from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Three-Fourths Done -- the good, bad and the ugly 

(with apologies to Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood for the end of the title).

Today, Wednesday March 15, was the final day of our third quarter. Tomorrow we roll seamlessy into the fourth and final quarter.

The one clearly GOOD thing is that after today I am done with hall duty for the year. Hall duty -- having to spend the first 10 minutes of my lunch reminding kids to put on their id badges, take off their hats, get to where they belong (lunch or class), check for passes -- in short, interrelating with students in ways that are strictly disciplinary and work at cross purposes with trying to encourage them as a classroom teacher. Still, in a building with over 2,800 students, far too many of whom lack self-discipline, it is a task necessary to the maintenance of order. I'm just glad that my responsibilities in this arena are now complete.

What is bad is how little time is left to try to reach some of my students. And how many interruptions there will be for the rest of the year. For example, on Thursday my five 9th grade classes go up to Guidance to register for next year. Then Friday is half a day. Thus we begin the final quarter with one real day of instruction. Then next week students are off for Spring break as of c-o-b on Wednesday the 23rd. The teachers have a work day on the 24th, and then we are off for ten days. In other words, we will begin the final quarter with one full day of instruction (for everyone else it is two days), followed by a half day, follwed by a weekend, followed by a 3-day week, followed by 11 days off for the students. During the break the seniors who ahve not yet heard will get all their admission and rejection letters from colleges. And even when they come back we will be headed for state exams, AP exams, all sorts of other interruptions, including trips to look at colleges to decide whether to attend. The seniors are gone with about a week to go in May. In short, the 4th quarter will be anything but normal.

And the UGLY. Under the rules for our school system, anyone who fails 3 of the four quarters fails for the year. In my home room of 28 I will have 8 students who will in theory have alrady blown the course. I will ahve three or four more in my second (I am waiting to see on one if an absence the past two days was excused or was a cut -- it makes a big difference). I know some teachers who automatically give those who would be in that situation a D for 3rd quarter just so the kids, knowing they have failed, are not disruptive. I will not do that. I tell them that if they got at least a 50% 3rd quarter, if they get a 70% fourth I will go back and change their 3rd quarter grade so they can pass. That gives most of them some motivation. But of the students I mentioned, I have 5 in the first period and two in the second for whom even that won't make a difference. That is more than enough to totally destroy a class if one is not careful. For them I will point out that the mroe they learn now the easier it will be -- in summer school or next year -- to obtain the passing grade they will need.

Actually, the ones who are hardest to motivate are those who have alrady passed twice, but marginally. I have to remind themm if they have two Ds and two Es but the 4th quarter is an E, under systemwide rules they still fail. That keeps them motivated. But the really difficultons -- they have two pasisng grades with at least one C, or they've passed the 1st 3 quarters barely, and they know they are going to get credit. They don't care. They know as long as they don't cut they will get credit, and they have no interest in doing work. Between those two classes I HAVE HALF A DOZEN -- and that's where it can get really UGLY. I am a pretty good classroom manager and an even better motivator. But it will take all my skill to get those kids to stay even close to being on task. If I do not keep them focused, those first two classes will be destroyed -- I will be spending far too much time exercising control and doing discispline, and not enough doing teaching.

Of course, all of my kids are now absolutely sure that I am bonkers, nuts, crazy, a lunatic. That helps. Since they are not quite sure what to make of me, that gives me a bit more leverage.

And some of you thought teaching was content knowledge and good lesson plans. Hey, they are important but insufficient. A teacher has to be something of a performer, and definitely a bit of a manipulator -- not in a bad way, but in a way that can use the natural tendency of the kids in the room and turn it from soemthing that could be destructive into something with at least the potential to be positive.

You ahve to know your kids, and use different methods on different kids as appropriate, and perhpas act slightly differntly for different class dynamics.

And most important - you really have to love the kids to go through all of this. It is what makes it all worth the effort. They could break your heart. But if you stay at it, they will give you smiles that you could never believe.

Hey, those that can, do. Those who can do more, teach. I can do more. I have to do more. I am a teacher.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
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