The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 18 2012

And Sometimes, Things Get Better

Day 49: I wrote yesterday, “This is one of those times that I know I’m doing the right thing … We’ll see how tomorrow goes.” Well, tomorrow (as in today) went better.

AM and I began our Thursday with a short conversation, and I could immediately tell I might be dealing with something a little different. She admitted she hadn’t been respectful enough. When I asked if she could tell me what was frustrating her so much, she said no, but nodded yes when I asked if she could share that when we met with the vice principal later that morning. When I asked if she could tell I was working hard to try to repair our relationship, she smiled a little, and said yes.

20 minutes later, during our scheduled meeting with the vice principal, she could not say what had been frustrating her. But there was none of the posturing or attitude that had marked previous conversations. She admitted she hadn’t been doing her best, and that there was no reason for the behavior. She agreed to turn it around, be more engaged, and participate more.

Still, promises made to a vice principal are not the same as what a student brings to class. During the Do Now, however, AM asked to track who was SLANTing during class. This was, to put it lightly, ironic. AM had given me every indication that she would rather swallow arsenic than SLANT over the previous three weeks. Normally, I’d think twice before giving a student that kind of power over other students in class, but given our last few weeks, if AM had any inkling that she wanted to engage in class, I wasn’t about to let that go.

Stated simply, Thursday was AM’s best class in weeks. She tracked. She clapped when I said, “If you can hear my voice, clap twice.” She participated. She was exactly the leader I’d seen for two months before the funky business began. At the end of class, I gave her a ticket – the individual reward system for my class – and simply said, “Really nice work today.”

I’m not naïve, and I’m not expecting every day from now through the rest of the year to be so rosy. In fact, the next morning, AM wiped her hand on the shoulder of the student next to her after she had shaken mine (although, in fairness to her, she did it with a smile, which I rarely see from her, so I’ll hope she was kidding around). Still, this was some of the best evidence I’ve received all year that if I keep my expectations high, if I respond deliberately and consistently to violations of my expectations, and if I make sure every day to be calm and supportive (no matter how frustrated I get), any student situation can improve over time.

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