Today was definitely a Monday. I went in well rested and eager spirited but came out like a fitted sheet from the washer: twisted, mangled, and dampened. I think the most challenging part about teaching is that everything has to be learned the very hardest way, after it’s way too late and the damage is way too done. Experience is the only real mentor in the classroom, and even then, some experiences don’t yield the same outcomes twice. Therefore, in teaching it’s really just an exercise in sheer mental strength until retirement. Today I was on the losing side of the battle. On that note, there will be some f-bombs in this post.
One weakness I have is that I am way too the opposite of ignorant. If ignorance is bliss, awareness is absolute goddamn hell. What I mean is that when new theories or pedagogies are presented to me, I don’t just let them casually float in one ear and out the other the way my 4/5’s do with my pleas for them to stop crayola-tatting their arms. I become entirely aware of whether or not I’m applying those theories and practising those pedagogies, and suddenly very fixated on finding a way to do so. If someone tells me to do something, I simply have to do it. This is why I don’t necessarily believe in the black hole of “Next Steps” our dear Ministry of Education seems to love – I would be that kid who died with a pencil in her hand, still trying to “add more detail”.
I’ve been attempting to use intrinsic motivation this year because, well, #research. In the past I’ve used more punitive systems. For example, last year I had five letters on the board and the students had to have at least one letter left by Friday to have Free Time Fridays. But I hated that system because every time I took away a letter, it wasn’t fair to the students who were sincerely trying. Their success was being completely determined by the least cooperative people in the class, and I refuse to let that happen any more in the little microcosm of society I control. (Even though that seems to be how real life works; just think about why we need texting and driving laws – because people are literally too stupid to keep themselves alive using common sense. And that’s not an abuse of the word literally.)
So this year I have two new behaviour management systems in place. One is that the students give themselves a score out of ten at the end of each day based on a specific criterion. Sometimes it’s for speaking French, sometimes it’s for active listening, sometimes it’s for participation. (Of course I have some kids who just seem to be writing arbitrary numbers out of ten but I’m going to let their happy little ships sail.) If the students have at least 40/50 points by the end of the five-day week, I give them a prize. (External reward, I know, but at least they self-assessed, and name me one person who doesn’t like a little goddamn prize every now and then).
The second system is more of a group initiative. We have a marble jar that I will put up to ten marbles in each day. When the jar is full, we party. In their groups the students decide how many marbles should go in at the end of the day based on how well the class worked together, and we take the average. I have to say that they have been really fair and accurate with the number of marbles they choose so far, other than the four or five kids who have absolutely zero self-awareness whatsoever. These are the same kids that are giving themselves arbitrary scores out of ten. They also happen to be the kids who never know what page (or book) we’re on, what the heck everyone’s waiting for, or just what it is exactly that we’re supposed to be doing right now. You probably work with one as an adult.
So far my intrinsic motivation system is failing pretty epically. The students seem to have no concern for their points out of ten or the marbles in the jar as the day unfolds. Today they even demanded a more punitive system. (“Why don’t you just put X’s beside our name on the board and when we have three we have to go to the office?”) Because I’m tired of putting X’s beside your name then listening to you cry about it and then listening to your parents cry about how I’m pigeonholing you and then listening to my admin encourage me to use more intrinsic motivation, that’s why. Because I hate having to get up from whatever I’m doing (teaching, usually) just to put X’s beside your name. Because why can’t you just do the fucking thing I’m asking you to do? Just do it! Just do the thing!!!
I think a big part of my frustration is being new to grade 4/5. Their immaturity is requiring a serious adjustment period. Prior to this I have really only ever taught grades 6, 7, and 8, and I am flabbergasted by the extreme impulsiveness of these small people, and their complete ignorance of social cues. Today I was sweating out yet another math lesson on decimal numbers because I can’t find the right examples or words or Marian Small-approved activities (in French, no less) to communicate what a hundredth is. What it is, is a fucking hundredth! One out of a hundred! One percent! But it might as well be Latin. It might as well be trigonometry. (Also, I’m not sure why ten-year-olds need to represent hundredths in pictures, numbers, and words. It should just be enough that they get that a penny isn’t a dollar, it’s not even fucking close – that’s what a hundredth is).
Told you there would be f-bombs.
Anyway, while I’m sweating out this lesson, digital pen poised anxiously on the Smart Board, my eyes pleading someone to tell me what the 8 in 0,08 represents (in French we use decimal commas just to royally confuse the hell out of everyone involved), one of my grade 5 students puts his hand up, and I gratefully called on him: “Jacob, can you tell us?”
“No, but, Mme? What exactly are we going to be doing on the last day of school?”
Fucking decimals, apparently.