Random Notions and Stories of Teaching

January 21, 2006

Chaos and a meltdown

In a world filled with chaos, I go out of my way to eliminate the chaos from my life. I plan things out. I make lists (and check them twice...thanks for that idea, Santa). When I was student teaching, I did lesson plans. Chaos is the enemy. Call me a control freak.

However, this assignment thrusts me into chaos daily. I hate chaos.

With money restraints due to levy issues, they had to RIF 10 or so teachers. Along with that, they eliminated the G/T program at this school. The teacher is still employed, but she oversees ALL the G/T programs in the district. She doesn't actually teach the kids anymore. What happens to the G/T kids? They receive their instruction IN the classroom with their peers. I won't even go in to the problems that has created ("Why do THEY always get to do special stuff? We deserve a good education too. Why can't we do special things like they do?).

"My" math class is a prime example about why those kids should be pulled out. If you don't pull them out, then don't have a G/T program. During my fourth grade math period, I have 7 G/T students. These students are in 5th grade math. At the same time, I have 15 kids who are in 4th grade math. The majority of these kids are the "smart" kids. The lower kids go to a different teacher.

During this period, I have to:
  1. Start the kids on the computer program to help improve proficiencies scores.
  2. Make sure every kid goes on the computer.
  3. Check that students when they say they have a 100% so that they can have a piece of candy or a pencil.
  4. Provide overhead answers so the kids in 4th grade math can check their homework.
  5. Ask the kids in 5th grade math if they have any questions on what they missed on their homework.
  6. Teach the 5th grade lesson while occupying the kids doing the 4th grade lesson so they'll be quiet.
  7. Teach the 4th grade lesson while occupying the kids doing the 5th grade lesson so they'll be quiet.
  8. Allow them time to work on their homework.
  9. Help them with problems they are struggling with.
  10. Answer 90 million inane questions for several girls who just need attention.

Chaos with a capital C.

So, for three days, I tried thing Math Teacher's way. It worked ok. However, after checking 5th grade homework and seeing students missing 30-50% of their homework (it's not for a grade, just recorded if it is turned in) and not asking a single question, I decided we had to do something different. They're not learning anything.

Introducing Mrs. Substitute's Rule:
When students work on their homework, they may do one problem. Then they must bring it to me. I will check to see if the problem is correct. If it is, they may move on to the next problem. If it isn't, they need to go back and fix it and/or bring it to me for help. When I see they are getting several in a row right, I will allow them to do 2 problems and come get checked. When they do that successfully, I will let them do a row (about 4 problems) then get checked.

Most of the kids grumbled a little, but when they realized I had a complete answer key ready and could check them in a second, they didn't grumble too loudly. Except for Super Smart Jerk (SSJ).

SSJ is quite smart. SSJ is a world class jerk. He's been known to be openly defiant and mean to other kids. Then he complains when they make fun of him. In fact, earlier in the week, he told a teacher he would not be coming to her room because it was HIS recess time. He will interrupt a teacher to inform her that HIS recess is starting and he needs to go outside. Yes, SSJ pushes my buttons among others.

Anyway, after I had explained the new rule and taught the 5th grade lesson, I let the G/T kids start their homework. As I am walking across the room, I can hear SSJ muttering...

....stupid rule .... I always get my homework done .... never miss any .... I'm not doing this stupid rule .... etc.

I informed SSJ that yes, he would be following the new rule because it was for everyone. If following the rule was a problem, we could discuss it during his recess time.

As I am teaching the 4th graders their lesson, I am checking 5th grade work. Yes, it causes more chaos, but they're actually catching their mistakes - fixing them, and *gasp* LEARNING. If it is chaos I have control over, I can handle it.

I finally finish the 4th grade lesson and commence with full class homework checking. They bring me their paper, I check the next one and answer with a simple, "Yes" or "No". Most kids bring their book up after they miss a problem. Afterall, they thought they were right. SSJ was bookin' right along. He works from problem 30 to problem 1. No biggie. I don't care how you do it as long as you get it checked.

Then comes problem 25. He gets it wrong. Again. And again. And again. After each time, I tell him, "SSJ, bring your book up, I will help you." He won't do that, he's smart, he gets everything right on the first try. Fine. Your choice. Finally, after about 15 minutes he is crying (out of frustration) and shaking. I keep telling him, "SSJ, bring your book up, I will help you."

He's livid that he has to wait in line. He's not going to get his homework done! He's standing in line growling and wrinkling his paper up in his hand. Let me just say, if looks could kill...well, you know. I can only describe it as a meltdown.

Did he finally get it right? - Yeah. Did he learn something? - Probably not. However, the other kids missed far less when they slowed down and did their work. I had several of them that raced each other the day before. They got 4 correct.

Now...to figure out a better way to deal with the chaos. Even better...a way to eliminate the chaos.


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