Friday, June 22, 2007

When considering how and where I have failed over the past year of teaching, one story does not stick out. Cynically, I think that this feeling results from believing that I failed in so many respects that it is difficult to focus on just one instance of failure. I realize this sounds derisive towards my own abilities, but it has long been within my makeup to deflect praise and instead emphasize where improvements can be made. And as I have written/blogged about before, there need to be numerous improvements in my teaching future.

If one general failure does stick out in my mind, it was my inability to motivate the students I will define as my “3” kids. I feel like I have four basic types of students. My “1” students are those that are the most academically talented and always get their work in on time. Most of these students were in my Accelerated English II class, and I rarely worried about their academic progress. My “2” students were my favorite students, those that displayed an immense amount of academic and personal potential but were hindered by either their home life, the company they kept, or another factor. It is with those “2” students I feel I can make the most progress and have the greatest effect as a teacher and a mentor; they are the students I came to Mississippi to teach. Alternatively, my “4” students are mostly helpless. They could earn this title in a number of ways, either as a result of extremely poor behavior, a lack of desire to learn, or both (they commonly travel together). Additionally, I saw little potential in these students.

The real issue for me was with the “3” students. These were the students that seemed to have a slight amount of potential but I dismissed because of their poor behavior, their lack of interest in the class, or simply because I didn’t like them personally. This did not mean that I gave them short shrift in their education, but I was a little more wary about going the extra mile for these kids because I knew they would be unappreciative of my efforts and/or take advantage of my kindness. A couple of instances; case studies if you will…

- MJ was the school’s star basketball player, whose approach to the game mirrored his approach to academics and life in general. He knew he was the most talented player on the court, but he used his skills to show-off his individual talents; he had no idea of how to run a team and improve the game of those around him. In class he showed potential but did just enough to get by and pass my class. He could have easily gotten a 85 or 90; instead he ended up with a 71, a point north of the grade needed to pass the course. This attitude caused him to be a major discipline problem in class as well as a general headache for me.

- MC was MJ’s best friend and compatriot in my third period. Each day, the two worked in tandem to bug the ever-loving Christ out of me. Like his partner in crime, MC has a solid amount of potential but more interest in refining his image to hew himself into the smoothest kid in 10th grade rather than actually improving himself through education and personal trial. Though he turned out to be more respectful and not as much of a discipline issue as his compatriot, MC caused me numerous moments of frustration in his own right.

- SD, a student that could best be described as a redneck with solid background knowledge who commonly skipped my 7th period class. All things considered, he was probably the laziest student I had this past year, a sloth of a child that prided himself on being vaguely ignorant.

And my failure is that I let them all slide by. Each of those three students (who are representative of the attitudes of numerous others) passed my class because they did just enough to get by (all were in the 70-75 range). I am not saying that I should have failed them; on the contrary, I should have pushed them to achieve the high grades they were capable of earning. Instead, I let them slide by because I did not want to spend the extra energy needed to push them. In short, I was lazy.

This, quite obviously, was a huge mistake. When deciding to join Teacher Corps, I promised myself – in my infinite idealism – that I would never give up on a student. However, giving up is exactly what I did with these three gentlemen and a handful of others. This was a direct result of my lack of preparation, my own laziness, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed as a first year teacher. Next year, this cannot be an excuse. The best thing about moving up a grade (to teach U.S. History) for the next school year is that I get another chance with MJ, MC, SD, and all the others, and I can now resolve to correct the mistakes I made as a first year teacher.


Blogger Mother Ewing said...

You are brutally honest in assessing yourself as a teacher; a bit too critical, I think. You do have the gift of this first year's experience (the learning curve in any freshman year in huge, but especially so in teaching). I'd like to think that this year will be easier in some respects, but also an opportunity to further challenge yourself.

4:21 PM  

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