The key to school/student/learning success is student engagement
by 24-years experience in the classroom
I should have known that “classroom management” could be a problem for me going all the way back to when I was doing observations/volunteer work as part of my teacher training program back in the early 1990s.
I remember it differently, having just looked at the short note my supervisor wrote about my time in his third grade class:
Maybe it was in some other note that’s gotten lost over the years, but I felt more reprimanded for being “too friendly” and not maintaining enough discipline.
Next time I remember this being an issue was 13-years later, in 2005, during my miserable three-years teaching technology, media and math at a Long Beach Middle School. Whatever strategies I previously used teaching sixth grade, video journalism and technology were undermined because there was no way to balance the table groups with only two female students and a good chunk of the students were returning eighth-graders who had failed the class the year before. That first year the principal stepped in around March when my substitute couldn’t handle the group’s unruliness and it was later determined that five- or six- students shouldn’t have been retained and another 10 (of the 29 students) couldn’t do basic arithmetic, much less the Algebra class’s curriculum. Being the newest staff-member, I had agreed at the beginning of the year to help the principal out and cover this math class (outside my comfort zone) and they turned around and gave me the shit class. That was definitely not a good fit. I seem to remember that I didn’t have this “classroom management” problem with my computer and media courses but this math course was going to be the death of me. The pressure was bad enough that I paused my doctorate program and got sick a lot more frequently than the previous ten-years.
I was never one of those “never smile at them before November” teachers. I tried to be more adversarial when I first started teaching at the middle school and we see how well that went. I also learned much earlier in my career how quickly students tune teachers out who are always yelling. Who wants that? And, contrary to my mother’s opinion, I wasn’t trying to be my students’ friend, as much as I recognized how much more productive positive environments were for learning. I didn’t have the desire or energy to ride my students all the time. During an interview this past year for a coworker working on her doctorate, she noted my “let them explore” passive teaching style. I’m pretty sure that was meant as a compliment.
So, this whole current reflection stems from a comment in a pre-assessment meeting this past week noting the chaos in my classroom that the reviewer felt was unacceptable. Yeah. The comment came after rejecting the “drawing shapes” unit I was doing with my Kindergarten/First grade classes because it’s something they can do in their normal class. Wow. That was awkward and incredibly deflating. But, hurt feelings aside, my professionalism compels me to determine what strategies I can employ to better the experience of my students without resorting to disingenuous attempts to be the behavior police that I am not.
I have been putting so much energy trying to get the curriculum to work that I haven’t put as much energy on some basic items like learning everyone’s name, putting together the seating chart with their images, etc. One positive note, on the curriculum front, I got the name of a district science coordinator, access to some resources and the names of other schools who run STEM programs. So, I’m holding off on resigning… for now.
It’s not like I haven’t questioned what the hell I was doing in the classroom… Hell, even though I was the only licensed educator working in the summer camp/after-school Full Sail Labs programs, there were a few times when I wondered what I was doing with these really talented facilitators. Part of the problem of being the “veteran” is speaking up when stupid shit is proposed and coming off as the negative one. It’s just that they may come up with the ideas, but it’s up to us grunts to make it happen.
Apologies to whomever have read my posts to learn about the cool stuff my students and robotics club is doing. This isn’t one of those kinds of posts (obviously). My journey isn’t any harder or more special than anyone else’s. I just happen to use my writing to try to work through these troubling problems. Had I stayed with the phone company I would be 39-years into the job and probably two or three years from full sit-on-my-ass retirement. Had I gone into journalism full-time, god knows how many publications I would have been fired from and what alley I’d call home. I can’t even begin to entertain a theology-based career.
So, here I am, in my 24th year (eighth week) teaching, still wrestling with student computer logins, trying to create a three-theme curriculum that recognizes the special challenges working with the very different learning needs going from Kindergarten to 5th grade and also Special Needs students, and running the robotics team. I wish I could translate all the cool stuff we did at Full Sail Labs with programming and robotics (and video-making). But even at Full Sail Labs we learned that something got lost when working 1-hour-per-week over 10-weeks versus the concentrated 5-days/40-hours that had been such an incredible experience. This is much more complicated than copying someone else’s curriculum off the Internet. No one knows these kids like I do, no one knows the technology we are working with like I do, and no one can tell me that it’s not working because I’m not doing something right. I’m just not done working on this particular problem.
Thinking about the first 13-years teaching, I generally cranked away on the problems and set-ups, not leaving school until 8 or 9 O’clock. Full Sail, because we taught online, tended to be 24/7/365 and I didn’t take any real vacation time until I had already been there 4-years. So, even though I’m a lot older than when I began this thing, I have to find a way to just get it done, and not get all twisted up because someone else doesn’t understand (or appreciate) what I do. I’m not so important that I cannot be replaced. But it’s been my experience that every time they do, they have to replace me with more than one person. Now to get ready for week nine.