I’m teaching inner city students for the first time in my teaching career. I thought the stories from my colleagues would mentally prepare me for working with these students. They did not.
Yesterday, I felt like a complete failure for one of the periods I teach these students. I had a hard time getting their attention in the first place. Then, we were going to watch a video on the properties of water but the internet was down. Perfect timing.
To direct their attention back to the lesson, and to kill time until the internet hopefully went back up, I tried to do a couple of cool demos on the properties of water. A couple of students were really interested. The rest talked so loud no one could hear my questions or explanations.
I hollered for everyone to sit down. I made them all get textbooks out, and I asked them to write down the properties of water.
Many asked what page. I directed them to the index. “But what page?” “Use your index and table of contents.” I showed a couple of students how to find the information. High school freshmen that either never learned for forgot how to use a textbook index…Once one person had the page, they shared with the rest of the class.
Once one person had the page, they shared with the rest of the class.
“What now, miss?” “The directions are on the projector.”
Some started working, some sat with a book in front of them. “I don’t know what to do!” See above.
I realized that I let the room get out of control, because some students were wandering the room and I didn’t do anything about it. I was trying to help the students who were into the lesson and ignoring the others. I need to change that.
At the end of that class, did anyone learn anything? I highly doubt it. And it’s only the 2nd week of classes, but more time has been like this than good learning time. I felt like crying.
It was lunch time, and a couple of my A.P. Biology students came in to study. I asked if they’d ever been in a class where students just don’t stop talking. I asked what their teachers did to deal with it. “Put them out of the classroom,” they said. That is part of my intervention system, but maybe I need to make it more immediate.
I’m reading a book on working with inner city students: For White Folks Who Work in the Hood, and the Rest of Y’all Too by Christopher Emdin. It’s an amazing book, and I’m getting so many good ideas. There are some strategies that need to be done out of the classroom to help build the environment necessary to learn in the classroom. It’s early in the year and I need to get those strategies implemented. Like now. Because I am failing these students, and I am allowing them to fail themselves.
Until I can really get those things going, I am going to have to crack down on discipline a bit. I think sending out a kid or two, only for 10 minutes, will help to set the stage for a better learning community.
I try to have a lot of activities where they can get up and talk, but we can’t get there because everyone ends up talking… Over me, over each other. If I lecture for more than a few minutes, or if we watch a video, the complaint of “he or she talks too much” comes up. Apparently they don’t realize they reflect the same statement.
I’m not giving up, but yesterday left me feeling very beat down. I carried that into this morning. I felt very vulnerable and like I wanted to cry. I woke up to get ready to go to a yoga in the park class. Before leaving I sat on my meditation cushion for 10 minutes. I can’t really say I meditated, because those thoughts of defeat kept entering my head and wouldn’t move on. So felt like a failure at that too…
But I’ve been doing healthy things to deal with how I’m feeling. Last night I went biking with St. Pete Critical Mass. It was about 11.5 miles, with a trip to a local pub at the end. Yoga this morning was definitely a step in the right direction. A few of the things the instructor said as she lead us through the practice had me nearly in tears, but I felt more refreshed after. I walked around the market and interacted with a couple of shop keepers and felt even better. I went to the hardware store and shared a joke about lube with one of the shop keepers (for my bike, you dirty-minded person), which left me feeling even better still.
During yoga, I asked for a sign for what to do. I immediately thought/heard: “This is what you’ve been training for.”
The counseling I did after my divorce. My spiritual and personal exploration. My yoga training… All of these things are coming together to help me teach these students.
So I fell off my bike (figuratively). Teaching inner city students is harder than I imagined, even with warnings. But I am convinced that I can do it. I’ve already got a game plan for getting some help in the classroom by working with some coaches. I’m preparing project-based lessons, to better engage the students. I’m going to start some of the strategies in Emdin’s book on Monday. I think I can bring these classes to a point where we can learn and have it be a supportive, safe environment (instead of a disciplinarian environment).
What do you do when you fall off a bike? You get back on it. You keep pedaling. You keep trying. I will keep trying with these students. Already they are making me a better teacher, because I’m trying to figure out ways to provide what each person needs. I’m also figuring out what I need to do a good job with these students. And I’m definitely making sure I take care of myself as I work with them.