Week 14 Update

So I haven’t exactly been sticking to my resolution to blog every week. Since I hate it when other bloggers spend time apologizing for not keeping their self-imposed schedule, I’m not going to spend time on that. Down to business.

I’ve got a few topics in mind that I’d like to blog about – one of which is the structure of the Financial Literacy class that I teach, as I think that might be something of interest to lots of other teachers – but I think for today I’ll just give a quick update. It’s the 14th week of school, which means we are 4 weeks away from final exams. The kids have not yet figured this out. I mentioned it the other day and blew their minds. “WHAT?! THAT’S ALL?!” They have also not yet figured out the implication of this, which is that if you’re currently failing a class, the whole concept of a weighted average means that the chances of you bringing that up before the end of the semester are…well…not good. This is a huge issue for our freshmen, who do not understand the following things about high school:

  • You will not be able to turn in the entire semester’s worth of work on the last day of school and get credit for it.
  • You won’t get to “re-take” all your tests for the semester on the last day of school, magically do better on them in spite of the fact that you’ve never actually studied, and still pass.
  • We actually have final exams, they’re worth 20% of your grade (school requirement), and they’re hard. Like, really hard. (Well, they shouldn’t be hard if you actually mastered the material, but who has time for that when you’re teaching high school?)
  • Your grade did not “start over” when the first quarter ended.
  • Your semester grade will go on your transcript, and will determine whether you earn the 1/2 credit in the course.
  • A credit is an actual thing that exists, and determines whether you are going to graduate 3.5 years from now or 5.5 years from now.
  • If you don’t pass your classes, you will not be a sophomore next year. You will still be a freshman. Your student ID will still say Grade 9 on it. You will still be taking freshmen-level courses.

Yes, we’ve told them all of these things. Repeatedly. I just don’t think that the consequences of failing a class really set in until after they’ve experienced them (so not until next year). Either they don’t believe us (after all, they’ve never been held back for failing a class before, why would we start now?), or they truly don’t understand how the credits system in high school works. I think it’s a combination of both.

This is actually a statewide issue. I think there needs to be more accountability at the middle school level, in every district. We need to stop passing students on in spite of failing grades, without doing anything to hold them accountable for those grades. I don’t know what, exactly, and it’s not really my problem. (Above my pay grade.)

I’m starting to reach an uneasy middle ground in terms of expectations and discipline in some of my classes that is making my life easier. I’m also continuing to see improvement in quiz scores, in spite of the lack-of-actual-work that I think is going on in the classes, so that’s heartening.

In my most distracted and talkative class, the kids walked in every day this week and asked for something, then met my expectations when I granted it. On Monday, they asked if they could use the computers (class set of Chromebooks). I explained that I needed them to practice adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators this week, but if they were willing to use the computers to practice that skill, I would allow it. They enthusiastically agreed, I Googled “adding and subtracting fractions unlike denominators games”, and gave them 4 options for games they could play. They spent the rest of the class period playing fractions games. It was amazing. On Tuesday, they asked if they could use the computers again, and I said no, but I have a reason! I told them that I needed them to practice the skill on paper so I could see their progress and help them make sure they are ready for the quiz on Friday, and I can’t check their answers on the computers. They agreed and worked fairly steadily for the class period, and did a pretty great job overall with their assignment. Today (Thursday – we didn’t have school Wednesday due to Veteran’s Day), they asked if they could watch a movie while they worked. I told them they had to actually be working and not just watching the movie, and again, they worked surprisingly well for the whole class period. (Note: I know that this group works best if they have music or something else to distract them from talking to each other, which is the ONLY reason I would even consider this.) Tomorrow, they have the quiz and then I might let them finish the movie after the quiz.

The movie was Lilo and Stitch. I vetoed the request of Spongebob by executive order.

I think I’m getting a handle for what helps them concentrate, and they’re getting a feel for what I need from them in order to have a successful day. I also think that I might have finally found a seating chart that works decently well for that class. I’m cautiously optimistic.

At this point, “cautiously optimistic” is a HUGE improvement over “ready to break down crying and also wanting to throw things”, which is where I’ve been for a fair amount of the year. This is actually a major reason why I haven’t blogged in so long – I knew it would just be stressful and frustrating to relive my week. Recently, I feel like I’m getting a better feel for managing my freshmen classes, and I’m also feeling better about my time management, so I’m not losing my mind at the moment.

Again, “cautiously optimistic” and “not losing my mind at the moment” are things I can live with.

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