Wednesday, July 07, 2010

What worked, what didn’t

So the 2009-2010 year is history.  How about a little review of what worked and what didn’t in terms my teaching year.

1)  Engage students by using cell phones in the classroom while maintaining a consistent policy.   They can simply turn it off if it rings, but it’s mine for a day if they text.  Did it work?

Not really.   The use of cell phones was second on my list of classroom management issues (the first being attendance) and it really didn’t get better, even with Seniors.  I used cell phones on occasion to start conversations using Polleverywhere.com by asking questions and not fearing the phone.  The conversations were good for the most part.  But the problem of texting in the classroom remained an issue.  Three times during the year  I had students (we are talking Seniors in high school) throw complete tantrums over their phone being confiscated for 24 hours.  One cried her eyes out, called Dad, and Dad told me to give it back to her.  I obliged of course, I didn’t have much choice.  I think about kicking students out of class for texting, but that defeats the purpose of keeping them here. 

2)  Attendance policy.  Ignore tardies if totally irregular (once a month is not a big deal).  Give attendance contracts and enforce them if there is a trend.  Did it work?

No, and it was partly my fault for trying to treat high school kids with the same responsibility as adults.  By the end of the year the tardy issue was a nightmare and I became furious at the lack of simple common sense, like the over half-dozen students showing up late for a Final.  The problem was that I wasn’t as consistent as I should have been.  I also didn’t keep good book records because the computer attendance was available.  This lead to inconstant policies and enforcement, and in the end, abuse of my attendance policy.  On the occasions that it was followed, parents would come flying down to the high school crying because the mean teacher put their perfect kid on an attendance contract.  Here’s an interesting bit; I had more trouble with my AP classes and attendance than my college prep classes.  Go figure.  Next year everything is in writing and records have to be consistent.  That will take away from class time, but in the end the issues won’t come up later.

3)  Open enrollment Advanced Placement, two full classes.  Did it work? 

Sort of.  By the end of the year I had 68 Advanced Placement Government students.  The two that dropped out during the year went on Independent Study.  More people took the AP exam (55) than ever.  However, there were not 68 AP students in my classes.  How many were really AP students?  Maybe 50….maybe.  I know that sounds mean, but with Seniors in high it becomes a lot more touchy when college entrance, scholarships, and maybe even graduation rests on passing AP Gov.  Students that weren’t used to an AP English or History class were shocked at the amount of reading, angered by the lack of busy work, and constantly complaining that their grade deserved to be higher because they were trying hard.  Students left for a week of vacation in January and February with explicit instructions regarding what they needed to know for tests and quizzes.  One student nearly missed a month in Mexico.  All of them came back and totally bombed on the assessment.  That is a clear difference between an AP caliber kid and a college prep kid.  College prep kids go on cruises in February and don’t do a thing and get slaughtered on tests.  AP kids go to look at colleges in March for a week and come back having read the required material, and do fine.  I also noticed a huge grade drop after college acceptance letters came in.  Then came the pressure to get a “C” or better in the class when they sluffed off for two months, and with that came counselor and parent calls.  “Should this kid not get into college simply because they got a “D” in your class” was a question that was asked a lot in the final two weeks of school.  A whole lot.  In the end I acquiesced and inflated grades on some students, mainly because I consider it my mistake that I opened up enrollment to kids that really can’t handle it.  When I told a counselor that I was going to tighten the requirements for next year, I was told that it wasn’t fair to close off the class to a certain population of kids.  Well, you can’t have it both fucking ways.  If a student shows no comprehension and no willingness to learn, they might fail.  If they start their vacation in April, they might not get into Cal.  Don’t want that risk?  Don’t take the class.  Anyway, I’m tightening the requirements for the course for next year.  It’s unfair for the students that I have to slow down (for academic and class management reasons) and it’s unfair to me that I have to spend weeks fielding calls from irate parents over lazy kids.

4)  Technology goes online; Aeries attendance and grade book, blog, calendar, social networking. Did it work?

Aeries was the program for attendance and the grade book.  For attendance the program works nicely.  It’s simple to use, takes two seconds to mark, and allows for ease of access and looking up past records.  The grade book is a different story. First, it was buggy.  Three students suddenly had about a half dozen assignments come up zeros out of nowhere.  That wasn’t fun to deal with.  Compared to Making the Grade (the old grade book program), Aeries was clunky, inflexible, and took way too much time to switch classes, transfer students, and change grades.  It was seriously blah.  As for the class blog, the calendar, and social networking (using Facebook and Twitter), the outcome was very predictable.  Those students that want to succeed used the materials available.  Serious students checked grades, the homework calendar, and signed up for Twitter to have updates sent to them by text message.  That meant that out of 150 kids, only about twenty of them took advantage of the online material.  The middle of the road student, the ELL student, the struggling student…..nope.  Almost no one checked grades online, somewhat because the process was too complicated for them (I couldn’t explain it), but mostly because technology isn’t going to all of the sudden make them care more.  For a majority of the Seniors, the grades don’t matter until three weeks are left in school.  Otherwise, the online work I do is fairly pointless except for those students that really want to excel.  Note to those thinking of going online, it also makes the “I want everything right now” syndrome ten-times worse.  Kids expect everything available online, at the drop of a hat, and with the ease of a Google search.  Anything less leads to complaining and more time trying to wean kids off of being enabled.  This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to use the online stuff any more, it just means that I’m going to connect more of the class to the online Interverse and demand that kids use it.  I set up a private social networking site already, have all the feeds linked to Twitter, and already I have ten soon-to-be students getting updates. 

5)  “Basketball doesn’t need real big men anymore.  The game is quicker, drive-and-kick, not slamming it in the post.”  Did it work?

Ugh, I’ve decided that I must be a basketball traditionalist because I don’t like that brand of basketball.  Undersized and full of shooters, I chose to take a different approach this year; attack-and-kick, and out score.  While we did go 15-11, it wasn’t the style I liked, was used to, or could really even tolerate.  Defense suffered as we worked so much in practice on shooting the ball and learning cuts.  Most of my practice used to be defense and moving without the ball.  I come from the old school of thought; slam it into the post and that gets your perimeter open, and when the shots start going your inside opens up for the 1-1 post play.  Sure you can run up and down the floor, but you better damn well be able to stop somebody and when the game becomes a slugging match, be prepared to duke it out in the half-court.  I’ll be going back to what I’m comfortable with next year, especially with some dandy bigs coming in.

6)  Teaching.  Still love it?

Without a doubt.

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