Jan 20, 2011

Chaos and Confessions

Chaos. Never before today have I been more thankful for the invention of the word 'chaos'. I'm in such bewilderment over the happenings of class that the only comfort that I can find in the day is in the fact that I have a word to describe said happenings.

OK, so I'm exaggerating a bit. By the end of class, no one was hurt, no one was in tears (including me), and I think I even succeeded in acknowledging and touching base with every student in the class.

Just to update everyone on my current situation, I am currently a pre-service science teacher. Last semester, I worked with 9th-12th grade chemistry students. To call what I did last semester "teaching" would be a bit of a stretch. For the past two weeks and for the next five months I have been and will be teaching (for real teaching) 8th grade physical science.

I have the best situation that I can ask for, really. The kids are generally motivated -- albeit, to different degrees -- they are curious, and they generally do their work (they even turn it in!). My cooperating teacher has given me free rein to plan as I wish, discipline as I see fit, grade as I deem fair, and so on. The classroom is interesting. The kids are sweet. My CT is patient with me. Everything's great.

Today, the problem was me. I had absolutely no control over the class. It hurts me to confess that I had no control today, particularly here in the open and to an audience of experienced teachers, but it is the truth. Kids were walking around, yelling across the class, using extremely offensive language (or at least, as offensive as you can get as an 8th grader still exploring your creativity with newfound derogatory words), climbing on tables....

Now, I'm sure that you read this, your eyes are picking up speed and skimming across my complaints because it's nothing you haven't heard before and nothing you haven't seen before. By that same token, I thought I too had seen this all before and that I knew what to do to bring everyone back together. I thought I had a full bag of tricks: I specifically called out people who were acting out. I rang the little bell/noise maker. I said that we would not begin until I had everyone's attention. I allowed for a little bit of give because, after all, they are only middle school kids and not high school kids. I waited and waited and waited. Lesson-wise, I thought I put together a string of activities/assignments that were engaging enough to keep the class at a busy level of calm.

The only thing that saved me today was the bell at the end of the period.

Despite the fact that it was my lack of management that caused learning to come to a stand-still, I still need to keep my focus on the students. I'm still learning how to be a real teacher, but I want to keep my learning student-centered -- not teacher-centered. Yes, that's right -- I just ranted for some six or seven paragraphs about what I did wrong today, yet my closing paragraph is about my students. It matters less what I say to keep the class calm, it matters less that I envision my class to be a room full of silent, smiling, learning kids, and it matters more that my students are safe, are learning, are curious, are applying their knowledge, and are thinking like scientists.

What does this mean?

It means that when I reflect on my day, I need to think about what works for my students and what it takes to get these specific students to learn science and to control themselves in the classroom. I can take notes and carefully study every teacher in the world, but none of this matters if I don't know my own students. They are my informants. In a way, I am experimenting with various methods of teaching and managing a classroom, and they are my data. When lessons fail or succeed, I need to look to them for hints as to what to change or repeat next time.

I'm exhausted, but I'm not defeated. Tomorrow is a new day.

= = =
P.S. My second confession is that I did not threaten the class with punishments for misbehaving. My third confession is that I do not know what the school policy is for misbehaving. My goal tomorrow is to become very familiar with this policy and make sure that my students are familiar with the policy.


lmorowski said...

When I was a student teacher I had the vision of a classroom full of silent, smiling, learning kids also. I actually achieved this once and I bet it was one of the most boring classes those students had. That was a high school business class. Since then, I had the fortune to teach middle school. Despite the fact that what you described can happen, I loved teaching with them. They are quirky yet creative. Their ideas were large and they pushed me to be a better teacher. I hope you can enjoy them too!

Jason Buell said...

If it's any consolation,I'm in my sixth year and I'll get pretty pleased with myself about the whole classroom management thing, then my kids will have days like you had just to let me know who's really in charge (or something like that). I teach the same subject/level in San Jose, so if you need anything let me know. Email or twitter @jybuell. Good luck.

April Isabel said...

Hi Imorowski and Jason,

Wow, I can't believe I just saw your posts now!

I suppose it's better this way seeing as how a few months ago, I would not have believed you when you said that teaching middle school could be fun! I might have had a whisper of a clue as to what it means to show students who is really in charge, but nothing more.

After just 4 months of teaching these 8th graders, I'm ready to take on middle school science as a career :) I'm only applying to middle school science positions. The kids are so much fun!

And Jason, I will definitely take you up on that offer. I'm looking for any astronomy/chemistry/physics activities that you've seen work for your students!