Drinking the Kool-Aid

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 26 2011

The Real Pre-Sophomores

I’ve always been told that the sophomores at my school are the ‘problem children.’ The faculty tells me they’re the rowdiest, rudest, most boldly disrespectful… but I barely interact with any non-sophomores, so I have nothing to compare them to. Also, I worry that the few instances that do confirm that generalization only do so because I was expecting them to.

But I had a whirlwind of eight 45-minute encounters today with the majority of the freshman class, and I have to say—they are different. They get quiet faster. They pay closer attention. Their default reaction is to be playful with the teacher, not at the teacher’s expense. AND, they know more math! I used a lesson I’d used with my sophomores for TAKS review, and it was definitely, definitely easier for the ninth graders (case in point: not ONE of them, when finding the area of a circle, got stuck on what that little 2 above the r meant. This was a huge chunk of pre-requisite knowledge I had to re-teach explicitly to the sophomores).

Granted—first-day impressions are never accurate. In our “TAKS Blitz” rotation, the teacher who every class had before me is a very calm, easy-going, highly-respected football coach. Hallway monitors kept kids in classrooms (!) because the rest of the building was testing. Their test is on Thursday, so maybe they felt a little more inclined to pay attention.

BUT! They were stuck in the same hot rooms with the same smelly kids the entire day, including lunch. The rest of the teachers complained vocally about how X kid or Y kid is a pain and should never come back, or how awful room 607 was, or how many kids they had to kick out…

My only behavior issues all day were with a girl in the last room I visited. She had the most surprising freckles, wore unnaturally-intense colored contacts (of course), and donned the most mischievously playful expression I’ve ever seen as she wrote some kind of hilarious commentary on the whiteboard behind me as I spoke to the class (“She is lien” “She dont no What She is doin Because she Works at [this school]“). I could tell she was used to commanding the classroom, and the classroom was used to being commanded by her. She didn’t follow any of my directions or heed my advice to get working, and made as much drama out of not doing so as she could. She reminded me so, SO powerfully of my Brat–who at that very moment sat in some other hallway, defining her future and hopefully checking her answers for a third time (oh God please). “Freckles,” I thought to myself, “You could easily be my favorite student next year.” (and also, “I wonder if your freckles are real.”)

But she eventually got bored of messing around and sat down to text quietly. After I explained the “base” of a prism to the girl behind her, I felt called to make some conversation with this creature. Softly, I asked the question that made me completely re-define her, showing me she was not, in fact, an image of what my Brat was a year ago, but walking proof of what my Brat could be:  “Freckles… do you like math?”

Her fake irises looked up from her phone swiftly and she said, very honestly, “I love math. I love math.”

2 Responses

  1. G

    “I love math.” Such sweet words to hear. I never thought I’d hear that from students, much less from myself…the former avowed math-hater!

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