Posted in classroom management, English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching

First day of school

I started a new teaching job. This year I’m teaching English, Spanish, and Theatre Arts at a small school. I’m mostly teaching 5th-8th grade, though I do have a specials rotation with 3rd abs 4th grade.

Every year I start my classes out basically the same way: students fill out info and goals sheets as bell work while I do first day attendance and housekeeping. Next, I do a basic introduction presentation and go over my syllabus. If there is time, we do the name game, and class promptly ends. Seven years. ~1000 kids.

This time, I did something different. Year 8 began with stations. I said hello, we made name tents, and off they went to 5 different stations. (1) student info and goal setting, #goals, (2) syllabus puzzle (using block posters) and syllabus quiz, (3) book tasting from my classroom library, (4) a reading survey, and (5) write a letter to yourself.

Doing something different has already changed everything about my class. I was able to teach my expectations by showing my students instead of telling them. They were able to experience my procedures for grouping and moving around the room. And, I got to see how and with whom they interact. It was a success.


Posted in classroom management, English escapades, teaching

Teaching is 1 part instruction and 3 parts making your students think you are weird.

I spend a lot of time here on the instruction in my classroom, but the reality is that teaching is mostly about relationships. The truth is that kids decide if they want to learn from their teachers. My job is to invest in them in such a way that they come in and are willing to hear me out and do what I ask of them. If I can do that, I’ll be able to facilitate learning experiences. If I can do that, they’ll be able to learn something about themselves. If I can do that, they’ll be empowered. One of the ways that I invest in my kids is by being human. (Un)Fortunately for them, I’m an odd human.

So, today, one of my students made critical mistake. He asked the age-old question: “Mrs. W., why don’t you have a clock in your classroom?”

Poor kid. I very loudly began to proclaim an honest but dramatized response.

Me: I don’t have a clock because I don’t like time.

S: You don’t like time?

Me: What you don’t realize is that time is a social construct created by society to imprison us within the confines of the clock.

S: **incredulous look**

Me: That anxiety you feel when you can’t tell how long we have left in class? That is your addiction to the imprisonment you’ve been brought up to admire, creeping up to wrap you in its grasp once again.

Ss: **more incredulous looks**

Me: You know why I don’t have a clock? I like to teach. I like to teach without a constant reminder that “society” has decided I only have 45 minutes to instill a love of knowledge in my students and fill the gaps created by years of education you missed while you were staring at the clock, wondering when the bell would ring and your enslaved selves would be obliged to move to the next required learning experience. I like the freedom I feel when I teach despite the bell. In spite of it. It is the same freedom that scares you when you search my walls and don’t find your familiar oppressor there, reigning you in once again.

Ss: **a sudden look of epiphany**

S1: OK, then.

S2: Hmm. Maybe that is why this class always passes so quickly?

Me: Remind me why you guys aren’t working again?

S: Heh. **returns to work**

So, here’s to Thursday, folks.



Posted in classroom management, homework, teaching, Uncategorized

the struggle

So, there are some basic struggles that teachers with high standards are battling these days, and I find myself deep in some WWI style trench with a helmet on, trying hard to hold on to my principles. After a week like the one I’ve had, the tiny coward in me is asking if its worth it. I’ll clarify now and say: Yes. I know that it is.

Today, in a “high stakes” world where parents want the “high standards” diploma for their kids and the grades that show their kids meet the high standards… I’m finding that this does not necessarily mean that these same parents and students actually want to meet those standards. They just want the paper that says they did.

My thinking is that it doesn’t work that way… except that for many of them, it does, and it has for many years. These are students and families encountering instructional integrity (across the board) for the first time. I’m not saying they’ve never had good teachers. I KNOW they have. I’m not saying they’ve not learned anything; on the contrary, they are some of the more prepared students I’ve ever taught. What I am saying is this: They are finding that grades are reflecting their effort and learning truly, for the first time in their educational careers.

In the past, there was this idea that kids who did their work got an “A”. Kids who did most of it passed. Kids who did nothing failed. Believe it or not, that is not how it works–at least that is not how it should work.

So, I’m battling parents of “A” students who are used to this philosophy, wondering why their student did the work and got a B. Well, they did not demonstrate a complete mastery of the skills. Or, parents who want to know why a kid who passes every test still did not get a “B”–Well, said child or children, did not turn in any daily work. Or a complete journal. Or participate in speaking activities.

