CALLING ALL TEACHERS: In which I need advice

Forgive the two posts back-to-back, but this place is my biggest megaphone and it didn’t seem appropriate to stick this onto the back of my previous post: teachers who may be reading this, have any of you ever had students who were elective mutes? Any suggestions or resources on how to work with them? She showed up while I was out, and I just met her today; apparently she hasn’t said a word to anyone in about two years. She doesn’t appear to have any learning disabilities, but in those few sentences I’ve told you literally everything I know about her. Anybody? This is a new one for me.

In which I have returned to work

I initially intended to go back to work Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday made it clear that there was simply too much still to be done, so I didn’t, and intended to go back to work yesterday. Yesterday I woke up, spent a few minutes staring at the ceiling, and went nope, and called in.

Today I woke up and it felt normal, more or less, so I went back. And, honestly, I had a really pleasant day, and it was the right decision. The kids, 70% of whom were perfectly aware of what had happened, were really sweet all day long, including a couple of them who are normally pains in my ass, and I got a weird rush of new students during the four days I was out and all of them seem like nice, smart kids.

So I’m glad I went back. Technically I could have taken one more day, and technically I suppose since my five bereavement days don’t have to be sequential I still could take one more day at some point I needed to, but I needed to be back at work today. If it had been a rough day things might have gone south quickly, and I made some … uh … emotionally questionable decisions during my lunch and prep period but there was no one around so it was okay.

(In general, if your mom was the type who left the exact same voicemail message every time she called– “Hi honey, it’s Mom, call me–” you should probably not spend fifteen minutes listening to every single saved voicemail you have hoping to find one where she said “I love you” at the end, because while you know your Mom loved you and she was the type to say it frequently, she was not the type to throw it into a four-second voicemail message, and you will end up emotional and disappointed at work, and that is a bad decision.)

Anyway. We will see how the weekend goes; I’m expecting posting around here to more or less return to normal in the near future as well, but I assume y’all will forgive me if I spend another few days quieter than normal. I got a good day today, though. That’s worth telling y’all about.

Some teachertalk

This has, with the exception of maybe twenty minutes at the end of one class yesterday, actually been a pretty good first week back at work. Two things have worked out in my favor: first, I rearranged all of the desks in my classroom on the teacher record day before leaving for Winter Break, and I like the new layout a lot more, and it’s also quite a bit more conducive to instruction than my previous layout was.

In addition, quite a few of my students were reshuffled, something I initially regarded with wary concern but which seems to have worked out quite a bit better than I had dared to hope. I have lost a number of knuckleheads, replaced them with a bunch of kids who seem at first look at least to be pretty nice, one kid who I was expecting to be a knucklehead seems more manageable than I had thought he would be, and a surprisingly large number of kids have, on their own, come up to me and commented about how they’re having an easier time paying attention and behaving in their new class than they were in their old one. It’s actually rather fascinating.

All except 7th hour. I’ve talked about them before, I’m sure, although I’m not going to go search for a post to link to– my 7th hour class is so much more poorly behaved than the rest of my classes that it almost feels like they’re from a different building than the rest of my groups. The weird thing was that I didn’t really have any specific kids I could blame it on– the group was toxic, not any individual students.

7th hour is 50% different kids from last semester, a number of the tougher kids are in new groups (and many are among the “I’m doing better!” crew) … and the vibe in the room is exactly the same, if not actually worse.

I cannot explain it. Now, I know that there are other teachers in the building who also think their 7th hour group is their toughest, so maybe there’s something about 3:00 in the afternoon that makes them all insane, but I am generally pretty good about group psychology sorts of things and this phenomenon has completely eluded me. It’s only day three, of course, so there’s plenty of time for things to change, for better or worse, but right now I’m stymied.

Y'all cain't kill me, Chapter 16

How many years have I taught for again? Is this sixteen? Seventeen? I think it’s sixteen. At any rate: I have certainly had harder Last Days Before Winter Break, and I survived this one without any real stress or even any particular stories to tell.(*) My main problem at the moment is that I keep forgetting that, yes, I do have to go to work tomorrow for the teacher record day even if my grades are all already finished. I’ve got some stuff to finalize, some redecorating to do, and a classroom to rearrange as I’ve grown tired of my current layout. That should keep me busy through the district-mandated half day; I was already planning on leaving early as I currently work in a building whose principal isn’t going to be watching us, but they’ve officially announced that anyone who showed up for Parent-Teacher conferences can go home at lunchtime if we want.

