Finally ready.

I am finally ready something approximating “ready” to discuss the big nonsense in my life right now: I am a middle school teacher.

By nonsense I mean:

The transition from teaching 3rd to teaching 7th and 8th grade is pretty extreme, right? Almost… absurd?

The existence of a self-contained classroom for regular education middle schoolers in the 21st century… really?

And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, didn’t thirteen year old me console myself daily with reminders that I would never have to go back to that God-forsaken territory that is junior high?!

(Good thing I am a well-adjusted adult now, right?!?!?)
Moving on… relocating from Chicago to Fresno was jarring, to say the least. In many ways, Danny and I felt ready to leave the chill of the Windy City for California and eternal sunshine. I have always craved change and savored all things new, but this shift has left me feeling less than grounded. We left so many things back in the Midwest: friendship, family… seasons!) I’m feeling sort of like a balloon left tied to a chair at a birthday party after everyone else went home.

Concerning the Big Nonsense, entering an extremely challenging professional role while teetering my way through a life change has made for a pretty big clash. However, each day is running a little  bit more smoothly in Room #7. My students have already engaged in a class-wide debate over the use of Tasers, set individual and group goals for the school year, compared the functionality of a stereo-light microscope and a complex microscope with their own two eyes, and concocted phenomenal teacher-stopper questions like “Can someone avoid paying taxes by receiving cash only?” (bright futures, eh?)

So now… now that I’m treading water a bit easier, I can talk about what’s really keeping me up at night: My students are 2-4 grade levels behind in reading and math. Chapter 1 (as you may well remember) of any curriculum is typically review. My students are averaging 50 and 60% on their chapter tests, so naturally, I’m not moving on to new material yet. To quickly explain the complexities of my assignment, I am teaching both 7th and 8th grade – all subjects. In order to teach grade-level appropriate objectives, I am splitting my 60 minute math block into two 30 minute lessons (one for 7th and one for 8th) and asking the “other half” to practice independently while I teach one grade level at a time. This is leaving absolutely no time for differentiation, but what is more troubling is that the students seem disjointed from the results of their work. 3rd graders, for the most part, lack the ability to work with one half of their brain and talk, flirt, distract, or space out with the other. Unfortunately for my students, the same is true for them, but they THINK they can multitask. The result is a poor rendition of math and socializing.

I’m not going to dwell on the innate frustrations of this setup. I am going to continue searching out solutions for my students who, despite 4-5x the amount of instruction recommended by the curriculum, are still not grasping the material. This is what my math instruction feels like right now… and I have to find a way to fix it: I’m a coach and I round up the players and give a specific, step-by-step game plan for the task at hand. I model several times, gradually release, watch them go through the motions themselves, then send them out onto the field where they promptly lose sight of all that we discussed, lose the game and return to the bench more discouraged than ever.

The other teachers at this school refer to this as a “retention problem”. To me, it seems that my students rely on memorization and miss out on the magnificent “click”. This year, it seems I won’t be driven by data. I’ll be on a quest for the light to come on in my students eyes.

Oh, and for those of you who were concerned about the state of my rose-colored shades, it turns out they still work just fine. What a relief!

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