“Where there’s a will there’s a won’t.” — Ambrose Bierce

November 19, 2009

I came across this quote and felt that it accurately depicts a great many of my students right now.  It’s sad.  I don’t want my students to be demotivated.  Teachers have told me my teaching hasn’t changed much since the first few weeks and say I continue to do a great job, so I’m left a little puzzled as to why my students are becoming less and less willing to answer questions during discussion.

I come back to the idea that maybe it’s not all me.  If you take any group of students there will be a few that refuse to do anything.  They simply won’t.  You can give students seven or eight different interventions.  You can force them to have pencil in hand.  You can modify their standards so they need to achieve ludicrously little.  Some will still not budge.

I can be stoned in academic and educational/political circles for saying this.  Many chant “all students can learn” and act as if saying the words will bleach away the dirty stains of student apathy.  All students can learn.  It does not mean all will attempt to.  I think the government is starting to understand this and education will be changing soon.

A solution I’ve been thinking about is to let high school be an option.  Why not offer technical schools or vocational training starting right after middle school?  I haven’t thought through all the repercussions, but this is what many European schools and Asian schools do.


Why Johnny Can’t Think Critically

November 3, 2009

I’m laying around with the flu right now.  As relaxing as that is, it does give me a bit of time to respond to an article my dad sent me:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julia-moulden/math-is-not-hard-a-simple_b_331878.html

The “everyone can do math” article is cool, and it’s true that students want to be successful and normally give you a better effort if they see small successes.  It’s interesting that the man featured in the article said he would see if his explanation was bad when a student didn’t understand and would change the lesson instead of automatically saying the student couldn’t do it.  Teaching is more and more leaning towards this philosophy, and I agree that we should focus on using only what works and discourage blaming student’s ability.

The problem is that students develop learned helplessness when lessons are constantly catered to them, and this affects their attitude and effort (notice these are different than ability.)  They don’t feel that they should have to work to understand anything.  However, in life it often takes an arsenal of tricks and study tools to communicate and understand subjects and other persons.  We will not always have things catered for us.  I have one student in my class that expects me to teach him the lesson over again individually during work time, and if I refuse to reteach everything he says, “But I don’t get it.  How am I supposed to do it?”  I’m trying to train him out of this thinking that he’s allowed not engage and not think critically about the lesson I give all the students and then wait for more tailored, individual instruction.  I’m trying to show him how to advocate for himself, take notes, ask classmates who are getting it questions, ask specific questions if I seem unclear, and come in at other times for more difficult problems.

I’m not so much afraid of our students being less talented than students of other countries.  I am afraid of the tremendous apathy I see in students, and I am afraid our students will not be able to critically engage with someone’s thoughts when those thoughts aren’t directed solely to that student.  I think this is why students are graduating lately and expecting jobs to be handed to them.  Generation me expects to not have to work for their $70k paycheck and are disillusioned when they have to work hard to make $35k.

I’m not simply saying “suck it up.”   I am saying that students need to advocate for themselves, use resources, ask questions, and figure out solutions if they have problems understanding material.  Right now I’m trying to find ways to teach these things to my kids.  Does anyone have ideas how to teach this alongside the curriculum?


The First Week of School

September 12, 2009

I have survived my first week of teaching the mathematics.  It’s been a roller coaster already with almost every day swinging from one extreme to another.  Here’s how the week went:

Monday: (Labor Day) Attended a barbecue where a fellow teacher (not first year) described the first year like being tossed into a shark tank.  I naively thought I was on top of my game because I had two weeks of teacher conferences under my belt with not too much stress added.

Tuesday: First day of school went relatively smoothly due mostly to the fact that my classes consisted of a majority of freshmen who knew none of the kids around them.  I finished the day in triumph, gladdened by the fact that I handed out books, went through syllabi and procedures, and taught a lesson all in one day for my three classes.  I am pleased by the fact that my lunch hour coincides with my prep hour lengthening my prep to nearly two hours a day.

Wednesday: In first hour I was surprised by the information that 24 of my 34 students were Special Ed. mainstreamed students.  Second hour nearly went out of my control for my lack of structuring work time at the end of the hour.  Third hour prep was spent tying my notes together to present to my fourth hour Geometry class.  Fourth hour geometry class nearly ate me alive, and I spent the majority of my drive home praying that I wouldn’t be dealing with classroom management hell my first year here.  I also find out that there is a mandatory open house that I am required to be at on Thursday from 6-8 P.M.

*Note:  Our high school is going through construction as they are adding air conditioning and remodeling and modernizing the rooms.  This means the windows are sealed in anticipation of air conditioning throughout the building.  The air conditioning will be ready around Christmas time.  Needless to say, cramming 35 students into a classroom with no ventilation or cooling is miserable and makes it hard to teach, especially the last hour of the day.

Thursday: Since I prepared extra well in response to Wednesday’s mess, I was on top of my classes.  First and second blocks went by without a hitch.  Prep was relaxing.  Fourth hour was completely under control, and the students seemed to be responding to me well.  I stay at school to do work, get to know coworkers, and be present at the high school open house.

Friday: I find out that my first hour will be mixed with another first hour to even out Special Education numbers.  This is both good and bad: good because it will be easier to cater to student needs, bad because I’m trying to finalize seating charts, grading book names, and this has been my most behaved class so far.  I spend most of my prep preparing for Geometry.  Geometry was a mess after I finished with the lesson.  The students were hot, there was a football game that night with a dance, they wanted to go home, they didn’t like the fact that we already were going to be quizzed, they didn’t like my review, and 5 to 6 students tried to ask for passes to get water and go to their locker when it was clear they just wanted to avoid the classroom during instruction.  I left feeling relieved that I would get rest this weekend.

It is a time consuming endeavor.  I hear that after a couple years preparing doesn’t take nearly as long and things are generally smoother.  But even though I have long hours for now, I love teaching and being with these kids.


I’m on a boat

August 28, 2009

Check this hulu SNL short out.

Adam Sandberg’s humor is the most in line with our generation compared to the other comedians that have been on the show.  Maybe that, or SNL is getting better.  I haven’t watched an SNL since 1975 though.  I might be behind the times.

I think this short speaks so well to the complete bankruptcy of pop rap lyrics.


Most Expensive Things

August 27, 2009

http://www.luxuo.com/most-expensive

Check out a blog that includes a “most expensive” list of random items such as parking spots, earbuds, and bottles of champagne.  It’s a funny blog to look around at if you like seeing the insane luxuries in the world today.