Trying to Gain Traction as the Quarter Closes

School has been wildly uneven since the break ended on January 2. We had a snow day January 3 and then on Tuesday and Thursday we had two hour delayed openings. As a result, getting into anything resembling a rhythm has proven problematic.

As the temperature precipitously dropped on Tuesday, so did the attendance so I wound up with a mere six students in my 11th grade class. It wasn’t worth doing the prepared lesson so I found thematically related videos and made the most of the 25 minutes.

With the second quarter (and first half of the year) ending on Friday, their attention has shifted from content to grading. I’m being asked about extra work but as I look at their grades, I point out how much missing work there has been so why generate more that they won’t do.

My 9th graders are wrapping up their film unit this week with an analysis. They’ve been taking notes on various Tim Burton films and even though we’ve been working with the terminology since early November, they’re still stumbling over it. I’m also not getting the sense they really understand how to analyze a film despite modeling it for them and walking them through a simple analytical statement. As a result, we’re taking this final week to ensure they have the time to really develop something worth writing and reading. One student really didn’t like the Burton material, and I admit it’s not for everyone. So I challenged him. I asked him to pick a movie of his choice and study the techniques there; taking notes so he can successfully write the paper this week. I’ll be curious to see if he rose to the occasion this weekend or not.

The 11th graders are bidding farewell to the Founding Fathers tomorrow as we close Unit 2 and move ahead into the 19th century. They should have completed a major paper over the break but it turns out all but one slacked off. We had nine days in the Library before break, with a master document clearly delineating what should be accomplished each day so all that was left during the break was assembling the pieces into the essay. January 2 came and went with not a single paper being turned in and everyone asking for more time. Then the snow day so they wound up with a three day weekend. And they still wanted more time but by now, they’ve been at an 8 paragraph essay for three weeks so I said turn it in Friday or it’s an automatic zero. Sure enough, I received about nine out of the 20 I should have received. And in every case but one, they didn’t follow the directions or give me details or quote from seminal documents or include the bibliography. In short, the most minimal effort was put on display.

And they’re still worried about grades.

Meantime, as I gain confidence in lesson planning, I’ve begun taking a longer view on Unit 3, sitting down to carefully go through the lessons and get some sense of what can be jettisoned in order to create time for some actual fiction. Unit 3 is heavy on poetry and autobiography and precious little fiction so all five of us teaching the material are sifting through the lessons and the books available to correct this injustice. With a nod towards my time in Darien, and conscious of the demographic in my class, we’re going to read The Awakening.

While I may be gaining some confidence in this area, I continue to struggle in wrangling the kids themselves. The abbreviated schedule this past week certainly didn’t help and one class got so out of control I asked an assistant principal to pay a visit and help me reassert order. I hate doing that but I need to look after those trying to learn. I am really looking forward to the months ahead when I can really focus on teaching and making the lessons sparkle rather than discipline issues.

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