Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I had a really rough day today. As stated in my previous post, my kids' averages are really low. Well, it is in fact because they are not learning anything. Is it because I am not teaching anything? I don't believe so. They are not motivated to learn it. They appear not to care about grades. They do no homework. They do not pay attention in class. They do not think!!! If they answer is not obvious, they give up. If it is not handed to them, they are not interested.

I was lightly reprimanded today because my averages in my level three classes are so low. There's a lot to discuss about that.

I feel the main reason the averages are low is because the kids do not do any work - they do not want to have to think about why, they have never had to think about most of their math classes it appears to have been, " Memorize this. Spit it back to me on the test. Pass the class." Go through the motions, and you should pass. Ok, so the kids aren't doing the work.

Now. where is my responsibility in bringing up the class averages?I have already been thinking about this. Some ideas for getting the kids to do the work:

1. Have daily graded assessments. Nothing big, but just like with my geo homework quizzes, they should tell me where the kids are. (What do I do, though, when I test them on an algebra I topic. and they do not have a clue? Do I re teach algebra I? How did they get into my class?)

2. Call the parents every time a student does not do the work, is not paying attention in class, is not prepared. (This is a lot of work. Do I have time for all this without becoming burned out? Should we be micro managing high schoolers? What are we really teaching them by doing this?)

3. Give the kids clearer expectations of what they must know how to do and what they must understand, especially if I am trying to introduce a new way of learning (requiring them to THINK). Give a unit outline. Explicitly state it and write it out for them. Some of these things seem obvious now, and yet I don't think I was really doing them well enough.

I want to be a good teacher. I want my kids to be prepared to handle what the world is going to throw at them. I want them to be able to solve complex problems, to think logically and to be able to express their ideas with symbols and in writing. I do not want to let them down.

I am going to catch some flak from parents about the low scores. I spoke with two parents today...both of whom began the conversation with statements similar to "Math is just not his/her thing. She/he has never been good in math, We just want him/her to get a good enough grade to get into college." I hear a similar version of this from other teachers and administrators. I was told by an administrator (well intentioned and a man I respect very much) that these are kids that are not good in math, and that I need to give them "confidence." I am told by other teachers that the kids just don't seem to be able to retain the information, and its best to give them frequent, small assessments so that they will be able to pass. They should not be required to put the pieces together, or to remember anything for more than a few weeks.

All of these people are well intentioned.We all (I hope) truly want what is best for the kids. But I want to tell them, " You are telling them, in so many ways, that they cannot in fact learn math. They are not smart enough, they are not capable enough. You are telling them that understanding math is not really important. "

The easy thing for me to do would be to raise all their averages - the kids are happy, the parents ae happy, the administrators are happy. At the other end of the spectrum, I can blame it all on the kids. I want to do neither.

These kids can learn math. They can think logically, they can reason, they can learn to use symbols. They will have to work at it, no doubt. But they can do it. They have to do it.

If they are not doing the work, how can I motivate them to do the work? How can I show them how to reason? Most importantly, how can I make them realize that they have to dig deep....and also that I know they have it in them?

Or maybe I'm wrong. This is what I am truly wondering about I wrong? Should I "dumb it down"? Are they not capable?

If I am wrong and they are not capable and they will never learn it, i want to quit teaching. I am wasting my life.

Are there any teachers out there? Do you have kids that will just "never get it?" Am I wasting my time on these kids? Do I just pass them and save us all the heartache? And then walk away from it all and find a nice, high paying chemist job?


Blogger aasen said...

I believe in a higher meaning with life, and I had an experience with that approximately 5 minutes ago.

It was a late evening,just befor bedtime, I was typing a comment on my friends blog. I was on my way to the "X"-button in the upper right corner, but as you might know, the "Next blog>>"-button is in the same area. Click. "The daily chalk talk". I started reading the article. A frustrated teacher. Unmotivated students. Classical. Most likely a problem all over the world, not only in the US and Norway, where I come from. I liked your article because it made me more aware of the importance of taking care of all the kids in the school today that has got a lot of potential, but don't use it at all. I am not a teacher yet, but I am studying to become one, and I have seen it. Both unmotivated students and pupils. Friends in my own class and pupils when I practice in Norwegian schools to extend my work practise. Some people were never meant to be bulbs at school, but EVERYONE can take advantage of what they learn at school. The problem is to make it interesting enough for them to care to get hold of the knowlege we as teachers want to teach them. I think it has to be definite. They have to see the utilitarian value of learning it, fx in algebra. Use examples. And use your narrative abilities in the most theoretical subjects. Fx in history class. Dress up like Columbus when you come to class. They might think it is stupid, but you will get their attention.
Do it for lower secondary students/pupils, as well as 10 year olds. Even in the teachers college, this kind of technique can be useful.

Wow. My short comment became quite long. I don't know if what I have typed gave you any meaning. It's just some thoughts from a coming Norwegian teacher. But at least, you got a comment from abroad;) Anyway, thank you for the content of your blog. It gave me something. Something worth considering as a coming teacher.

I wish you good luck with your challenges, and would like to thank you and the supernatural forces for showing me your blog. It's now on my list of my favourites.(Me, reading your mind: Hmm, is he religious, saying all this about a higher meaning?).

It could perfectly well be just a coincidence, but I believe, as I just said, that me pushing the "Next Blog>>"-button, was meant to happen. You helped me in a process of increasing awareness. Thanks.

Feel free to contact me at

Regards, Magnus from Norway

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Muriel said...


I'm nt really sure of what Algebra I or II entails in terms of curriculum in the US. From what I read in your previous post, part of the content is solving systems. In France, that's part of the nationwide, for everyone, 9th grade curriculum. So I'm guessing nearly everyon eshould be able to get it, if they put some work into it.

Now on the issue of motivation and work, I don't have any easy answers. I'm battling the same thing over here with my students (same age, much lower skill level). They won't do the work if it takes any effort. They will not make the effort to think something through, to look for an answer if it isn't obvious. They're just waiting for me to hand them the answers. And they're not learning the skills thay should be.

I'm not comfortable with the situation. Somedays, it drives me crazy. But still I don't think I'm wasting my time. We do connect. I bring something into their lives, even if it's not what I think I should be bringing, even if I know it won't always be enough.

If you're doing the best you can do, if you're explaining to them what they need to do to succeed, if you're showing them that you know they can succeed, there's not much else you can do.

The rest is up to them.

For yourself you might want to think about what about the teaching process makes you want to get up in the morning. Is it passing on knowledge or is it the interaction with young minds? Are you a goal oriented or a process oriented person? If you're a goal oriented person, maybe you could look for a reachable goal that you could work towards with your teaching.

Those are just a few of my random thoughts... Hope it helps in any small way...

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Anonymous Matt T. said...

Great point about micro-managing high school students. I've wondered the same thing myself. It's too bad our students sometimes suffer from 'observational apprenticeship' as it relates to "not getting math." I wish I knew the solution! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's nice to know others are feeling the same way.

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