Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 28 2010

First week

This week was one of the hardest weeks of my entire life. School started Monday. So I work at a turnaround school, that has suffered from low expectations, insufficient resources and thus low attendance and low proficiency scores in the past. 2 years ago, my school’s average daily attendance rate was around 40%. 40%!! That means sixty percent of the students did not show up on a daily basis. That just blows my mind. Last year, the attendance rate was “up” around 68-70% on a daily basis. The biggest attendance problem the school has is students not showing up until after labor day, and students not coming after memorial day. (My school district runs from AUgust 23rd to June 15th-ish). I feel ya guys, that is the longest school year in the entire universe, haha. But obviously, that does not mean you can just pick when you decide to show up to class. However, everyone said that I would have only 5 kids in each of my classes on Day 1-5. They told me to make only 50 copies for my 3 classes, which includes 100 students. Day 1 comes, 24+ in each class. (By the way I have 24 seats). And consistently (the actual students are not consistent) but the numbers are. I usually have between 20 and 28 students in each class. I brought some extra desks in there for when there are more students that come. Each day 2-3 new students come into my class. We started content on day 1. I just wanted to increase the urgency in my classroom so students realized that we would be learning material every single day, and that it is imperative to come to class. Even Friday, which notoriously is student’s favorite day to skip, there were a lot of students. So on that note, I’m happy for the school, but as for my classroom management preparedness.. f***.

This summer I worked in a bad part of Philadelphia. I worked with children with the same economic background, from a school that had low resources, and low proficiency rates. Students coming from the same type of neighborhoods… but I miss my Philly kids. Thus far, I do not feel like I am prepared to handle this type of setting. 1/3 of the students at my school have special needs, and because I am an un-tested science class, I have no co-teacher. A ton of classes in my building are co-taught, and I’m stuck with more kids than the average teacher, being a naive first-year, trying to float above water. So I’m not going to say that every block is horrible. (I have first block free and then teach 2nd, 3rd and 4th blocks, 85 minutes each, in a row.) My third period thus far has been AMAZING in comparison to my other periods, except for one student. But 2nd and 4th is a crap-shoot.

My 2nd block was canceled the first day, so I eagerly awaited seeing what they would be like on Tuesday. Fi-as-co. I have about 4 students that decided to create a mutiny about every little thing. (A word about this: This summer I was WAY too nice- afraid of designating consequences and having the students hate me) I know right? Aren’t you surprised. I have a fight in me, but for some reason, the first-year syndrome fell over me. SO this year, uh-uh. Was NOT going to happen. I came in very strict with all of my rules, laid down the law. One of the mutiny members in my 2nd block on day 2, when everyone was going around and saying all their goals said, “My goal is to get out of this class.” Others said, I don’t have any, or tried to refuse to go. I was going to hold my ground: “Then why are you here? *Pause* You must have goals if you are here on Day 1.” “You will go.” Etc. Every day and every period has thus far been an uphill battle, trying to administer as many consequences as possible so they can see that I am not playing. Its hard to stay calm, it really is. My students in Philadelphia would eventually shut up, but some of these kids purposely piss me off for fun. I haven’t just been like.. yell yell yell because I said so, either. I have been trying to use Lee Canter, and explaining how much information we have to get through, and why it is important for them to stay quiet. We read an article on malleable intelligence. We talked about their life goals. Yet, some students still do not care. Few times in my life have I been so frustrated.

