At the Bottom of the Roller Coaster Again

Last weekend, I wanted to sit down and write a post about how I’ve realized how much my students trust me and know that if I’m teaching them something, I have a good reason for it. Maybe I’m being a little bipolar, but that’s not how I’m feeling today.

I’m frustrated a lot this semester again. I feel like I’m constantly on edge, waiting for the next moment that some student is going to “take it too far” and I’ll blow up. I haven’t actually blown up much, considering I’m so tense all the time, but the feeling is there. (Actually, it’s more likely that I’ll snap at one of the kids who never irritates me. I’ve had so many negative interactions with some kids that I’m more careful with them than the ones who don’t usually act out. Poor kids.)

Some of my difficulty this semester stems from some emotional things I’m going through in my personal life, that I don’t want to get into detail about in such a public forum.

Some of my frustration is my own fault. I wanted to teach this Support class this year with this doe-eyed dream of turning math around for these students. I wanted to be that one teacher that would make a difference, that would help them understand math and show them the beauty behind all these things that they have to learn in Algebra 1 (and I LOVE the content in Algebra 1). It’s only my third year of teaching and I’m still prone to the teaching-like-I’m-in-a-movie line of thinking, where my class is going to be the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to these kids.

So when they come to class and refuse to do any work for the first 4 weeks of the semester, or chat with their best friend instead of watching the movie that I’m using to teach about the Standards for Mathematical Practice, or repeatedly whine about how they “don’t get it” but never do anything to help them “get it”, I get frustrated. (Seriously? You won’t even watch a movie? What can I possibly do to support you if you’re this stubborn about not doing what I’ve asked you to do?) And I get disillusioned.

Yes, I knew teaching was going to be hard. I knew I wasn’t going to get paid much. I knew that I was going to have more work than one person could reasonably be expected to do in a day. I knew that I was going to have bad days, bad weeks, bad months, and bad years. And yes, I know that this is just a bad week, and maybe it’s just a bad year.

Living it is different from knowing it. I’m watching my seniors attempt to write a research paper and realizing that they have no idea how to construct a coherent sentence, how to use research effectively (actually let it inform their writing without plagiarizing their entire paper), and in some cases, how to work together. I’m watching my freshmen watch “The Martian” and realizing that not only are their reading comprehension skills terrible, their movie-watching comprehension skills are also terrible. It seems like they have no idea what’s going on in this movie. If they have no idea what’s even happening, they certainly can’t relate the situations in the movie to the 8 Mathematical Practices, which is their assignment.

I don’t know what to do. I feel helpless and lost.

Some of my frustration is related to the lack of motivation and critical thinking skills and life skills and ability to not give up that I’m seeing in my students. I’m re-reading Chase Mielke’s What Students Really Need to Hear again and it’s resonating again, just like it did my first year of teaching. I hate watching my students throw away their education and refuse to learn the most important lessons they could ever learn about how to live life.

On the other hand, I’m seeing some progress this year. Students A and B are paying attention in class, participating in positive ways, and actually doing their work sometimes. Student C has finally started speaking to me politely every time he interacts with me, even though he’s not doing much in the way of work. Students D and E continue to demand my attention, but their purpose is to ask for help with their work. Students F and G are my top-performing students across all of my freshmen, and no one is more surprised by this than they are. Student H is finally learning Algebra and demonstrating that (when she pays attention to what she’s doing) she can solve problems without mixing up her integer operations. Students I, J, K, L, and M all asked for paper sets of Algebra Tiles so they can use them in their Algebra 1 classes as well (unlike the rest of their classes who resist using the tiles unless I physically move the tiles around for them).

I love these kids. They can be so much fun to teach. And then other days, it’s just so draining to deal with all the drama and the lack of motivation and the lack of skills. I can’t figure out if I need a day off or if I need some better coping skills. Or if I just need to be a “better teacher”.

I had a caffeinated beverage this morning, so it’s not that.

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