Sunday, January 07, 2007

Respect from Students

I think I get respect from students by being fair and treating all students the same. The easiest way to lose their respect is by playing favorites.

The second thing I recommend is explain your decisions. I give my students an explanation for everything. That goes for all our assignments. Any worksheet I pick, I tell them why it's a good worksheet, or if there is anything on the worksheet I don't like. Any project we do, I tell them what they are going to learn from it. I give them practice tests to study with; I don't want there to be any surprises. When a student acts up, I make sure they know why they are facing certain consequences.

The third thing I would recommend is give the students choice. It shows that I respect and trust them enough to give them responsibility in the class. I give them little choices during the class so they know they are involved, it's not just me telling them what to do. When I want the students to work on practice problems, I always tell them, "I don't care if you work by yourself or in a group. I trust that you know what works best for you. Move the desks any way you want." And they do. I can usually tell how well the students understand the material by the way they rearrange the desks. If I did a good job teaching them, they work independently. Every now and then, the lesson is completely over the students' heads, so they move the desks into one big group. That's their signal to me that we need to do more whole class instruction before the students practice what they learned.

I even give the students some choice when they are being punished. I don't tell a student they have detention. Instead I say, "What day?" It's much less confrontational. The students seem to take it better. If I say, "You have detention," I have to listen to them argue with me. If I say “What day,” they start thinking about what day they want detention, not how to argue their way out of a detention.

Student Self-Esteem

I've been thinking about something we discussed in class. Our students don't have any issues with their self-esteem. They all think they are going to be doctors and lawyers. But how many of them really will when the graduation rate for my high school is 50%?

In class we were talking about whether or not we should tell these students that they can be anything they want. It's hard once the students realize their limitations.

I think the students need to hear a little truth. My students don't have an understanding of what it takes to go to college, even graduate high school. They aren't nearly as concerned about flunking classes as they should be. They don't see the connection between what they do now in high school and what they will be able to do later in life.

I also have a number of students that think they are going to be professional athletes or rappers. They couldn't care less about failing my class. They have no idea what kind of odds they are up against.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Best Kept Secret

As for a "best kept secret" of the Delta, I don't think it was much of a secret, but it was definitely my favorite spot. In Belzoni, there are two restaurants (there are really more than that but the others are "questionable.") One of those is a Mexican restaurant, Los Molcajetes (not sure about the spelling). Anyway, it's great food. We went there all the time last year. Meredith and I even had a "usual" when we went in-- and our usual is not easy to remember. Diet pepsi, lemonade, beef chimichanga no pico de gayo, cheese enchiladas with cheese sauce. I loved that place. There were some weeks we would end up there two nights in a row. It happens.

Meredith and I took four of her students there at the end of the year. It was their first time to eat Mexican food. We were the only ones in the place, so Meredith told them we rented the place out. It was a riot. We had so much fun.

Only drawback, the place is closed on Mondays, and we never remembered. Those were the days we always ended up at the Varsity, the only other restaurant in town.

Other Teachers....

At least once everyday I wonder why I work so hard to make sure the students are working and held accountable for what they do. Today, I found out a few things about another teacher that made me wonder more than usual.

A student of mine left his folder in my class yesterday after tutorial. I opened the folder to find out whose it was. The first thing in the folder was a progress report for his other math class (most of the students take math twice). From Oct. 10 to Nov. 27, this math teacher had 5 grades. 5 GRADES! One project, one test, one notebook check, one quiz and one homework assignment. 5 grades. I've got 20 grades.

Next, this student had only done 2 of these five assignments. So he should have gotten zeros for the other three assignments, right? NO! This teacher does not give a student a zero for something they didn't do-- it's like the assignment never existed. This kid didn't do a project, didn't keep up with his notebook, and didn't do the one homework assignment. Guess what his grade was? An 87! This math teacher doesn't hold them accountable for anything!

This kid does none of the assignments in my class either, and flunks every test. He's got about a 40 in my class. He wants to know why my class is so much harder than the other math class.

It gets worse. The kid also had his last test in his folder. I looked it over, because for Algebra we all use the same tests and then compare how well our students did. There were 22 problems, so each one should have been about 4.5 points. This math teacher only took off 2 points per problem! No wonder all her kids have a higher test average! All my kids would be passing too if I only took off two points per problem!

It actually gets much worse after this. Two math teachers are not coming back after Christmas break. One of them teaches Algebra-- state tested. Great.

Once again, I find myself wondering why I work so hard. At least I can sleep at night-- I know I've done my job.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why I Never Quit Teaching...

I did think about quitting last year, but not until the last month or so of school. I had seen a lot of violence in the school, and the administration did not respond the way they should have. I just about lost it near the end, and I called Ben while I was hysterical a couple of times. I think I stayed because I already had a job lined up in Jackson for the next school year, and I just needed to make it through a few more weeks of school. Plus, I think it set a good example for my students. They knew it was very difficult for me near the end of school, but I stuck it out. At the same time, I left the district after the school year ended. But I made it clear to the students that I was not leaving because of them. My students were awesome. I never thought about quitting MTC, I just really did not want to be at my crazy school.

