who the Eagles are, but they listen to Coldplay and Fall Out Boy. They weren’t expecting me to have any songs by 2Pac, Mike Jones, or any other number of rap artists (many of whom I’ve come to enjoy thanks to my brother). I’ll never lose faith in the ability of music to bring people together.
Finally, I’ll speak about my extracurricular involvement. Swim practice started last week, and even though our team is tiny, I find that coaching is an immensely rewarding job. I loved going to my first practice armed with the practice sets I had written and finding out that I could watch someone swim a 50 and immediately have feedback to give them about what they needed to improve. (I swam for 10 years, but I’d never done any type of coaching before, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to give good advice.) It is also so refreshing to work with students are motivated and interested in what they are doing. Best of all, with swimming I can get in the pool with them (as I did on Tuesday) and actually guarantee that someone learns how to do backstroke, whereas in the classroom it’s practically up to chance whether or not a student will understand what I teach them. I’m forming personal relationships, and friendships, with my swimmers and Model UN delegates. They might take time away from lesson planning and sleeping, but they give me energy to keep going. I can leave Maryland at the end of the day and feel that I’ve done something worthwhile, even if it’s not something measured by Teach For America.
So, as I enter the last three weeks of teaching Spanish I (we start Spanish II in January), I hope and pray that God will help me think of new and better ways to teach and motivate my students, and I remain very thankful for all the people who support me along the way. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there, but I still have faith that by the end of the year, I will have helped some students to achieve higher levels of academic achievement, self confidence, and/or personal integrity than they had before. It’s that blind faith that allows me to still get up every morning and go to school with head held high.

About this Blog

Just another Teach For America blog

D.C. Region
High School
Foreign Language

Subscribe to this blog (feed)