Sunday, March 06, 2011

The small uprising

All it takes is one quiz.

“Match the person with the Social/Political Agenda”

That was the question on Friday’s APUSH quiz, followed by eleven names including Upton Sinclair, Jacob Riis, and Ida Tarbell.  The answers I got included book titles, obscure references, and evidence that limited review was taking place.  The quiz was out of the norm, the norm being textbook quizzes that were right after a night of reading.  This quiz was about retention.  It was my check to see if the students were able to gain some kind knowledge from information from the book and the class.  The result was bad.  Some people insisted that we never discussed some of the names, until I reminded them that they came straight out of reading.  At that point, the frustration started to boil.  Students came at me with snappy remarks, looks and sounds of anger, and evidence started to surface that a small scale rebellion was in the works. 

It sounds like a crisis, and in some circumstances it might have been, but not on Friday.  Friday was a blow off session.  I calmly listened to the complaints until the dull roar started to take the place of singular voices.  I stopped them, and calmly explained why their answers were wrong, and the roar started even more.  I let it roll for about 45 seconds, calmly stating that I was not going let them dump the quiz regardless of the low scores.  When I got a really nasty glare from a girl I respect, I let out the very abrupt “Enough” in my low, baritone voice, stood the full 6’2” of my body’s length, and let the following be known:

-The reading was clearly not done.  They reviewed notes from class, and did not pay attention to the full spectrum of the information.  By now, they should know that.

-I’m more than willing to give students the benefit of the doubt when I make a mistake.  Just two days hence I gave students credit on a test question because a couple of students correctly justified an answer.  I’m not inflexible. This was not one of those instances.

-We were done with this matter.  Now on to WEB DuBois….

And with that, the revolution fizzled, the pressure faded, and while some glares remained, I went straight to the lesson without mentioning it again.  A couple of students made a smarmy comment here and there, but I totally ignored them and eventually the focus took over and the students left fighting-the-power behind.

It was a mix of academic pressure and simple bad days that started this small distraction.  Why didn’t it get out of hand?  My rapport with my students definitely helped, and teachers need to remember to read the classroom because we are not dealing with robots.  Some students will bitch regardless, but as you watch the reaction of certain opinion leaders change, so might your methods of dealing with the upcoming situation.  Venting for a few minutes might do the trick, then firmly regain control and press on, because too off-track can and will ruin the entire day. 

Two students apologized after class, blaming the blow-up on bad days.  And I’ll be doing another version of that same quiz this week. 

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