Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not one of the best lessons

I’ve spent a number of miserable minutes today reflecting on what went wrong with the year eights in class today. I have been so used to this class being engaged and collaborative, willingly sharing ideas and opinions without too much shouting over each other and getting distracted by too much unhelpful thinking. But today? I couldn’t believe it! I always spend time trying to design the lessons with the students in mind and I am very generous in the time I factor in to get something done. But this wasn’t enough for them today. Everything I said about the new undertaking was repeated in a tone of disbelief: another assignment?? five hundred words?? three different sources?? as if what I had said was totally unreasonable. Even though I had said that there was no limit as to how many student did which topic, they started insisting that a certain topic was theirs because they had chosen it first. There was a kind of dull belligerence mixed in with excited shouting and after a while I had had enough. I began to look disappointed and stern. These did not seem the same students as I had been used to. By the end of the lesson I had asked four students to stay behind to find out what was at the bottom of this, but as yet nothing is forthcoming. I did hear, however, that I wasn’t the only teacher to have found a change in the class. Was it something they ate? Is it just their age? I don’t know. But I do know this: that what I did today isn’t going to cut it anymore, we might have to go back to re-establishing some class norms about respect and courtesy, both for their classmates and for me. Looking back over this entry, reading it as if I was an observer, I wonder if it might be something about the way I introduced the new topic, a very interesting research based piece of writing on any disaster. They are to use their research skills together with their imagination and write an account of a disaster from the viewpoint of one of the participants. I have seen this work well in other years, and the quality of the writing has been quite high. I hope this can still work even after today’s debacle. I have them again tomorrow and they’re starting their research in the library so it could be good.


  1. Ah Jo, it is a typical sign of a teacher to look at themselves first when events unfold in an undesired manner. Your track record tells you that your expectations were reasonable, even engaging but the students of the day think otherwise. I've been frustrated often at my current school when I've introduced projects or assignments that students at my previous school would gobble up and run with, but my current kids say, "What do you mean? Do we have to do that much? This is stupid." Sometimes it is just that group of students, in that mix of personalities, at that time in their life deciding that no matter how interesting the learning being presented, will want to pour cold water on the teacher's and through peer influence, some of the other students' enthusiasm and endeavour. It happens. And teachers are always more likely to dwell on their occasional or (in your case) few failures than their multitude of successes. I think any teacher reading this post can relate to your feelings!

  2. The assignment sounds wonderful!

    There could be any number of reasons for their reaction to it, of course. Maybe it would be a good time to go back and talk about respect. Maybe just bringing the subject of the "debacle" up will create a change in attitude. Communication is almost always the key, I think!

  3. Sounds kind of familiar. I had the dream class last year, but a little more than half way through they started getting snotty and lazy. And then I was asking all the teachers, "Have you notice the attitude dive?" I think it was a teenage hormonal thing.

  4. Thanks for the interesting post. Here's one thought: regardless of how good we are as teachers, there are always going to be days that just don't go well. We need to remember this and develop the capacity to stop mid-gear and do something in an effort to regain control of the class. This is a skill that I am working hard to develop. Sometimes I think my class will benefit from a discussion but they are so unruly that they can't discuss. At those times I think that it is appropriate to do some kind of activity that will enage each student on a more complete basis.

    Just a thought.

    Andrew Pass

  5. Hi Jo,
    I heard of this debacle first hand. You can be assured that some of the girls feel very bad about it. And I know - for certain - that there are some that are enjoying the writing experience ... We have been hearing all about the Titanic and the related events all day yesterday - and work on the project is just about completed. So, please do not despair ... there is light at the end of the tunnel!

  6. Let's see . . . if it's the end-of-summer-heading-towards-fall here in the northern hemisphere, it must be end-of-winter-heading-for-spring in Australia. Yup, happychyck is right. It's hormonal. witch-of-germany's comment backs this up. They complain, but they're still interested and engaged even when they don't have to be. Totally non-rational. Hormonal.