Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Terrible Tuesdays

Lucky for me, my friend C. has started offering a Tuesday-night yoga class at a time & place that works well for me. Why lucky? Because Tuesday is fast becoming the night when I most, most need yoga. Last week was not a fluke.

First, as I pointed out last week, I have my weakest seventh grade class last period on Tuesdays, for a shorter period than normal, which is a set-up for frustration. They are talking to each other, slapping the tables with the rulers, and - if they were lucky enough to get the flexible kind - bending the rulers around their noses, while I am demonstrating, again, how to change grams to kilograms, and they are not learning it.

Today, the most difficult boy in the school claimed to have gotten hit by a spitball. Now, I've never had a problem with spitballs in this school before, and I couldn't find a shred of evidence that anyone was making them (usually you can tell because the culprit has lots of wadded up paper near his or her seat), and no one offered me any information confidentially, so... it's possible this was a figment of his imagination, or a new method of disrupting the class. Who knows?

Anyway, he started puffing out his chest and making comments about "slapping that person." This was going nowhere good. I asked him to step outside and calm down. More aggressive comments. Then I told him if he could not wait calmly for me to solve the problem, he would have to go tell our principal about it, which he did, but she was in an important meeting and sent him back (she did come in twenty minutes later). Ultimately, the spitball issue was left unresolved for lack of evidence and suspects - but I know it will return. This boy causes more problems than any other child in our school, easily, but godforbid anyone do anything annoying to him - he will not let go of it for months. Maybe years.

On top of that, I was grouchy because I was teaching my sixth and seventh graders a math skill that they should already know: How to set up the Y-axis of a bar graph correctly. We were graphing the average masses of various objects, with a large spread in masses, so it was a bit tricky, but still. Time after time, I get graphs where zero is floating somewhere above the X-axis, where the boxes on the graph paper have not been associated with any consistent increment (they number 0, 1, 3, 5... etc.), where the numbers on the axis are not associated with lines/boxes at all. It goes on and on. And many of the kids don't have the slightest idea how to plan their increments so that the whole graph fits on the page.

So, I taught them how to do it, step by step. It took the whole period. They have double homework tonight, because they are already working on a long term project, plus they have to finish their graphs. I know this skill is important. I honestly don't mind doing what I can to reinforce math concepts and to make up for skills missed in elementary school. But that doesn't mean I enjoy it! It frustrates me, because I know that while I teach them stuff they should pretty much know by this point, I am NOT teaching them something new, which someone else is going to have to make up for at some point down the line... this is an equity issue!

My colleague and I were talking about random things the kids have trouble with, which it seems like most kids their age should be able to do - cut in a straight line, spell basic words, write in cursive, use a ruler to draw a straight line. This is the bottom line: the world is unfair to these children. They grow up in poverty, miss out on certain stuff at home (let alone any physical effects of poor pre-natal care, poor nutrition, etc.), attend crappy schools that are overcrowded with kids who need extra attention, and just fall farther and farther behind. It starts with poverty and spirals from there. So, we give them lots and lots and lots of reading and math instruction. We fill little 5-year-olds' days with basic skills, pushing out the time that used to be spent on art, penmanship, social skills, physical education... and that's why I had to show a sixth grader how to draw a straight line using a ruler. It's not the kids' fault, but it makes me very grumpy all the same.

What's the answer? I don't know. I really don't. I understand the need to make sure the kids can read and add. Of course, it's doubly frustrating when the extra time is put in and they still can't read and add... And my heart breaks a little when I think of all the stuff that I remember from childhood that they are missing... all the arts & crafts, music class, fun gym games (in a real gym), the proud feeling of learning to write in cursive or play the recorder (well, technically I never felt that particular proud feeling, lol!).

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