And I do, and I will.

I have, as per usual, all sorts of plans for shit I want to accomplish over the next two weeks; we will see if I get around to any of it, and whether I’m much inclined to care about what I didn’t get around to at the end of the break. I’d like to get at least a little fiction written; I’ve been off of that particular horse for far too long and I need to either start writing again or start removing any references to being an author around here. It’s time, damn it.

Then again, maybe I’ll spend a week playing video games and sleep for an entire day at some point. That wouldn’t be bad either! Not bad at all.

(*) This is not quite true, as I distinctly remember at least one conversation with a student that led to me thinking remember this and blog about it later and as I sit here I swear to you that I can’t even remember the gender of the student I was talking to much less any actual content of the conversation. Perhaps it’ll come to me tomorrow, who knows.

PS: I am as startled as you are that I appear to have nothing to say about the impeachment of the piece of shit in the White House. It may be that I will have something to say about it soon, or this may fall into the same hole that the piece about Kamala Harris dropping out of the Presidential race fell into. We’ll see.

In which I am successful and I don't like it

Objectively speaking, today was a good day. Unfortunately, I apparently have no idea how to react to good news, so my brain is melting and I’m looking around for ways to mistrust what I should be treating as evidence that I have some idea how to do my job.

My first two classes of the day are seventh graders, and they are working on volume this week. We started with cubes and rectangular solids, moved on to triangular solids, and then started working on cylinders today. Now, in some ways, all of these are fairly simple– there is a reason that “follow the formula” is literally one of my classroom rules, and I allow calculator use any time that the calculation is not the point, and in this case I don’t want an inability to multiply fluently interfering with understanding what three pieces of information you need to calculate the volume of a prism.

Cubes and rectangles and triangles went fine, but in sixteen years I’ve never had a class of math kids that didn’t struggle with cylinders. Once pi comes into the mix, and especially once not only pi is in the mix but radius squared becomes a thing, they start having trouble. They get over it, but kids always need to be monitored carefully while they’re doing cylinder volume for the first time. They screw it up. I’m used to it. It’s okay.

Nope. Both classes sailed through the assignment I gave them, and from watching the class I could tell that damn near all of them understood what they were doing. Just like they’ve sailed through basically every assignment I’ve given them this week. They just aren’t having trouble with this, in a way that I haven’t seen with my previous math classes. And how did I react, to evidence that my students have learned what I have tried to teach them, a fact that in a sane world would make a math teacher happy?

Tomorrow’s assignment is going to include a mix of shapes, because I’m paranoid that what I actually have is an age cohort that has learned to push buttons in the right order but can’t actually figure out which formula they should use if I don’t hand it directly to them. I’m still going to make sure they have access to the formulas they need; I don’t need them to have anything memorized yet– but it’s not going to be a situation where they can use the same formula every time. And we will see if they crater or if they finish this assignment with the same ease that they’ve completed everything else I’ve thrown at them this week.

“But Luther,” you may be thinking, “you used an image related to graphing equations up there! That doesn’t have anything to do with volume! Why would you choose such a misleading graphic?”

Because my 8th graders pulled the exact same shit with working on slope and graphing linear equations this week. Now, I’ve talked about teaching slope on here before— be sure to read the comments, which feature the single most entertaining fight I ever got into in my comments section in the entire history of the blog, including the utterly priceless “you’re lucky you’re Canadian” final comment– and it is something that middle school kids tend to struggle with. The whole thing is weird, really; they’re just getting used to one letter being in their math, and now there are two, and somehow there’s not one right answer but a whole bunch of right answers, and you’re telling me that this equation and this line are the same thing, somehow? Okay, boomer. Sure.

Thing is, my kids have got this this year. In a way that previous groups never have. And part of the reason is definitely that because of the way that the scope and sequence was set up this year I was able to take my time and go piece by piece with it in a way that I haven’t in previous years, but it’s still stunning how well they seem to have absorbed this particular material.

So, again, I don’t trust it a bit, and I expect to go into work tomorrow and discover that they now think you use your feet to add numbers. We shall see. One way or another, Winter Break is six teaching days away, and that means they will forget everything I’ve ever told them in six teaching days plus one minute. But for now? It’s nice to feel like I know what I’m doing.