Blue Suede Shoes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 25 2010

The Investment Piece…

It breaks my heart every day how behind my students are. I think what bothers me even more, though, is the lack of investment I see. I believe students can and want to learn (Habit of Mind #2, perhaps?), but I’m not sure they know how to express that desire productively. Most of my students want to go to college, want to get high-paying jobs, but do not understand what it takes in the here and now to get there in the future. How is not turning in your homework ever going to help your GPA? How is walking out of class or challenging another student to a fight in class going to help your disciplinary record, not to mention the impression you leave on teachers whom you might eventually need to write a letter of recommendation?

I definitely plan on having college talks – one of my algebra classes seems very interested in my college experience and what college is like – but I need more investment strategies. It’s not enough to point out this vague, three-years-from-now goal as their motivation to close their mouths and take notes diligently in class. It’s not enough to ask them who will be proud of their success and why they need to think of that person or those people when they misbehave and waste their own time. What is it going to take???? Suggestions welcome!

I am already planning a lesson on the achievement gap, but I’d like to wait until I am more comfortable with them – and they with me – so that the conversation can be more open. Is it too much to hope that they will internalize the sobering reality of where they are and where they could – and need to – be and start taking their education seriously? Students in my algebra classes keep asking me why they need to take my class two periods a day. It is all I can do not to launch into an impromptu achievement gap lesson every time I hear their complaints. And when I tell my geometry students that our time is limited and we cannot afford to waste any of it, they retort that there is plenty of time because I have them twice a week for a two-period block. I really wonder if it hits them at all that they waste about one-third of that block because 90% of them show up late.

I’ll be the first to admit that my lessons need to be more engaging and that the material is challenging to the point of frustration for several students, but I also make myself available through pretty much any mode of communication – my students have my phone number, e-mail, and know which days I stay after school to tutor or talk – and only a few have taken me up on outside help. Is it because they don’t really believe me when I say that I care and believe in them? Now that I am on the other side of the student-teacher dynamic, I wonder all the time why students don’t – and won’t – ask for help when they need it. Three weeks in, and I’m already sick of seeing 50% (or lower) on homework assignments. I was prideful, too, as a student – still am – and I definitely understand not wanting to ask for help, not wanting to admit a weakness. It is a problem of investment, though, and not an inherent character flaw, and thus, I believe it can be solved. If I had cared more about AP Euro, maybe I would have studied more and worked harder in that class. By the same token, if I can make my students care about math, if I can show them why math matters and what’s in it for them when they succeed in math, they will work harder. …Right?

Investment seemed easier during institute. (Who am I kidding? Everything seemed easier during institute.) Fewer students to get to know, and the vast majority of them had already failed geometry so there was definitely real incentive for them to pass summer school. The incentive of passing geometry the first time around to prevent exactly what my summer school students had to go through hasn’t sunk in yet for most of my students. I hope the first round of progress reports in September will light a fire under them.

I will say that there are some bright spots in my classes, the students who do make the effort and really show me they want to learn. I only wish their time were not wasted so much on my needing to correct the misbehavior of their classmates. I want all my students to succeed, but these are the students I desperately want to go to college, to not fall through the cracks, to be able to make their lives better. Because they are proving to me they deserve every good thing that is coming to them.¬†One of my geometry students is a senior and wants to go to a particular HBCU in Mississippi. She’s been staying after about once a week, and we’re setting a goal of her scoring at least a 21 on the ACT so that she can get a full ride with her stellar GPA. I already feel like it is going to be my proudest moment this year as a teacher to read her acceptance letter.

3 Responses

  1. Deanna

    These are all great questions that you ask, and will continue to ask yourself as the year goes by and the next year begins. I have asked most of them myself and strive to make gains with students on why particular topics like homework, world history content, and organization are all related to helping better their future. It’s tough, and it will get harder as the year goes on, but when one or two students “get it” and let you know, there will be some joy.

    I like that you want to keep the students why try hard from falling through the cracks. Those are the students I’ve had a hard time focusing on, but this year (my third) I’ve decided to make it my goal to push them and not let the discipling/behavior problems get in the way of their successes.

    Having college talks with the Algebra classes might be a challenge. Mainly because most 9th grade students don’t know what their future holds day-to-day, let alone in 3-4 years. But, there needs to be some goal-making, and an image of what happens now will drive the future plans. I make reference to alot of it being about choices. For example, it looks like I have two classes of repeaters (kids who have failed World History – possibly even with me) and need to take it again. So, they perhaps didn’t get my style the first time, I was available after school, by email, etc. They need much clearer direction, and a new clean slate. This time together we will achieve success in the course, because who wants to take it a third time!! So planning for that course (most are soph/juniors) will require alot of influence on how this course prepares the student for a future (whether its a job, vo-tech school, or college or even in future relationships/friendships, etc.)

    Incentives have worked in the past. Having extended homework times on occassion have also worked. Teaching them what homework is/why its given is a good lesson. What rewards come from doing it. Home life is rough in my next of the woods too, and many students don’t have someone to help them with their homework – so I offer afterschool sessions to complete homework or just chat. I only give it when its necessary. My administration recommends 4x a week, but that’s not necessary in my plans – that’s just overkill. Sometimes an assignment is due three days after its assigned so that students who work, take care of siblings, etc can still do it and be rewarded.

  2. Any college talks yet? Let us know how it’s going with updates.

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