Experienced . . . but not experienced enough

I’ve been teaching for 10 years now. You would think I have experience and that I’ve got this teaching gig down. I can come up with a lesson off the top of my head. I can handle disruptions and behavior problems with finesse. Every learning activity is engaging and motivating.

Um, no. I am still reinventing the wheel. For various reasons that I will not go into here, I have reinvented the wheel every year. One of the reasons why I am doing so this year is because I am teaching Algebra 1. How hard could it be? I thought. I always have liked math and done pretty well in it (okay, well I did great in Algebra). I’ll only have 10 students. We’ll do all hands-on lessons. This will be great.

Um, no. Some of my students are failing and I’ve got to get them at least up to a 70 in the next two and a half weeks. The other problem is that one of my best students in the class – who during the first nine weeks had a B average – has done a complete 180. This student seems depressed, sad, and definitely unmotivated. This student has gone from paying attention in class, answering questions, and getting most of them right, to putting the head down and refusing to do work. While the academic stuff bothers me, I am beginning to get really concerned about this student’s emotional state.

I started off with the “I care about you” speech. I did not mention academics. I only told this student that I’d noticed they seemed more depressed and sad lately, that they’d quit joking around with friends, and seemed unmotivated in class. When I asked if anything was wrong or anything was going on that the student wanted to talk about, all I got was, “I’m fine. Can I go now?” I assured the student that I would be there if they needed to talk, and again got, “Can I go now?” Sigh. I tried.

No change after that. The student continued to refuse to listen, take notes, or do work. I’m not a teacher who accepts that. I will bug a student to death before I let him/her just sit there. I will go over to them multiple times, stand by their sides and make them do each question. So that’s what I did. I kept going around to this student, telling them to do work, checking their work, keeping on them. I kept getting smart remarks back and comments like, “I’ll just take that grade. I don’t want to correct it.” To which I replied, “You have to learn this. You have to know how to do it. I am making you correct it to ensure you have mastered it.” So after a few days of this, I finally gave the student the “You’re Close to Getting Written Up” speech. At this point I focused more on the academic and behavior difficulties I’d noticed in this kid. We’ll see if it has any effect.

This is a situation that I find difficult to deal with. It’s the whole “discipline with dignity” thing. You attack the behavior, not the kid. You have to deal with the behavior but still make the kid believe you truly care. Then there’s the whole motivating lessons thing. It’s math. I try. I search the net for games and fun hands-on ideas to use. But sometimes, I just have to get up there and explain it, and the kids just have to practice. I know it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, but they have to learn this.

In the end, I know that I am not experienced enough. I’m still wading through all the nuances of being a teacher. I’m still learning and trying to get better. I can only hope that this student will eventually realize that I do care.

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