Friday, April 19, 2013

Be Where You Are

A million years ago I attended a Jesuit university that specialized in a particular program geared for people in the workplace but also had full time college students in it. Our orientation consisted of one of the men in charge (President, Chancellor, Provost, Dean - I don't remember) talking to us about the program, the expectations, our role. He said (paraphrased): "Half of you have jobs. Half of you have families. When you are at work, be at work. When you are at home, be at home. When you are at school, be at school."

I have thought about that a lot this past year. My students are failing (or not earning the grade they think they deserve) because they aren't here. They are physically in my room, they are not here.

I was teaching today and a student interrupted my lesson (new material. State test coming up in a month) to ask when I was going to grade something he hasn't turned in yet but intends to turn in next week.

He hasn't done it. He hasn't turned it in. But when am I going to grade it? How do you answer that?

They talk, sleep, text, do homework for other classes, read novels. I believe that you learn math by doing math. I do math. They are not there. They take a test and bomb it. Somehow it is up to me to come up with something to fix it. They were in class when I taught the material. They were in class when I asked them to do work. They were in class when I reviewed the material for a study guide I created by going over what was taught. (remember doing that?) They were in class when I asked if there were any questions.

I am not a teacher. I am the little red hen.

I have them tell me I am sarcastic or snippy when I answer "is that related to what we are doing?" when they interrupt a lesson to ask some off the wall question. How do they expect to learn?

Maybe they don't.

I have a couple of kids in one class who are very polite but told me on day one they do not want to be in school but have to be. One gave a long speech one day about about how we call it a free education but he isn't free to reject it and stay home.

I believe that group infects the other group. But there is a lot more. And I do not know how to fix it. I don't know how to teach them when you are in math class, be in math class. When you are at school, be at school. When you are with someone you want to be with, be with that person. Stop living in the past (how do I fix this test) and future (what are we doing next week) and live in the now.

I read an article about college readiness which said that "89 percent of high school teachers think their students are 'well' or 'very well' prepared for college in their subject" - well, I am part of the 11 percent. I have a handful every year who will have to work but they will be ok. They listen when I tell them what they will need to do to succeed. The ones I described above? Who aren't here - well, I periodically remind them that they will be competing in life (colleges, jobs, whatever) against people who have not had the path leveled.

I know there are other places that lower the bar - but we are the limbo kings.

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