Blue Suede Shoes

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 09 2010

The First Nine Weeks…

One-eighth of my Teach For America commitment has ended. I am alternately satisfied and dissatisfied with the way the past quarter has gone. As one of my more bratty students said a couple of weeks ago, in an attempt to defend her class’s poor behavior,  “We haven’t made you cry yet.” That’s still true, so I guess that’s a small blessing. But really, these children shouldn’t hold their breath for the day I cry in front of them. Sometimes their deficiency in math kills me to the point of wanting to cry (I had to teach rounding to a 10th grader in after-school tutoring on Thursday…), but I will never give them the satisfaction of driving me to the point of tears if I can help it.

Mastery for my first two units was pretty low, especially for my geometry students, and it made me incredibly angry. Angry at myself for many, many things, among them poor alignment between my lessons and my unit assessment and insufficient formative assessments, and angry at my students for many, many things, including not asking for help, not completing homework (or merely, as I suspect, copying wrong answers off of each other), and not showing up to class on time – or at all. There was a considerable amount of pushback from my 2nd period geometry students – “you didn’t teach us this,” “the test was too hard,” and on her post-test self-reflection, one student filled in the “choices I have made that have limited my success in this class” blank with “somebody teaching abilities [sic]” – which I welcomed even though it made me even angrier that they were refusing to accept any responsibility for their performance. Of course it’s easy to pass the blame and complain about low grades, but where are you when I offer the opportunity to retake tests after school? I only had a handful of students decide to do so, and most of them weren’t the people who really needed to.

In terms of the investment I wrote about before, I have not yet discussed the achievement gap, at least not on the macro scale. This past week, I gave all my classes a practice ACT math section to give them an idea of the difficulty level they need to be prepared for within the next year or two. I introduced it with some discussion about what it means to be college-ready and how less than 20% of ACT-takers at our school score at the college-ready mark of 22 on math. (For all of Memphis City Schools students, the number is 6%, which is disgusting.) We also discussed the colleges they said they wanted to go to and the minimum or average ACT scores at those schools. I hope that getting their scores, which are hovering around 11 so far, will light a fire under them. (Of course, I also hoped that their abysmal Unit 2 test grades would do that, and it didn’t seem to, but hope springs eternal.)

In short, lots of things need to change in my classroom. Let’s dance, quarter two.

One Response

  1. Mary Stansfield

    I applaud your courage and dedication. Math is a subject that, as a society, we have allowed students to think is difficult. I’m sure that things will get better as time passes and your self-confidence grows. I found in my own teaching that as much as you’d like to reach each student, you won’t (nor should you give up the goal). I also know that what your students get from you may not be realized for years….long after your name has faded from some of their memories. Best of luck and keep the faith.

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