1.26.2009

Teaching Is Sooooooooooo Easy

When I read articles by idiots people who think teachers should just shut up already because they have such easy jobs, I can't help but picture them in my classroom, with my students, who seem to have set themselves a goal of driving me absolutely crazy before the end of the year. It's better than hunting down these writers and hanging them up by their toenails, because a) it's much less illegal, and b) it will hurt them so much more.

As an example, I set before you my fourth period class.

We've been working on our Holocaust research project and have finished gathering information. We spent two days in the library, during which time the students had to answer 4-8 questions on five different topics. I wrote the questions and even gave them handouts so they didn't have to use their own paper. The librarian and I chose relevant books and pulled them from the shelves, then organized them into categories and arranged the books so that there was one category per table. After the first day of this:

Student: Ms. Flower, I can't find the answer!
Me: Did you look in the index?
Student: No.
Me: Did you look in the table of contents?
Student: No.
Me: Did you open the book at all?
Student: ...

I even MARKED THE PAGES that had the answers. I'll not talk about how guilty I felt for enabling the very behavior I complain about, but I will say that, even after I'd done all that work on their behalf, the majority of them STILL COULD NOT ANSWER THE QUESTIONS.

[Lest you think the questions were at fault, here's a sampling:
What is Kristellnacht?
How were people transported to concentration camps?
What groups besides Jews were targeted by the Nazis?
I mean, these are not even THINKING QUESTIONS.]

Even after we'd finished library research, we had one more day of research in the classroom, and then ANOTHER day when I basically just told them the answers. And STILL, some of them turned in blank papers, or better yet, DIDN'T TURN IN ANYTHING AT ALL.

So today, we're moving on to the writing part. Each student will write an essay using their research information. (That's the goal, anyway.)

I have almost no voice [and yet I still went to school; look how dedicated I am!] [BAH.] so I typed very specific instructions, breaking the process into four parts--gathering information, pre-writing/organizing, writing a rough draft, editing--and handed everyone a copy.

Now, this was no ordinary handout. This was a masterpiece of fine direction-giving. I gave a step-by-step approach for every part of the process, I included examples they could look at, and I told them very explicitly what they should and should not do. In short, I put everything on the handout that I would have said out loud, if I'd been able.

It was at this point that I made a critical error: I DIDN'T READ THE HANDOUT TO THEM.

But that was the whole point of the handout, I can hear you saying. Yes. Yes it was.

The main lesson to be learned here is that you cannot rely on logic and rational thinking when you are dealing with freshmen, or indeed, students in any grade. That was my mistake.

I thought it would be enough to tell my students to read the handout and follow its directions. I thought they actually WOULD read the handout and follow its directions. I thought they were capable of comprehending the written word and working as expected.

Foolish, foolish girl.

As I handed over the last paper, I was immediately bombarded with a chorus of "I DON'T GET IT."

Me: Did you read your directions?
Student: No, but ...
Me: READ.
Student: But I don't get it.
Me: ...

Mind you, this was just the first twenty minutes of a ninety minute period. There were still seventy minutes to go. [Isn't this easy? Anybody could do it!]

Having finally gotten them to their groups where, if they hadn't already gotten the answers they needed, I was giving them YET ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY to write them down, I circulated through the room, giving them guidance and threatening the sleepers with detention.

[Student: But I'm finished!
Me: Let me see your paper.
Student: I couldn't find the answers.
Me: Isn't it possible that the THREE OTHER PEOPLE in your group might have found the answers? Are you aware that this is the ONE TIME I am giving you permission to copy someone else's work? How are you expecting to write a full essay out of ONE PIECE of information?
Student: WE HAVE TO WRITE AN ESSAY??????????]

When group time was up, I sent everybody back to his own desk to start organizing. In the organization section of the handout, I had explained four possible methods of organization and even wrote things like "This type of organization would be good if you chose the topics X, Y, or Z." I gave them the option of using graphic organizers (that I had provided) but did not require them to do so.

Then I wrote this on the board.

IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION
1. Read your paper.
2. Ask a neighbor (whisper)
3. Ask a neighbor (whisper)
4. Ask a neighbor (whisper)
5. Raise your hand and wait quietly.

I'm no dummy, so I READ THIS OUT LOUD to them, explained that the answers to their questions were more than likely answered in the handout, and expressed to them in no uncertain terms that I was the last resort, and if they had to ask me, it had better be a DARN GOOD QUESTION.

No sooner had I turned toward my desk than three students surrounded me and shouted in my face. Their comments relied largely on the thesis "I DON'T GET IT," with supporting details consisting of "What are we supposed to do?" and "Can you repeat what you just said?"



Through gritted teeth, I managed to squeak, "READ. THE. PAPER." before sending them all back to their desks. A few minutes later, I heard them, one after another, say, "Ohhhhhhhh," like they'd just discovered buried treasure.

All my students didn't have that problem, of course. Some of them managed to read the first two paragraphs and organize their information before running up to me and saying, "Now what do I do?"

Me: Did you read your paper?
Student: Yeah, I already finished.
Me: Did you ask three other people what you're supposed to do?
Student: Yeah.
Me: Who did you ask?
Student: [pause] X, Y, and Z.
Me: And what did they tell you?
Student: [pause] I don't remember.
Me: Did you write your paragraphs?
Student: WE HAVE TO WRITE PARAGRAPHS??????????

This brought us into the sticky business of WHAT DO YOU COUNT AS A PARAGRAPH. As I had addressed this in the handout, I merely pointed to the appropriate section.

Now I was attacked from all sides with other students who insisted they were finished, only to walk, dejected, back to their seats when I told them there was still more work to be done.

There were approximately two-and-a-half minutes of silence, a blessed, peaceful time when everybody in the entire class was working. Two-and-a-half! Longer than average! [Isn't this fun? It's so easy!]

With fifteen minutes left, I said, "You need to think about finishing up so you can get your neighbor to edit your paper for you."

Student A: WE HAVE TO EDIT OUR PAPER????????????????????
Student B: What if we don't have any mistakes? [Me: HA.]
Student C: What if we don't finish?
Student D: What if nobody else is finished so I can't get my paper edited?

All of these questions, mind you, had been answered in the handout.

When the call came for the first dismissal, I said, "Put your names on your papers and give them to me before you leave."

Students: WE HAVE TO TURN THESE IN???????????????????????

After collecting the papers, I sat down at my desk--first time all period!--exhausted. I began reading the first paper. It sucked. Hard. Spelling, grammatical, and factual errors everywhere. Editing notes: "Good job!" "Way to go!"

When I left school, I went straight to the liquor store.

2 comments:

Shannon said...

That makes my kids's writing seem not so bad. Thanks!

J said...

Oh. My. God.

Blood pressure through the roof, and I wasn't even there!

What really shocks me is that this sounds just like the sixth-graders I used to teach. No child left where, now?

 

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