I fell off the blogging train over the past couple of weeks due to the giant life sucker that was report cards. That and I had some personal issues that needed working out which filled up any free cranny in my brain that wasn’t already crowded with learning skills comments or next steps. I find writing report cards to be all-consuming, which doesn’t work out too well when I’m still trying to do a half decent job of teaching. Especially when doing just a half decent job takes a good eight hours a day as it is. (Three-quarters of a decent job requires some weekends.) Throw in a personal crisis and you’re just screwed for leisure time. I’m not trying to complain because I really do love my job, but I hate how it feels like the only way to do a really good job is to completely martyr yourself to the cause. It’s for the children, after all, as the government likes to remind us ad nauseam. Anyway, that’s for another post.
Today we had our School Improvement Plan meeting which I was actually looking forward to because I love talking about teaching. It’s refreshing to be able to sit down and chat with adults once in a while. The nice thing about adults is that they usually – ok, sometimes – give you a chance to speak your piece without interrupting. That is a non-existent luxury in a grade six classroom full of boys.
A woman from the Ministry joined us for the meeting and her title was something like Student Achievement Enforcer… or was it Officer… either way it should have been Student Achievement Wizard because she had so many whimsical suggestions for us. You can always tell when someone has been out of the classroom for too long because their suggestions are so utopian. Don’t get me wrong, I know they mean well, but Board and Ministry people truly haven’t a clue what it’s like “being in the trenches”, as my principal puts it.
We were asked about some of our biggest challenges, and I shared that I felt I was so focused on keeping the drowners afloat that I couldn’t get to the rest of the students who equally deserved my attention. The Student Achievement Wizard said, “So it sounds like what you need are strategies.”
Strategies? Like, scaffolding? Differentiated instruction & assessment? Balanced literacy? Three-part math? Open-ended and authentic tasks? Inquiry-based learning? Guided groups? Learning goals & success criteria? Student-led learning? Those strategies? Lady, I got strategies. What I don’t have is the chance to even implement them because the typical classroom is not exactly filled with compliant beings. It’s filled with little crazy people whose sole mission at school seems to be to resist all of our strategies.
I then clarified myself because what I had meant to say was that I felt that all of my time and energy is given to the students with focus issues. Because really, most of my drowners are only drowning because they won’t stop writhing about long enough to put on a life jacket. It’s really hard to help a student who can’t even write their name on a paper before they are up and checking out what everyone else is up to. (You’d think that when they realize that everyone else is up to writing their name on a paper, they’d maybe go back and do the same, but for some reason it doesn’t work like that.)
The Student Achievement Wizard then said, “What we need to ask ourselves is, would the students still have a focus issue if the activity were fun?”
That’s me taking some deep breaths. Really, Student Achievement Wizard? Is that all I need to do? Make everything fun? Well. Why didn’t you just say so on my first day of teaching? I don’t think I ever got the teacher’s guide for how to make metric conversions a real party. And you know what, there probably is way to make it fun, but it likely involves baking things, and call me a bad teacher but I don’t really feel like taking on the task of making cookies with seventeen boys who routinely (albeit unintentionally) hit me with items they have made airborne. Not to mention the fact that I’d either have to bring in all the ingredients myself or ask for donations and then coordinate who all is sending in what, and then find a parent volunteer or two to lend a hand, then bake the cookies in the staff room on my break. I know all these details because I’ve done it. And I remember my parent volunteer saying, “It’s really hard because they just don’t listen“. Um, ya. They don’t even listen for cookies. Think of how things must go with fractions.
I know that many teachers try really hard to make things as fun as possible, given the limitations of our classrooms, resources, and the curriculum. But as one teacher lamented in the staff room today, some kids can’t even handle unstructured “fun”, and what’s supposed to be an innocent game turns into absolute mayhem during which zero learning happens. If anything, negative learning happens because not only is the activity a waste, but the time it takes to calm everyone down and restore order afterwards cuts into other potential learning.
I can just hear the Student Achievement Wizard now. She’s whispering, “They can do fun activities – you just have to train them.”
Sometimes I wish that my life were like an episode of The Office and I could just look over to the side camera and give an unimpressed look.