I had a day today that was certainly not up there with the best. First it was period three, my second lesson with a new class in a subject that is out of my comfort zone, and then last period with a class that is 95% full of apathetic sacks of potatoes.
I try to pick engaging topics when I can, and when I can’t I try to deliver the content in ways that downplay how dull it is. I know it can be difficult to concentrate last period of the day, but the outright rudeness is absolutely astounding to me. My colleague who I share this particular class with (I take English and she does Humanities) came into the office at lunchtime saying “Diabolical. The year tens are diabolical.”
I of course have this class the very next period, so good news to me!
I try to scaffold things really simply for this class; we are watching a documentary that they are all interested in (Pacific Warriors, about the Tongan, Samoan and Fijian rugby teams), I have given them a list of questions that will be part of their assessment, and I am guiding them through taking notes while we re-watch the documentary. I feel as if I am quite literally doing all that I can to help them through the content and assessments. And I know that I am doing all I can, because there are two or three in the class who have been paying attention and doing the right thing and as a result achieving well.
And it’s not as if they’re a particularly nasty class, I get along alright with them most of the time. But of course when you switch into “work” mode, all that good rapport disappears. I usually pride myself on being able to build a strong relationship with students to the point where they’ll do the work for me even if they don’t usually do work for anyone else. But that strategy doesn’t appear to work for this class, leaving me at a loss as to how to take on this class. I usually also worry that because I’m a newer teacher, I just don’t have the techniques and experience yet to cope with big issues. But with this class, thanks to my colleague, I know that it is not me. Which is a somewhat relieving thought to have, and one that I find myself focusing on more and more with every frustration that this class gives me. I come to every class almost with something different to try, to engage them, but they just don’t give a fcuk. So I exhaust myself, when really sometimes I have to face the fact that it is not me.
I think that is an important idea to keep at the back of our minds. As much effort as you put into something (or someone), it only works when there is effort on the other side. I often think that as teachers we are expected to have all the answers when it comes to disengaged students and how to bring them back on side. Ultimately though, we could pull out every trick in the book but it all means nothing if the students aren’t willing to try. I tell all my classes that the bare minimum I expect from them is that they try, because without it, I am really not much use to them.
And really, isn’t that the point of teaching? To help students figure out not just the content and what they want to do in their futures, but who they are as people and how they conduct themselves, in preparation for unleashing them on “the real world.” A kid can be the smartest child in the world, with the best NAPLAN (lol) scores and the highest TER, but how much does that mean if they can’t be bothered to do something as simple as putting their phone away, or not talking while someone else is talking? How far is that person going to go in their life if they are unable to conduct themselves professionally (because really that is what we are trying to get kids ready for, to be “professional”) in a workplace?
I always think that while it may be an unpopular thought, my job is not to teach your child how to be a functioning individual in society. Parents/guardians should be doing this at home, through primary school, so when they get to high school they should be able to focus on the academic side of things. I know that this is not always the case and there are a lot of different lifestyles and circumstances that can get in the way, but for me it is so frustrating that a kid can behave like an absolute turd and then come parent/teacher night their parents are dumbfounded to find out what their children are like; “he’s always focused and polite at home..” It would be very different if I was a primary school teacher; kids are still learning how to be at school and what is required of them. But come year ten, they have been in a classroom for most of their lives. Why do they think it is okay for them to behave this way, and then why do they feel so outraged when they get reprimanded for the behaviours?
But as frustrating as it is, I always try to remember that sometimes it is not me. Certainly sometimes it is, and I am the first to say that I can always be learning more and try more and different classroom management techniques. But especially as a graduate teacher there is a lot of pressure to be prefect straight away, and it is relieving to focus on the idea that there are some things you just can’t plan for, and some things you just can’t help.
Hope you all had a better day than me!