Monday, January 11, 2010

Progressive Survey #5

As you may have noticed (oh let's just say you did. no need to hurt my feelings), I was absent this weekend. I'll be taking a break from the survey on the weekends, mostly because my schedule varies, and I just don't think of it!

#5. Describe a learning moment for you in the classroom (i.e. a moment you learned something about yourself or you as a teacher).

One moment that comes to mind was with a particularly difficult boy my very first year teaching (honestly, what moment during my first year WASN'T a learning moment?!). Let us call him Tate. Tate was gregarious, super-popular, and a slacker. He was the typical outgoing athlete with a slight 'tude and no interest in academics.

Tate would frustrate the class by holding everyone up when taking notes. I had to leave things up about 3 minutes longer than everyone else needed. That's when he decided to take notes at all. I finally confronted this issue one day. When I put up the vocabulary terms, everyone began scribbling furiously. Except Tate. He stared at the screen blankly or around the classroom. He watched others copy the terms & definitions. He watched me watch him. And then he picked up his pencil and began to copy. After an appropriate amount of time, I moved the slide. He became furious. I said we could go back to the slide after we were all done. In the meantime, go ahead and give yourself some space and copy these terms.

Uh-uh. Not having it. Tate threw down his pencil and put his head on his desk. I didn't fight it then, but during a later time, when everyone else was working quietly/independently, I wandered over to Tate. His head was still down. He muttered insolently that he wants to do things The Right Way or it's not worth doing at all. I pointed out that if he had started taking down the terms when everyone else did, he wouldn't have fallen behind. You can't just wait until you FEEL like it to start taking notes. I also pointed out that the attitude he had was unhealthy. If you can't do it perfectly, you don't want to do it at all? That's not how life works and it will hold you back...

blah blah blah. Tate and I had had conversations like this before. I did everything I had been taught to do. Get down on his level so my posture isn't threatening. Speak evenly and calmly. Offer to him that he is making a choice between success and failure. He makes the choice whether to go to the office or do his work. It didn't matter. I had many conversations like this, and so did another friend of mine who also had him in class. She and I both expended so much energy and effort with Tate, trying to reach him to no avail.

My revelation was this: I can only do so much. We teachers want to be superheroes. We study our pedagogy, we confer with colleagues, and we practice child psychology. We love these kids, and we love learning. We know the value of what we're doing and that we can impact the future. We want what is best for "our" kids, and we strive to do whatever we can to make it happen. But sometimes we (and parents, students, and administrators) forget that a teacher doesn't create a product like any other employee. I cannot "produce" an A-level student if that student isn't willing to put forth a little effort on his end (do his homework, study, take notes, pay attention, ask questions). Can I show him love? Yes. Can I show him respect and discipline? Yes. But you can't save someone from drowning who isn't willing to stop thrashing around and let you do your job. You can reach out your hand, throw out a life preserver, but if they don't hold on to either one of those...well, they're letting themselves drown. And that's hard for us teachers to admit sometimes, I think. We want to be the superhero who can save anyone. And we COULD. If they would let us.

What's the conclusion of this Tate story? Well, just as we were trying to get him tested for learning disability (and trust me, he wasn't exactly happy about that either), he moved to another school. Honestly, it wouldn't have been long before he was in the alternative school here, anyway. He was a troublemaker in numerous classes on numerous occasions. He was actually rather bright, though, which is why it is so sad that he never accepted help offered him. So, I don't know where he is now, but if he continued the path he had chosen...well, I'll let you figure that one out.

That doesn't mean we ever stop trying, though. But sometimes it's worth knowing, just for our own peace of mind and emotional well-being.

source: photo source courtesy of Esparta


  1. Oh, I remember him, although I can't exactly remember his name at the moment. (which is sad.) He was bright and had a great personality. I wished so badly that he just would have been willing to put in the work and control his outbursts. I hope all is going well for him and he has graduated from high school wherever he is. And you are so right about all we can do as teachers. I can't even begin to remember all the things I learned my first year. haha... and now as well. On many occasions I learned and oops! relearned...)that you can never say anything to high school students that could possibly be understood as a sexual inuendo! ha!

  2. thx for sharing this :)
    It's important to learn form others' experiences