I also didn’t quit because I have the greatest friends in the program. I just spent the day pumpkin carving in Yazoo, and it was one of the greatest days of my life. I’ll probably never have the opportunity to have such great friends again, and I’m sad that my two years is coming to an end. I think I’ve had the best and worst times of my life while in MTC. Speaking of which, what on earth are we going to do next year???

First Nine Weeks Evaluation

I'm so happy to have an understanding administration this year. I just had my "Why did so many students fail your class?" meeting with my assitant principal. I failed 62.5% of my students, even though I had made the rule never to fail more than one-third of my students. I had to break my rule because the students were not where they should be, and I couldn't justify giving those students passing grades. (Thankfully, the other Algebra teachers either failed just as many students as I did, or they passed just about all their students even though we only had 45% pass the nine weeks test. At least my grades were reflective of their nine weeks test scores.)

My assistant principal actually took the time for me to show him, student by student, that they were not putting forth the effort neccessary for Algebra I. About 10% of my students received zeros for the course because they missed too many days of class. Not only that, I have students that never passed Pre-Algebra that were stuck in my class. At least my grades were reflective of their scores on the nine weeks test.

My assistant principal then came to observe my class with the highest failing average. He wrote a wonderful evaluation, claiming that all students were involved and that he saw "excellent teaching and learning." He seems so supportive of me, and recognizes that I'm doing all that I can for my students. The students are just very under-prepared for this course, and not motivated enough to complete assignments and study outside of the classroom. Hopefully, that will change now that they have failed the first nine weeks.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

How I've Changed

I'm always thinking about this question, "How have I changed since I've been here?" The biggest thing is that I know more about myself, which is what our second years told us would happen, and yet I am still surprised by how much I've learned about myself. Not only am I more aware about myself, I'm also more aware about other people, and I think I appreciate the ways that people are different. Adryon and I were just talking today about the weird quirks we all have, but that's just a part of who we are. We've become very comfortable with ourselves and with each other. Part of that must come from growing up, but I also learned a lot about watching my students. My students last year had so much personality and confidence. I never felt like they were trying to be something that they weren't. They were just themselves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Parenting Education

Why don’t schools train their students to become parents?
There are two parts to becoming an adult: having a job and having a family. Schools prepare children for a job, and parents prepare their children for their future families. But what if a child has bad parents? Schools have sex education, but not parenting education. And, since sex education often fails, why don’t they follow it up with parenting education? People don’t just know how to take care of a baby.

At one time last year, I taught 13 pregnant girls between the ages of 15 and 18. They don’t know how to raise a child; they don’t even know how to take care of themselves while they’re pregnant. Some of them still party and drink alcohol while they are pregnant.

Parenting education would be even better than pre-K. The only argument against it that I can think of is that people don’t all want to raise their children the same. That’s fine, but they should at least know the facts about how children develop and the effect parents have. And students should at least think about what kind of parent they want to be, like “What values do I want to teach my child?” “What kind of environment do I want to raise my child in?” “What role will my extended family play in my child’s life?” “Am I going to work or stay home and raise my child?” “Do I want my child to be religious?” People don’t wake up and become the parents they want to be; they wake up and become just like their own parents.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Homework Policy

Alright, I wish this were better than it is, but here's how I handle homework.

I give homework everyday, except on days they take a test. It's consistent. They never go home wondering if they had homework, because they did. And I tell their parents that too, because kids go home and say, "My teacher never gives homework." Well, I do.

I give them a calendar to put in the front of their notebook and write down homework.

I always write on the board what they have to turn in because, especially with block scheduling, they forget.

I grade all homework for accuracy. I know for most, this is impossible, but if it isn't counted wrong, my kids will think they do everything perfectly. Last year, I started grading for completion around April, and my students complained because then they make the same mistakes on the test.

HERE IS THE KEY: LOTS OF PROGRESS REPORTS! My students literally think that if they don't turn something in it won't hurt them. It's like the homework was never assigned until I show them a progress report with lots of zeros. Then, if they want to make something up, I require them to stay after school, so they can't just copy the homework and turn it in late. And I take off 30 points. At some point (probably next nine weeks after they fail the first nine weeks) they will catch on and start doing homework.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Block Scheduling

I'm finding that the only thing I don't have a handle on is keeping the attention of 26 ninth graders for an hour and a half. The one thing I had going for me last year was classroom control (well, even if I didn't have it, I thought I did, and sometimes that’s what counts). I could be interesting and fun for 50 minutes, but not for 90 minutes (or when the bell schedule is off, even more). As I understand it, block scheduling was created to provide time for more activities in the class. It's hard because there is so much material to cover in Algebra, that I feel like I'm just instructing for the entire time. On one day I had to cover 13 properties of real numbers (commutative, associative ...). How boring.

Schedules are still changing, which is a struggle. We have to test these kids that we only just got in our classrooms.

Some students have a bad attitude about being in a Transitions to Algebra class. They aren't getting a Carnegie unit for one, so they argue that there isn't a point to taking the class. Some of them also have the "This is so easy" attitude, but every time I ask them a question they get it wrong.

Some things I do have a handle on: I'm spending a lot less time on school (yea). I don't feel the need to plan out every moment of every day. If I know what I need to cover, I trust that I will cover it during the class and make it work.

Also, I am now awesome at parent contact. I've made about 100 calls so far (I certainly haven't talked to all of them but I try). The parents have been almost completely supportive of me, and very appreciative.