Feb 14, 2008

There's days..... and there's days

Well. My university supervisor came the other day to observe. Boy did she come the right day. Timing is everything. It was a really good day. The students were engaged, and they were learning, and it was flowing and working and fun. They were paired up studying a document, and aside from the one or two whose refusal to engage is profound and stubborn and honed by years of practice, they were collaborating and doing it and wow.

And silly me, I thought This ain't so hard, I can do this, not bad ole boy. And then there was today. They come into today pre-on edge because it was sunny out and it's second semester senior year. And mid-winter break is next week, so check-out time is like Thursday morning. Then stir in all the emotional highs and lows of Valentimes, and all the sugar highs and lows of chocolate and candy bracelets and those little hearts that say Be Mine. Whew, what a day. If the supervisor had observed today she'd still not be done listing my failures.

But it's not me, it's not me, it's the students, I protest -- not sure how much I believe it. But there is something very real about the ebb and flow and roller coaster of the classes. This day they're good little listening boys and girls. The next day they're climbing the walls and hitting each other. Today wasn't poorly planned or disorganized. It didn't have unclear goals. It even had a video, the cheap way to entertain while teaching. Today the teacher next door called security during last period. No one was even clear how things started or what those girls were doing on the stairs for so long. I have to choose to not take it personally.

Tomorrow concludes my first stint teaching. Back to college for about 6 weeks to see what they know, then back again for another month in high school. Same students -- this much closer to graduation. I expect to be up to my eyeballs in reflecting. What assessments did I do, and what did I learn from them? How did my methods work and what would I try differently? What did I try to develop a relationship with all the students? What did I do to draw out the quiet ones, and what would I try to do it more effectively? etc. etc.

Meanwhile, I'm reading The Manufactured Crisis [Berliner and Biddle, 1995], debunking the constant right-wing harangue about the failures of America's schools since the 1980s, touched off by the A Nation At Risk report during the Reagan years. Very good. Here's a nice quote:

"This does not mean that all advocates for policies that would harm public schools have *hidden* selfish motives. On the contrary, some announce their selfish motives openly."


kaleforce said...

Heya Jer:

Well, it's all swings and roundabouts, innit? I mean, innit?

It must be a little scary not really understanding why it all broke down on the bad day.Makes you feel that the good day isn't rally down to you as much as you might like to think,

Bon courage!

Jerry N-K said...

Aye, it's alls swings and roundabouts. And body blows, like Thursday.

I think it's a corollary of the Ana Karenina principle. A good day is a day when everything goes right - incl. my prep, my choice of activities, external factors like holidays, candy, fights, interruptions, and so on. On any given day there's any number of things that can detract, each with like 20% likelihood. The quality ceiling for the day is set by what I put together, and then it's reduced by however much shite flies. Tuesday the really good day was the day that the stars aligned and the intrusions were minimal. Thursday the bad day they conspired against me and the forces of justice. So as Tolstoy would say, every good day is alike. And every bad day is bad in its own way.

Keri said...

Hello there,
I found your blog when I googled "bad day student teaching." I had a similar situation to yours: Valentine's week, extra recess given by the other teachers, wild and crazy awful behavior. I am sitting here completely obsessing over the day and where I went wrong. Was it the lock-down becuase of the gunman outdoors that set the kids off, or was it my inept, amateurish teaching? Yesterday i thought I was bound for Teacher of the Year, and today I feel like I am teetering on ruin. Thanks for your honest blog. It might help me obsess a little less.

Jerry N-K said...


Hey, I know I've made it when people find me via "bad day student teaching." !

I hope your bad days are few and far between. My cooperating teacher reassures me that no teacher is ever done with bad days. We just aim for fewer and farther between...