Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lapse to Year One

Last week I had kind of an episode. Being sick certainly contributed to the mistakes I made, but it has to be admitted that I lapsed, made a couple big mistakes and was only able to save face in my classroom because at this point in the year most of us (students and staff included) have solidified our personas in the classroom.

On Tuesday I was off grading exams, which was lucky, as I felt ill enough that I was considering canceling my last-period elective and going home early. Wednesday wasn't much better and I planned something that took longer than the minutes I had in class, so I sent the classwork home to be completed. That's usually a bad idea for two reasons: half the students won't turn it in and it starts to set a precedent that the work cannot be completed in class, which in turn leads students to simply not work in class (their excuse being that they'll finish it at home, even though, as just stated, most probably won't). That was not a good way to precede my plans for the following day, to say the least.

Thursday I walked in with a lesson that could have been pulled off if the management had been clamped down, students worked quickly and if the teacher had pushed them. I've had a good number of days like this over the course of the year (compared with maybe one last year), so I strolled into school Thursday thinking I'd pump out another one without a lot of effort and while ill. Then I completely disregarded a truth I'd learned both in the School of Ed and in the classroom last year: do NOT let students pick their groups if you want them to work efficiently or diligently. As much as teachers should be able to give students directions and expect them to be followed, giving them to the option to have a social hour with friends or completing class work has only led to one end in my classroom: a lot of loud conversations and little work, if any.

That's how brilliantly I set myself up for Thursday. While my other periods either ran themselves or were barely held together by some newly-forged alliances with students that used to give me trouble, I should have known going into sixth period (the one with the largest number of crazy maniacs) that there would be trouble. It ended in a whole lot of yelling on my part and eventually my students doing something they did all the time last year, but only once or twice this year: they stopped working entirely and stared at me. This is one of the most humiliating, humbling, and excruciating things a first year teacher goes through. It's a loss of control and students determining the pace of the class- their deciding they are going to stop working and following directions until you doing something besides yelling and cajoling them to comply with your call for order. My class even topped it off one of the things that made my stomach bottom-out last year: they laughed, nearly every one of them, at my frustration with them.

The problem achieved crystal clarity when one girl said out loud, "You let us pick the groups. What did you expect?", which was a demonstration of how the students have a way of being brutally honest in the midst of their defiance. When I heard that I agreed with it in my head, reprimanded the girl for speaking out of turn, stated that there was absolutely no excuse for the class to act the way it was and then I cranked up the pace of instruction, hoping to get the class back to moving at my pace. By the end of the period I'd convinced them to stay five minutes after the bell and assigned them a good deal more work than my other classes. I was so angry at the end of the period (and sick to boot) that when my last-period elective walked in I gave them their assignment and set them to it immediately while I fumed a bit about the previous period.

It all spoke again to the fact that there are still moments like this in the second year. While not nearly as affected by them now, they come out when I'm off my game for whatever reason. All you can do is not let it affect you, follow through with your disciplinary measures (I called about half the class to inform their parents of the students' unruly nature) and walk in better-prepared the following day. Next year I hope there will be even fewer days like this. The nice thing about this May is that I can imagine it happening, whereas last year I still couldn't believe that the second year could improve enough to make me like my job.

Today's Wine: '07 Rosso Di Sicilia- Colosi, Sicily: or so the menu said. This was another at our favorite wine bar, Cavatappo. Medium bodied, a bit smokey and phenomenal. Nero d'Avola does it to me every time.

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