Everything Changes

So, here goes this: Today was not a good day.

I've had a few bad days so far, but it's rare that I have a day so bad that I feel horrible about myself when I go home. Usually, the feeling bad about myself floats in my emotional soup for a few minutes, but it sublimes into the air with the rest of the barely perceptible emotions before I leave for the day. Not today.

Today we had to call parents, had to separate students, had to do pretty much everything you don't want to have to do in order to get the class under control. Though none of this actually happened during my lessons, it still stuck with me because I'm still a contributing member of the teaching team (motto: We educate young minds so you don't have to, you complete failure of a parent). Being a part of a teaching team means that I'm not really "responsible" for what occurs when I'm not at the front of the class teaching, but it effectively means that I'm "hugely, positively, definitely responsible" for making sure the students are behaving when the other teacher is teaching.

This hasn't really presented a problem until today. Today was a bad day, as I have previously stated, but it was a bad day in many, many ways.

We were learning about Scientific Notation today, i.e. changing large numbers with lots of digits into fewer-digit numbers multiplied by a power of ten (292,000,000 = 2.92 x 10^8). This isn't a difficult lesson, especially considering that we worked on square roots yesterday and they understood that about as well as your average Papua New Guinean understands the electoral college. Today was supposed to be a break for everyone, since the lessons should have been easy and both the students and we would be able to work through it quickly.

First hour, the hour I taught, went that way. We got through the lesson (barely...need better time management skillz), and I thought everything was working well.

Second hour started auspiciously. All of the students were able to do the warm-up problems, even the ones who are perpetually having trouble. One wonderful little wallaby, a girl with learning disabilities who usually quits after the problems get too difficult, was able to push through and finish the warm-up as well as pay attention during instruction. Two other students, however, decided that they didn't want to learn that day. These prickly little pineapples kept their heads on their desks, no matter how many times we tried to adjust their attitude. One of them understood the lesson, which made it difficult to discipline her, but the other had absolutely no clue how to change a problem to/from scientific notation.

The student who understood kept putting her head down on her desk and looking askance at the board in order to technically be "looking at the board" but in reality just sitting with her head on her desk. The student who didn't understand wouldn't even make the effort to work on problems. This was a quandary.

When a student is insolent, the teacher has a few choices. One choice is to just let it go, to allow the student to get her way, and to keep pushing the class (other than her) forward. This option is probably the worst, since it allows the student to dictate the attitude of the class and the acceptable level of defiance. Another option is to hound the student until he/she gives in to your will as teacher. This method can get boring for both the student and the teacher, since both of them are fighting so hard to actually get their way that they are completely tired of the game by the end. The last option, at least in this discussion of various options, is the teacher immediately and completely bending the will of the student to her own. This requires the teacher to be in absolute control in the classroom and for the classroom to have norms established that make students feel uncomfortable if they don't conform. It's funny, I'm a huge fan of individuality, but I realize the need for conformity when it comes to behavioral norms in the classroom. There's just no conceivable way to keep control if all of the students are enforcing their own ideas about normative behavior upon the classroom.

Well, the teacher in charge of the class attempted to do option 3 on our prickly pineapple. That...did not go well. The student whined, complained, got angry, got more insolent, and finally got a trip out to the hall for all her trouble. While in the hall, she got the wonderful opportunity to talk to her mom at work, which I'm sure is what every student wants. And every mom, for that matter: it must be fun to get a call during your work day telling you how completely unmanageable your child is. Fun, fun stuff.

Since this post is getting long, I'll attempt to distill what happened in the final class period into a short paragraph or two.

Two girls in the back refused to listen. They didn't pay attention, then got mad at me because we made it a requirement that they finish the problems on the board in order for them to leave the classroom for the day. I told them that if they had listened, they'd have no trouble completing the problems (and, honestly, they wouldn't have. The problems took most students about 1 minute, if that).

After I took the time to explain how to do scientific notation to one of them, I attempted to explain it to the other one. She was having none of it. I told her she couldn't leave until we finished the problems, and I got her to finish one of the two sets. The bell rang, and she still hadn't completed the second set of problems. I told her that we'd work together to get it done, and that's when she started weeping.

I'm not heartless. Seeing a tiny, thirteen year old girl cry basically made me feel like an ogre of some variety (possibly one who lives under a bridge--yes, I know trolls usually live under bridges, but my capacity for imagination was a little skewed: there was a vulnerable child crying, and I was the presumptive cause). This girl, as I'd learned earlier in the summer, has ADHD, learning disabilities, and she no longer takes her meds. This girl is a mess, and I made her cry. I let her go without doing the problems. I have a feeling that will come back to bite me.

The big bad wolf is alive and well.