Monday, April 28, 2014

That Feeling...

You know the one.

Nothing seems to be working. The kids are disinterested. The classroom environment feels negative. And worst of all, you can't tell if anybody is really learning anything.

The feeling of failing as a teacher.

In all my wisdom, I thought I had crafted a great class idea.  Once a week, students would investigate a career (the class is an 8th grade class about preparing for the future). The rest of the week, they would be involved in so called "challenges" which they would be in groups crafting creative presentations on various topics, from introspective personality assessments to career movie trailers, to acting out employability skills. With this group of students, I thought I had the perfect idea.

I was wrong.

I am "grading" two things - the individual career posts and the individual portions of the challenges. The first problem has been confusion - many students couldn't keep straight the Thursday career posts from the individual challenge portion from the rest of the week. As a result, I believe this caused students to "give up" and not use their class time, leading to a lot of missing work.

I've had 6 assignments with 19 students, meaning I should have roughly 120 things turned in. That number is less than 60.

Clearly I've made two mistakes. First - I've created assignments without student input, so they aren't invested. They don't care about them and therefore don't have a reason to go through it.  Secondly - I've created a strange pacing that makes little sense and takes students out of flow.

So we spoke today as a class about what is going on. Students were, for the most part, candid, with a few snarky comments in there from the more sarcastic "look at me" students.  They spoke of feeling very rushed, being confused, and having a tough time in the classroom environment with certain students. I also spoke of some of my frustrations and expectations. All in all, I think it was beneficial. I'm hoping the changes we implement will help the students see I care about them and their learning and their opinions.

It is such a fine line to walk. The shocking part of this all is that I stress, at the beginning, that students shouldn't have any homework if they use their classtime wisely. So why all the missing work? As I mentioned above, many students weren't working well, but why did I not do more to keep them on task? I can't "make" them do anything, but I feel like I let too much slide. Now with the amount most are behind, I consider a "catch-up" day. On one hand, I feel the humanity of me should let that happen. But the analytically (possibly cynical) side of me says I'd be sending the wrong message by doing that, indicating that wasting time equates to earning more time, which might in turn be wasted.

Ultimately, I have to find my inner pirate, super charge my class, and get students excited about learning. Maybe I need to find different ways to assess that aren't formal, typed up, turned in documents. I'm facing once again one of the greatest challenges I've faced this year. I'm hopeful I can rise up to it, despite the end of the year, despite the hole I've dug myself in. It is all about the learning and all about the students. This is for them. I need to do better by them.

(POSTNOTE:  Yes, I realize they need to take some responsibility too. But I need to do my due diligence for them and help them get out of their own way to value the learning. That is my job as a teacher. I already put a lot of them, making them responsible for finding most of the information and reporting to me.)

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