>By all outward measures, my first day in the captain’s seat was a rather spectacular flop. I probably should have realized from my own reaction to the alarm clock this morning that jumping straight into content would be difficult with the students. Add an admittedly lackluster lesson plan to students wound up from spring break and already antsy for summer vacation, and you have a recipe for classroom mutiny. I can hardly blame K. for falling asleep in second period and then asking, “Why do we always have to write stuff???” Standardized testing has really frustrated me since last quarter’s issue with common exams, but it’s even worse when it involves high-stakes testing and underperforming schools because there is so much pressure on this test. I tried to work in some general test-taking tips with the practice OAT questions, but I’m not sure how much anybody absorbed today. My supervisor and mentor teacher from winter quarter both cautioned me against being too negative about standardized tests, but I think students can probably pick up on it anyway and will mirror whatever attitude the teacher takes toward her content. Tomorrow I think I will tell them that, while they are certainly worth more than their grades, they also aren’t less than those grades, and because the world will judge their success by how they do on these tests, I will push them to do their best.
My mentor teacher Pat [pseudonym] and I performed lesson triage during fourth period and decided to take an extra day tomorrow to review my expectations for the next two months and go over what we did today for the earth science review. Eighth period was the worst; try as I might, the students would not settle down. They are pretty wiggly on a regular basis, but today Pat was not there to run interference for me, and so I felt at a loss for what to do to regain control on my own. I really do not like being “mean” and threatening, but I reached the end of my rope today. Students are always asking to go to the bathroom during this period, so after the third or fourth request today I told them that their behavior most certainly did not merit any bathroom privileges at all. This was immediately met with a chorus of, “That’s not fair!” I told them that it was indeed unfair that a few people could spoil everything for the class, but it really was more than a few people who were acting inappropriately. I tried a few more times to proceed with the lesson, but when I realized that it was going nowhere, I called it quits with about ten minutes left in the period and told students that we were just going to start over tomorrow. I think all of us were relieved, and I don’t feel bad about doing this because we have tomorrow, and everything really is an experiment and a chance to learn. I realized that I do need to be significantly firmer in my approach to discipline and when Pat and I debriefed after school, she shared her arsenal of disciplinary tactics and reiterated the importance of consistency and connection, especially with middle school students.
She also asked why I didn’t start off with my class expectations today, and there were two reasons. First, I assumed that I would be “grandfathered in” under Pat’s classroom management system, but I failed to take into account the fact that it is now April, there are fewer than 40 school days left, and the OAT, which some students regard as the end of their academic responsibilities, is just around the corner. The kids are very different from when I first met them in August (and even from a week ago!). Second, I honestly felt it was my duty to cover as much science content as possible before the test and did not feel right taking review time away when Pat is still being held accountable for our students’ performance. Pat sympathized with this but very wisely pointed out what I had learned the hard way by the end of the day: without a classroom culture of respect and intent to learn, none of the content will get through anyway. Last quarter my mentor teacher Betty expressed doubts that my content coverage was sufficient and questioned the usefulness of my efforts to connect the lessons with students’ lives, and this shook my confidence to the core. Hearing Pat say that connecting with students is more important than covering content was extremely reassuring and gives me the courage to try again tomorrow.