Only four days into the new school year, and already I am flustered. Maybe I just forget every year exactly how hard it is to get the ball rolling once again, or maybe I just didn't prepare well enough over the past few weeks, or perhaps, like the Grinch, my heart is just three sizes too small. I kind of doubt it's the last one though.
But at any rate, I find my patience being greatly tested. I thought that the first week or two of school is supposed to be the "honeymoon period," but if what I have seen so far is GOOD behavior, then I'm very worried about what the future holds.
I have 21 kids in my morning class, and 18 and my afternoon class. A rather large number of these kids can be classified as "challenges." And the majority of them don't seem to be anywhere near the point of shaking off the summer stupor. The math work that we have done so far this week hasn't been difficult in the least, yet I've had to cajole even the simplest responses out of most of these kids.
For instance, when we tackled our first word problem on Tuesday, we read the problem together as a class, and then I asked, "Who can raise their hand and tell me one of the important numbers and units we see in this problem?"
Three hands were slowly raised, while everyone else blinked in confusion as if a flash-bang grenade had been thrown into the room. Actually, I take that back. There were only a few looks of confusion. There were a lot more kids who were just dully staring at me with a look in their eyes that clearly said, "Just call on someone who's raising their hand, and leave the rest of us alone."
I'm talking no effort whatsoever here. To a question that basically amounts to, "Say the number that you see printed before you." I couldn't help but think about the old Saturday Night Live Celebrity Jeopardy skit where the fake Alex Trebek would throw up his hands in desperation and shout, "Just say any number, it doesn't matter what it is!"
It's incredibly frustrating. And I go to school every day wanting to be the fun, inspirational teacher who gets the kids excited about math and who always has a fun, hands-on activity planned. Along the lines of a Ms. Frizzle. But then I get bogged down in the enforcement of the rules. When I have to literally repeat everything that I say 3 to 7 times because everyone is not listening, and as soon as I break eye contact with one kid, they tune out. When it takes us 45 minutes to read one page out of the science book, because nearly every time I call on someone to read, they don't know where we are because they weren't following along in their book. When I state, for the fifth time in under 10 minutes, "I need you all to read along with your eyes in the book while someone is reading out loud. I don't want to see anyone looking around the room, playing with their pencils, or looking at me while someone else is reading" -- yet as soon as the reader begins again, there are no less than four children staring into space.
Man, this has just turned into a complaining rant. I think that I'm an effective teacher, but I'm not a great classroom manager. Maybe if I taught somewhere where I had a class of kids who actually followed the rules, with only one or two behavior problems, where I could spend most of my time actually teaching, I would feel more confident in my abilities. But sometimes I just feel like I'm slogging through quicksand, wearing concrete boots.
One concrete example of the lack of problem-solving capacity that I am already facing this year, and then I'm out of here. One of the girls in my afternoon class came into my room bawling yesterday. I escorted her out into the hallway and away from the class to give her some room and some time to compose herself while the rest of the class got settled in and started on the bell ringer activity. Then I went back out to talk with her about what was going on.
She told me that she was crying because she had gotten in trouble for talking in the hall. I asked her, quite rationally I thought, what she could maybe do to prevent that from happening again. She stared at me, dumbfounded. I prompted her, "Do you have any ideas?" She just gave me that minuscule shoulder shrug that seems to speak volumes. "You got in trouble for talking in the hallway, right?" I asked her. When she nodded, I continued, "So what do you think you should do so that you DON'T get into trouble again?"
Nothing. She had absolutely no answer for me. And it's not like she was being sullen and refusing to speak. She really and truly didn't have any clue on how she could avoid getting into trouble for talking in the hall.
The really sad thing is, this girl seems like she is one of the brighter kids in my class…