The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 20 2013

Praying for a Stronger Finish

Day 156: Students might not know it, but they love routines. Structure and schedule helps them know what’s expected of them. It helps them focus on learning.

So, what happens when you try to teach on a Friday, when Tuesday and Thursday were high-stakes tests, Wednesday was a half-day, and Thursday afternoon was mostly recess and a dance party? If you said “learning,” try again.

I taught three classes on Friday. Three times, I had to dole out death stares and get-it-together speeches. There wasn’t a lot of joy in Room 105 on Friday. My second period class pulled it together and did pretty well with the “build an ecosystem” lab. Fourth period recovered enough to tackle the photosynthesis lesson.

Things started to go downhill during lunch. I had to prepare to leave early to go to my brother’s college graduation, but my room was full of students from my homeroom who hadn’t been invited to a party being thrown by the other half. Imagine middle school girl crying and angst, and you’ve got the idea. Toward the end of lunch, AM, whom I’ve worked all year to re-build a relationship with, was in the type of sour mood I hadn’t seen from her in months. But I had no time to deal with any of this.

Then came sixth period. That class has been slipping for weeks, and it came to a head. Inside my class, during silent time after lunch, no fewer than 14 students received warnings for talking. I had them step out and re-enter. In the process, I sent three students to other rooms to write reflections about how to be silent in line, or how to respond to a consequence. In the room, I gave them a speech like none other – about how I cared about them too much to see them finish the year with less than their best.

For a few minutes, we were fine. Then we started to slip again. And during the lab, goofy, off-task behavior reigned supreme. Granted, I hadn’t structured the lab well enough. However, that doesn’t excuse students not doing the right thing. Even JR, one of the top students in the grade, was off. I caught her flicking another student with the rubber bands needed for the lab. I was so shocked that I had nothing to say for a moment, then asked her to leave the room and write a reflection.

I finished class by asking 10 students to come with me so I could explain their consequences and call a few parents. Third-to-last was JVM, whom I had to suspend from Student Council. Second-to-last was JM, who accused me of hating him and hating short people. Last was HP, who had no idea what he’d done wrong, seemingly ignoring months of talking to others and laughing instead of staying on task.

The day began with me getting to work early to dumpster dive for bottles for students to use in building their terrariums. It was a day that should have been fun and hands on. All I want is to finish the year strong. It’s been a good year, but it’s also been a long and tiring year. I want to see my students finish the year at their best. I’ll do my best to help them make that happen. But it can’t be as hard as it was Friday. It just can’t be.

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Experimental Procedures of a Second-Year Teacher

Greater Boston
Middle School

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