A grade is a dynamic, holistic thing.

The struggle isn’t just this. It is that the pressure for these high standards is driving my perfectly capable, perfectly intelligent, and amazingly equipped students to cheat, plagiarize and translate assignments in an effort to achieve the “grade” the “high stakes” world demands of them.

These are kids who’ve never been allowed to fail. Heck, they’ve never had the chance to suffer a “B” or a “C”… and now, I have a girl in my room after school saying to me, “I, um, I’ve just never not passed a test. I’m not sure what to do.” When asked if she studied, she said she didn’t think she had to. When asked if she studies for my class at all, she lists about a half dozen other things she does, “so she can get into college”.

Plagiarism has become such a problem that I’m literally considering not assigning homework at all anymore because I’m so tired of it. Every single homework assignment I assign gets passed around and copied and it makes it nearly impossible for me to a.) grade anything without wanting to throw a kitten and b.) give kids the language practice they need.

What is a teacher to do? Stop assigning out of class work–which compromises instructional integrity by not providing needed language practice… or Continue on the path, making cheating harder, but knowing that I can’t stop it…. and still assign about 5,000 zeros weekly.

Will it stop? Will I deter it? I honestly think not. I thought 11 weeks of this battle would prove that I was serious, but it hasn’t. In fact, it has picked up.

So, I ask myself, am I teaching the material? Yes. When I ask the students themselves, they tell me I did, but that they “ran out of time” to do that work, or that they didn’t understand, but their 16 sports and 2 jobs prevented them from coming to one of my 13 available tutoring slots per week.

What am I to do?


Posted in classroom management, teaching

Economic Principles in Classroom Management: Scarcity

A half-year in an Elementary Classroom has made it abundantly clear that effective classroom management (at any level) cannot take place if there is any level of scarcity in the classroom. Looking back on this, I should have noticed this a year ago when I was teaching Middle School Spanish, but I didn’t. Read on:

Classroom Management makes it possible for teachers to create a learning environment and direct learning activities. Without good classroom management, teachers spend more time directing behavior than they do directing learning.

In my classroom, in a bad area of town, in a charter school expected to meet all the same requirements as a public school with 33% less funding, you can imagine that things are scarce. Students don’t have money to purchase a new spiral when they fill up the old one. Our entire hallway (6 classrooms) had one working pencil sharpener. Our whole school has one working projector. The kids discovered karate (before I came, when they had a sub for 8 weeks…) and broke every single pencil in half. We are rationed to have ONE ream of paper a week per classroom. Yep. Things are scarce.

What is the result of this? Well, looking at societies which, over time, have experienced scarcity related to economic problems, political problems, etc, we can see the result: Scarcity creates Chaos.

Case in point: I ask the kids to get out their spirals so that we can paste an assignment in (oh, did i mention we have like 5 gluesticks?) or write a journal entry or draw a graph, and the room goes crazy. 10 hands shoot up–they need paper. 3 kids sit there dumbfounded, they don’t know what to do. Do they ask for paper? Do they borrow from a friend?; they all start talking (loudly). One kids starts crying because his elbow buddy won’t let him have a piece of paper. I just stand there wishing it were already 3pm.

Then comes the rush for a sharpened pencil. When those run out, the kids break out their “hand sharpeners”. Then suddenly, like a surprise party gone wrong, a confetti of pencil shavings flies into the air.

At first I was in a bind. It had been 6 months since I had worked, and somewhere in the mix I had had a baby. We needed EVERY CENT that I made. My husband was now a full time student, I was the “bread winner”–and I was only winning enough to buy the bread–forget about fruits, veggies and meat. I couldn’t buy things like paper, and pencils and a pencil sharpener and scissors and glue stick, and neither could *most* of my kids. If there were a title before title 1, they would be that title. (ha, see, i made a funny!)

So, i suffered. and so did their learning. Until, one day, we finally had some extra money. I spent $50 dollars on spiral notebooks and glue. and boy did that go a long way! suddenly, behavior was manageable, because kids had some of the basics.

Then attention shifted to the pencil situation. 2 months later, i finally had enough money for an electric sharpener. These last 3 weeks have been heaven in my classroom. Kids stay seated, they don’t fight, they ask nicely, they talk softly. why? because there is no longer scarcity in my classroom.

The Chaos is over. …and so is the school year (almost).

Thank the Lord that no year in the future will ever be like this one was.