Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I have one of "those" class; one of those that makes my head hurt, but also challenges me as an educator more than any other class I've ever taught. I did my fair share of complaining about SELA last year; before this class I thought SELA was a bad as it could get. Boy, was I wrong.

Read 180 can be worse, much worse. BUT, as I'm finding out, it can also be better, much better.

Picture this. Twenty-two students in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade that all read below third grade, some of which read at a kindergarten level. Two hours at the end of the day (after lunch). One teacher, no aide. Students who have continually failed at everything they've done school wise for a multitude of reasons and have pretty much given up. Students who put more effort into trying to get in trouble than trying to do the right thing. Students who care more about their make-up than what the word emphasis means. Parents who have given up in all sense of the word.

Now, here is my task: Raise their reading levels four to five years in one year. Motivate the unmotivated to work hard at improving their reading level for themselves, their school, and their test scores. Use a (fantastically amazing) curriculum and a classroom model that has been "researched" and "proven" successful for motivated students.

The Reality, Part I: motivating unmotivated students is hard! Not impossible, but hard. Normal things like points and grades do not work. Neither does saying "good job" or calling parents for support (whether for positive or negative things). Asking them to do it for you or to be respectful doesn't work either. Some things I've found that do work: tickets for drawings, publicly praising specific behavior that students can emulate, certificates of accomplishments, making a BIG deal about little accomplishments, stickers, competition (no surprise there!).

The Reality, Part II: good teaching can't happen until a classroom is managed. The management style I use in my "regular" class is based on mutual respect and responsibility. This doesn't work in this class. I've got to be creative. Have I changed as a "manager"--YES, pretty significantly. Instead of asking for respectful behavior, I have to define what it looks like over and over again. Not only do I have to define it, but I have to remind them of it at least four or five times per class period. Personal responsibility isn't even a blink on their radar yet. Any suggestions on how to make that one come forward, would be appreciated, we are not there yet.

The Reality, Part III: nothing can beat feeling success for the first time. This is the part that has made this hellish class a bit "do-able." The silly joy I get to see on the pain in the ass kid's face when he's reached a success zone on the computer, or the sense of accomplishment when the smart alec has finished the first book he's ever read from start to finish, or when the immature tenth grader who would rather make fart jokes than try, gets 100% on his 60 word spelling test and literally says, "cool beans"... those are the moments that make all the crap worth it.

I call them my hoodlums... maybe by April they'll lose that title and be perfectly "normal" students, but I doubt it...

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer this is amazing!
    And really encouraging for other teachers.
    Personally for me too, and I'm just subbing right now, but I deal with this all the time.
    Thank you for some good suggestions on what works and how you're handling teaching respect, b/c that is a big one that students don't understand the concept of.
    Good luck!