Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 07 2011

Forgetting the Noodles

It’s funny how my posts used to show a slightly inaccurate picture of my life by omitting positive parts, and now they’re showing a slightly inaccurate picture of my life because it seems I’ve the opposite problem. It’s a lot easier now to write about the amazing moments, and the not-as-amazing bits don’t flow quite as freely as they used to.

My Brat stopped speaking to me. She used to be as fickle as a middle-schooler; she’d come back after an awful day with a chipper “Hi Miss!” or she’d be stubborn and shouting during class but hang out during the passing period to help pick up papers.  But I called her mom one too many times, skipped the warnings and went straight to the behavior reflection when she refused to take her test, and made her tennis coach come conference with me—and apparently one of these was the last straw. After the amazing getting-all-her-work-done incident, we had three days in a row of loud “I’m BOOOORED, AUGH I hate this class!” like a broken record during INM, and zero work getting done. Then when she got in trouble for filling out her answer sheet before I had passed out the quiz itself, she flipped out and hasn’t said a word to me since. I’m trying to make my reaction a very clear “you can stop liking me all you want, but you can’t make me stop liking you,” but yeesh. It is draining to have this girl hate you.

Toothpik went right back to his zero-work policy immediately following the miracle day I posted about earlier, and though my Fake ESL kid is doing much better, in this case that just means that he copies things down off the board but doesn’t acknowledge my existence otherwise. Sometimes I look at these two and I can’t believe  I’ve somehow let them sit in my room for the past six  months and do absolutely nothing. How could I let this happen? I was right there the whole time. Did I settle? Was my subconscious saying “hey, I’m doing my job” as long as I goaded and chided and sighed with frustration every day? Have I actually been doing my best? Am I being real with them? If so, how is it possible that they’re still so far away?

People have so much power. Our lives are built out of relationships and communication. How do we screw up on the main ingredient? It’s like making spaghetti and forgetting the noodles. Why must parents, doctors, teachers, social workers, friends, coworkers, and helpless barely-more-than-acquaintances stand by and watch people actively destroy themselves? We lie awake at night worrying about them, but during the day we leave words unsaid and hands untouched and eyes un-met. Is awkwardness, our favorite irrational fear, really a match for the very bricks and mortar of our existence? With all of the thousands upon thousands of ways we have to connect with each other, how are we all still acting as islands?

10 Responses

  1. I HAVE that “Brat” girl in my class. Your descriptions kill me because I think it might be the exact same person. I have plenty of kids who don’t like me, but “draining” is the PERFECT word for what that girl does.

    Also, I JUST figured out you’re the same person who comments on my blog entries. (right?) sorry I’m slow :-)

    • Wess

      Ha! Yes, you’re right. And my demand that you school me still stands. Timing KILLS me.

  2. Teaching the exact same content and basically the same kids a second year is actually the key… I was hopeless the first year.

    If I had to make up better advice than that, it would be to scaffold really gradually so all your kids can do something and most of them can progress without help. When you do need to stop them to teach the next step, do it when your medium-high kids are ready for it but spend your individual time helping the low kids. Write more problems than they need (challenge problems at the end are gold) to stall your high kids and have built-in differentiation, but also don’t expect that all kids finish the whole thing. I think that’s what works for me… if it makes any sense.

    • Wess

      Yeah, that does make sense. What do you do to make your kids want to do the challenge problems? Or to motivate them to progress on their own? My kids just stop–the only thing I’ve been able to make work so far has been to take everything as a grade–but then to make it fair I can’t take all that many problems as the grade by the end of the period. So I end up teaching solely to the lowest kids, which frustrates everyone else and slows us down.

      I do need to spend more time writing problems, though. I bet they just don’t do them because they’re boring.

      • It’s been my experience that when the kids are able to do the work, they do it. (Even if they’re boring problems – kids enjoy things they can do.) If your kids are super low, it still works, the scaffolding just has to be really intentional if you’re going to get them from where they’re at to grade level. My kids aren’t even motivated by grades, but they are motivated by feeling smart.

        Some of it also comes from never ever accepting anyone not doing work. (Although with kids that never do ANYTHING, that starts with baby steps… “I just need you to do this one problem today so I can tell that you know what we’re doing. I’m happy to have you stay after school in detention with me if you’re having trouble with it…”) It comes if you have students self-tracking, but I’m terrible at that. It comes from showing real-world applications at the beginning of the lesson. In desperate times, it comes from things like “The first person to finish gets 5 pieces of candy, the second person gets 4, etc…” or I’ve been guilty of having my unmotivated but competitive kids race each other to finish worksheets first.

        I don’t know… if you stay on it enough, they eventually start wanted to do the work. Like half my kids wouldn’t do a thing in class last year, so I started out this year doing all these things really intentionally, and they’re better this time :-)

        • Oops sorry, that was another novel.

          • Wess

            No, THANK you. Your advice is really clear, and it feels so close to me and my classroom! (… is THIS what it feels like to have 2nd year CMs around?)

            Please continue to write novels whenever you like. I’m eating it up.

  3. And while I’m writing novels in your comments anyway, I get blog hits by state in Google Analytics… is that what you use? If so, you just click the picture of the US on the map and it’ll show you states. You can click the states and it’ll show you cities. Then you click the city and it even shows you details there. Creepy, huh?

    • Wess

      Oooh, genius. Who’da thunk to click the countries?

  4. Ms. Math

    I love this discussion.
    Math in AZ-you need to become an alumni mentor for the online communities-we love to get discussions like this going.
    For whatever reason it seems like it happens more naturally on this site-not sure why.

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