To top it off, I have an ED student in my fourth block, who just provokes other students, and a quote from the administrators, “is the most difficult kid in the academy (11th and 12th grade) and will continue to be disruptive every single day and will not respond to the worst consequences every day.” Awesome. He speaks in an Aussie accent when asking and answering questions and reading for attention. This is the student that is killing me the most. I want to be able to give him what he needs, as he has obviously been through some horrible things to get him to this point. However, I have no training in dealing with this type of situation. The problem is, other students do not realize the issue and just think he is acting out for fun, and then follow suit. Yesterday 4th block was a fiasco. The talking would not stop, the ED student (do not want to state names on here) progressed down to referral, and the other students were having a field day about everything. It took me 80 minutes to get through 7 steps of the scientific method, and I had only introduced the variables, constants and controls. It was insane. At 3:05pm, after repeatedly telling students how important the information was for the rest of the year, and telling them explicit directions and attempting to use positive narration, I gave up. The last 10 minutes of information had been so broken up by consequences and warnings that none of the students had any idea what was going on. So I said, “you know what, I am done. If you do not want to learn today, then I am done.” I erased the board, and started cleaning off my desk. I then said, “You all have goals, and this is going to help you get there. But I will not teach you when you are acting like this.” The compliant students in the class started getting mad at the non-compliant students. “You guys are so ignorant!! She’s trying to teach us.” A few students raised their hands and asked me to explain controls to them privately because they “had nothing to do with that” and I did. I probably should not have done what I did, but maybe it helped the few students that are just egging the other student on. I know the ED student is a separate issue. Students began leaving the classroom, and I said, have a good weekend and I will see you on Monday. As the ED student (I assume, due to the voice) left the classroom, he told me to “s*** his d****.” The door closed and the hallway went quiet and I began balling in my desk chair in my classroom. I must have cried for 10 minutes. It wasn’t what he said, it was the entire class period. I was so disappointed in myself, and so frustrated at the system and the people who have never taught these 17 and 18 year olds to behave. But I know that it is not their fault. People cannot change the cards they were dealt, they just need to work to overcome it. I think the reason why I get so frustrated is because I’m here to try to help them overcome it. I kept waking up last night and feeling guilty about my lack of control of the situation. And the fact that I got so frustrated at them. The sort of good news is that one of the administrators that is close to the student with ED said that she will help me, and that he can bring his work into her room when he is having a rough day. She also suggested me trying alternative assignments for him.. coloring, clay. He loves hands on things. His IEP last year was changed due to his attorney pushing hard for him to be in all inclusion classes. He went from all self-contained to 1 resource and 3 inclusion classes. He is struggling the same in each of his classes. My school apparently decided to have no aids this year due to their lack of commitment last year, so even though he should have one, there aren’t any at the school.

Anyway, compounding this is the fact that we have zero resources. The school apparently threw out all of the science supplies this summer during the first stage of the renovation, because they were quote “old”. But the good news is, I have walls to my classroom, and a door. Which is definitely more than I can say for last year’s teachers in my wing of the school. They had all open-concept “classrooms” with no walls, or doors, just dividers. So I have a beautiful classroom, with not enough chairs and no resources. I know that this is what I signed up for, but I don’t think anyone can predict what you’re getting into until you’re there. I wish everyone could see this. Reform would spread like wildfire.

2 Responses

  1. Deanna


    I really understand what your going through. The frustration will probably last throughout the fall, but it’s what you make of it. I was like this my first year in a Philly high school (the same one I’m will this year). Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Kids feed off of them. Also, when you have 1-4 troublemakers bring them out into the hallway (it will alert others, but they won’t know the details of the conversation) and chat about their behaviors, and how not doing those will result in an efficient classroom for all, including the the time going faster, set a behavior plan, possible rewards system. Cover up your clock. They are on your time, and yours only. Dismiss them accordingly.

    Let the administrator help you with this one student, but be prepared for when they are busy its really just you with him. He may need to chat with you once a week, you may assign him and other low-level readers some hand-on activities. With the scientific method (do a practice experiment as a class and then let students do one on their own). Let them discuss – and let it get loud in your room.

    This year I will have two sections of students who are repeating World History (2 years worth of students I’ve failed or other teachers have failed in the past). It’s going to be my biggest challenge to show them that no grudges will be held. But, its all about choices. They are responsible for themselves, I can only show them good choices to make. This course is needed to graduate, and will be taught in an efficient working classroom environment.

    Also, my biggest mistake of my first two years – to talk discipline by singling a student or group out loud. So, I’ve taken to the “glare” followed by a walking towards them with “glare” followed by a quick “Susie I’ll meet you at the door”. If the student refuses, I’ll remind him/her to make a good choice once again in meeting for a brief conversation about behavior. If failure to do so continues.. an admin is called.

    Glad your classroom is a step up from last year – with walls/door. Congratulations on your first week – enjoy every minute of it.

  2. Angela

    Keep being tough, Marie! When I was an RA they always told me to be tough at the beginning of the year, because it’s easy to lighten up later on than to be super nice at the beginning and try to get tough. You’ll get through it, and your students will really benefit. Just do your best. Remember that there ARE students who want to learn, and they’ll speak up (like they did) when the loud mouths take over. As long as YOU take the class seriously, it’ll be easier for THEM to take it seriously.

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a blog about my quest to end the inequity of science education in America

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