Trying to find math inside everything else

Posts tagged ‘classroom management’

The Silent Treatment

Sometimes I just have one of those classes. (Well, we all do.) The behavior’s not been that bad, really, not at first. But it slowly slips away from me. I need to do something to get things back on track, because none of the other little course corrections I’ve been making have been working. So I turned to something I’ve done less than a handful of times before – I gave the whole class the silent treatment.

I first did it my first year of teaching, out of actual despair at how I felt I was being treated. That day, with that class, I wrote them a letter explaining how I felt and what I was doing and projected it onto the board. They felt bad, but were only marginally better. The next day it continued, they realized I meant it, and it got better.

Now I don’t really take it to heart, but I still think it is an effective thing to do. When students talk over for you, most often they take it for granted that someone else heard and can explain it, or that I’ll come over and explain it to them personally, or various other reasons. Those all come to relief when I stop talking.

They came in today and I handed out their cards for their seats, but no high fives today, which was the first omen. Then I went around and serenely place a written task in front of each of them. One student, at this point, says “Why are you so calm?!? It’s making me mad!” That was unexpected.

I got through the rest of the class with a mixture of gestures, pointing, and writing on the desks. Often a student would ask me the same question another student already did, so I would point them to what I wrote on the other student’s desk. Some of the students tried to take charge and guide the class through getting on task, but only with moderate success. Many students begged me to talk to them. Then, at the end of the period, I verbally wished them a good day, which they all took with a breath of relief.

One thing that sticks with me, though, was how this made it clear that I talk way too much in class. And I didn’t even think I talked that much! But left without my guiding words, students had to struggle with the task on their own, knowing that I would be of only limited help. It made me realize that maybe I’ve been too quick to help recently, and I need to pare it back (though my students would certainly argue the opposite). But I took that feeling to heart and, in the subsequent class, I decided I would still keep my talking to a minimum (though I did talk occasionally).

So maybe it’s something to keep in mind, even without the classroom management angle – when my words were few, each one had more meaning.

The Spirit of the Rules

I just read the book One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva. (Pretty good, but has some problems). I wanted to share a scene from the book. (Emphasis mine.)

“Does that mean your absence last Friday, unlike your earlier absences this semester, was unexcused?” Mr. Weedin asked.

“It does,” Alek admitted.

“Mr. Khederian, you clearly have a strong grip on this material, and if you hadn’t cut, I would’ve considered recommending you for the Honor Track next year. But I’m afraid that I can’t go around making exceptions for students, regardless of how bright they appear.” Mr. Weedin’s picked up his paper and continued reading.

His teacher’s resolution almost made Alek give up. But he knew how important this was for his parents. And, he had to admit, for himself as well.

“Mr. Weedin, don’t you think failing me in a class when you think I’m capable of delivering Honor Track material is counterproductive?” Alek cleared his throat. ” ‘Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves, / Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.’ ”

“Is that Shakespeare?” Mr. Weedin asked, intrigued.

“Yeah, it’s from Love’s Labour’s Lost. I just wrote an essay comparing and contrasting that play to Romeo and Juliet in English, and that quote really stuck in my head.”

“Why?” Mr. Weeding leaned back and slid his glasses down so he could peer at Alek unobstructed.

“I guess I feel like we spend so much time trying to keep the promises we make, or the rules we set up, but it’s also important to look at those promises and rules and make sure they’re actually doing what we want them to do, and not the other way around.”

“Well, Mr. Khederian, you make a persuasive case.” Mr. Weedin tapped his pencil against his desk three times. “I’m not going to make it easy for you. For the remainder of this class, I’m going to double your homework load. If you complete it all satisfactorily, then I will reduce the penalty from failing to dropping your grade one full letter. So the highest grade you could receive would be a B.”

Alek had to stop himself from hugging Mr. Weeding. “Thank you, Mr. Weedin, thank you so, so much. I promise that I’ll do my best.”

“What is your best, I wonder?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Weeding, but I’m looking forward to finding out.”

“Me too, Alek.”

This was a major theme of the book and one I appreciated (it reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof in a way, especially the climax of the book). This isn’t the most moving scene but as this is ostensibly a teaching blog, I thought I would share it.

This seems especially relevant given the two articles I saw earlier today – one about the student who passed because of admin pressure even though she “deserved to fail” and the other about the student who passed because her teacher felt she should, despite her parents thinking she “deserved to fail.”

It’s interesting on its own to contrast the two articles. But now look at it through the lens of the quotation above. What does it mean to pass or fail a student, and why do we do it?  What is the goal of the grades that we give? Often teachers set rules in their classrooms, or grading policies, and stick to them rigidly, thinking that is what is right. But it is easy to lose sight of why we made these rules in the first place – because we want our students to be the best they can be. Most of the time those rules will help that happen – but sometimes they don’t, and so we need to be willing to change when that occurs. It is the spirit of the law that matters, so try not to get lost in the letter.

Starting Over

One of the reasons I wanted to teach 9th grade when I first started was because I wanted to, eventually, know all the students in the school. (There were other reasons, but that’s one of them.)  So after four years, I’ve taught everyone math and really enjoy knowing all the students well. (Well, I didn’t teach everyone – the students who skipped me to go straight to Geometry, but I managed to get to know most of them in other ways.)

So, because of that, I’ve taught a new batch of students every year, and every year I can refine my routines, toss what didn’t work, keep what did, and try out new things.

But next year there’s a very good chance I’ll be teaching Algebra II – the first time I’m teaching the course (and any main math course besides Algebra I). And that means my students will be the current sophomores, who I taught last year. And I’m wondering, how does that work? What can I carry over easily? Will transferring routines and getting started be faster (not just because they know the routines but are also older)? Will it be harder to toss out routines they liked that I didn’t because they know them? Will the honeymoon period at the beginning of the year be shorter, or longer?

I don’t know, but I’m hoping some people will having some insight. What do you do when you teach the same kids again?