On being surprised

20130830-183623.jpgI had been thinking that the challenge this year was going to be the Algebra class. Two weeks in, I’m pretty sure I got that one completely wrong. Granted, we’re still mostly in “review” territory, but the Algebra kids are moving along swimmingly; if anything I could probably be pushing them faster if I really wanted to.

No, the problem is going to be third and fourth hour. First and second hour are just a roomful of kids. Granted, they swing toward the knuckleheady, and there’s more of them (32 or 33, I think) than I want there to be, and I’m sure there are going to be days where I hate them– but functionally they’re no different from any number of other classes of kids I’ve had over the years. They’re going to do well on some things and not so well on others. They’re going to be challenging, because teaching anyone anything is challenging, but they’re not going to be challenging, if you know what I mean.

On Tuesday, the school counselor walked into my room, shoved a roster under my nose, and told me to eliminate six of my kids.

“Permanently?” I said, eyeing a certain set of the roster.

“To (other teacher’s) room,” she said, and I started looking at a different set of kids. She then showed me a different list, which contained the six kids that she was moving into my room– special-needs students, each and every one of them. Turns out that it had been decided that I was going to co-teach with one of our special ed teachers during those class periods, and they’d decided to consolidate all the available special education students into my room out of the two seventh grade math classes that were available.

(Weird, true fact: There are two different kids who would have been on my list if I was consigning them to the flames, but were not on my “willing to send to someone else” list. I’m not sure what that says about me. Certainly not that I’m sparing the other teacher. The impulse is more “no one is your math teacher but me” than anything else, and I certainly insisted on protecting the kids who I had last year. I dunno.)

Teachers who read this will all recognize this anecdote: you know how sometimes you’ll get a writing assignment turned in from a kid, and it’s so bad that you literally don’t have any idea how to correct it? That the only thing to do is start over completely, and by “start over completely” I mean “wipe the kid’s brain, send him back to kindergarden, and reeducate him entirely”? Where there’s simply no way to correct the thing without entirely redoing it?

I’ve had that impulse in writing classes many, many times, unfortunately. I have never had it in math before, in twelve years of teaching, until this week– and this week I had it with four different kids. I have two students with sub-60 IQs, and another pair of boys who I don’t even want to talk about on account of their plethora of learning disabilities and neurological disorders. Plus at least four kids who are severely autistic (two of whom, just for the record, aren’t actually in this class) and two with massive behavioral disorders.

I’ve never co-taught before; I don’t know precisely how it works, and the special ed teacher, who has spent all week buried in beginning-of-year paperwork, has been content to sit back and let me drive the bus for now, although that will probably change as we get to know each other and find some time to actually collaborate. And I’ve never, ever had a class this low before. I’ve got two kids in there who were among my lowest students last year (although they both showed genuinely impressive gains over the course of the year) and this year they are the smart ones.

And now you know why there’s a Keanu pic at the top of this post.