Before I explain why exactly I wanted to grab one of my seventh-graders by the shoulders and shake him all before 9 am today, I’ll fill you in on some logistics of my summer school classroom. Here are the basics (we’re learning to write summaries next week, soooo I’ll fill you in on some key points!): My kids bombed their math diagnostic assessments with a 30% mastery. Our goal for them is 70% mastery in 4 weeks. Every day at the end of each math period, we do a one- or two-question assessment so I can see if they’ve mastered the objective for the period. Then, the next morning, I hang a sign on the wall next to our big goal poster that has the objective number and the percent mastery. (Note: I GET that true teaching is much, much more than data/numbers/etc. But there’s something awesome about seeing kids trying to guess our mastery on the previous objective and getting pumped whenever the sign I hang up is green (i.e. good, i.e. above our 70% goal) rather than red (i.e. under our goal). So ANYWAYYYYY my kids are doing amazing. Our average mastery right now is hovering around 80 percent. Our walls are paper with green. Does this mean I’m a superstar teacher?
Oh my god, no. No no no.
There are so many paths to good results in the classroom. One is hella effective teaching, which I certainly, at this point, am not practicing. In fact, if you saw me in the classroom, you’d probably be like, WHAT. THE WAY YOU’RE EXPLAINING A NUMBER LINE IS RIDICULOUS and laugh. Which is fine. What I’m getting at is, my kids’ numbers could be high for a variety of reasons. I like to think they’re just finally getting it, of course, but a big part of me also sees the fact that they don’t have desks, and instead sit in piles of pre-pubescent limbs at tables, eyes inches from eyes and papers inches from paper, may have something to do with it.
But I digress. The point is, my kids are crushing their math goals right now.
Today we started meeting with each student one-on-one to discuss their individual goals (as determined by their individual score on the diagnostic). Gabriel flopped his twiggy body in a chair across from me and gave me the look I’ve come to expect from him and his classmates, i.e. the “I’M SMART BUT I’M ALSO IN SEVENTH GRADE AND IT’S NOT COOL TO BE SMART IN SEVENTH GRADE ESPECIALLY BECAUSE I ALWAYS FEEL LIKE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE VANDALIZING THE BATHROOMS INSTEAD OF ROCKING MS. Y’S MATH ASSESSMENTS” etc. I told Gabriel he got a 30% on the diagnostic, a number he seemed to digest with horrifically little worry. Then I told him based on his progress, I thought we could get that up to a 67% if he worked hard and stayed focused. I said, “You can do that, right?”
His reply: “Nope.”
“Uh..what do you mean, no? I’ve seen your work.”
“I can’t. I can’t do it.”
“What?! I’m looking at your data right now. First assessment: a hundred. Second assessment: a hundred. Gabriel, you aced every assessment so far. How do you explain that?”
He shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”
WHAT THE HELL. When I was a kid, the second someone told me I was good at something I latched onto the idea for years. I was that annoying kid obsessed with impressing others. In fourth grade, my teacher told my parents I was beyond grade level in just about everything and that maybe I should invest in some independent work, and I wrote a whole report on camels in Israel. But I digress.
“Are you kidding me?! You’re one of the best kids in the class at math!”
He shrugged again. “Yeah, well. My grade will go down.”
“What makes you think that?”
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. Of course I didn’t say that, but seriously. Seriously?
So many explanations. 1. Maybe Gabriel cheated every day on the assessments and didn’t want to disappoint me when he got a twenty-percent on the end-of-summer exam. But I couldn’t believe that. The right answer had to come from somewhere, and we’d specifically placed him at a table with lower kids (trust me, they exist) so that he could help them along. Which he did. He also raised his hand a lot and finished his independent work first almost every time. Plus, his teacher during the year told me he’d received an award for being the best reader in the sixth grade. So…no. 2. Maybe it’s just not cool to be smart in seventh grade. I mean, duh. Look at me. In seventh grade my braces came off and I decided I was sick of being the teacher’s pet. Plus, we got a new principal and a new dress code, the latter of which I delighted in breaking on a daily basis with my spaghetti-strap Old Navy tank tops, thank you very much. Seventh grade is that awkward I’m-so-sure-of-everything-but-wait-what-the-hell-is-actually-going-on stage, and I get that. But unlike some other of my boy students, Gabriel has a spark in his eye that doesn’t disappear when he stops writing girls’ names on his arms and starts factoring denominators.
Something in me just wanted him so badly to recognize that he was smart. Whether “smart” means a 67 on the end-of-summer test or the desire to take his acheivements to ninth grade in two years.
I thought one of my biggest challenges would be pulling kids up from the depths of academic despair and preparing them for achievement in the future. But what happens when my biggest challenge is actually convincing kids that they’re on the right path?
In less depressing news, it’s Thursday. Which means school is over for the week. Yes, I love my kids and think they’re intelligent and hilarious and motivated and hardworking but they also army crawl around the classroom sometimes and eat pencils and draw on each other with dry erase markers which means that at this moment 72 hours without them seems like the grandest prize there is. Of course, by Sunday I’ll probably be missing Byron’s little squint because he refuses to wear his glasses and Anayeli’s barely-audible “Um, Miss Y? I’m starting to like math…” and Clifford’s moonwalks [although, I will admit at the risk of being deemed unsuitable to teach, I did turn to my team teacher today and tell him that all I wanted to do was put Clifford into a cardboard box, tape it shut and put it in the courtyard for the rest of the day so I could get some peace and quiet], but who’s counting?