The Achievement Gap and Middle School Math

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 16 2011

Rough day.

Monday of week 2!

Today was somewhat frustrating. I’m still struggling to learn all (105ish) of my students’ names. I think this is the root cause of most of the troubles I’m having. First, it makes it harder to narrate behavior. Also, I  have been randomly cold-calling students for answers to questions by randomly selecting popsicle sticks with their names on them from my pocket, but it is hard when I have to think for a second before I know where in the room to look to find the person whose name I just selected. It also makes it harder to greet people in the hallways between classes. I’ve noticed that I am someone who has always greeted people without saying their name (just saying “hi” or “how are you” and not “hi, [insert name], how are you”). I’m working to get in the habit of adding specific names to my greetings. I’m not sure why I never did that in the past. It is hard for to keep track of that many names (but I’m not sure if that is a cause or effect of not using very many names in daily speech, for whatever subconscious reason).

I’m also finding it difficult that I don’t know exactly what my students have learned about particular math topics in the past. The curriculum is designed to loop back through topics over a few years (which I think is an excellent system). However, just reading through the official curriculum, I haven’t seen topics listed, but then I find out that students have at some point been taught various tricks to do various types of problems (for which we are actually learning the “real” way now).

It has also been frustrating that I didn’t get access to the big online database of student info (previous test scores, IEPs, etc.) until this weekend. I didn’t feel comfortable calling parents to introduce myself until I had access to this information. “So, about my child’s IEP.” “Oh, your child has an IEP?” is not a good way to make a positive first impression (particularly when the school is working very hard to seem on top of things to prevent students from getting mad and exercising the NCLB “choice option” to switch to another school (which a sizable number of people have done already).

However, that meant that I couldn’t call all of my parents last week to introduce myself and tell them how well their kids were doing the first week (since everyone does well the first week). Now, there are a number of behavior problems, but I haven’t made a first positive phone call to all (105+) parents yet, so my first calls to many of them are now negative. Ahh…

My students got their textbooks at the end of last week, so tonight is the first night they have homework assigned. Their books live in their lockers (in their homerooms). They only get to go to their lockers when they are in their homerooms during 1st and 6th period (not at the end of the day). I have a 7th period class, so they can’t go to their lockers after my class, so I told their homeroom teacher to remind them to take their books home (which was fine). However, 4 students still forgot to get their books from their lockers. Since they couldn’t do their homework without their books, I sent them to go get them during bus calls at the end of the day (from their homeroom–2 rooms down). However, 2 of them went the other direction, and when confronted by another teacher, said that I had kicked them out of class (and, thus, in effect, had told them to wander the halls).  Oy.

It turns out that just having them get behind a day on their homework  may have actually been the better option in hindsight since, as it turns out, several other students haven’t actually been given math books yet, so they’ll be a day behind anyway. It was reassuring when I got an email at the end of the day asking all of the teachers to submit names of students still without math books, but then I realized I hadn’t written down who didn’t have books yet. Oops.

…which would all be fine except that the homework I assigned to all of my students is actually slightly harder than what they are ready for since we didn’t get as far in class as I had wanted since there were some discipline issues, and a couple of people who forgot their locker combination, and a couple of people who pretended to lose their locker combination to get attention, and a couple of people who couldn’t see the (very large) numbers on the whiteboard, and a couple of people who claim to not be able to see the numbers on the whiteboard, and one person who may or may not actually be able to see the numbers on the whiteboard and when asked about the glasses propped on the top of her head says that they are fake. WTF?

Unfortunately, the school nurse does not have students’ vision records. I would call their parents and ask about this, but I forgot to write down who the students are and, while I know their faces, I still can’t be 100% confident I am matching the right names with those faces (and I don’t want to call the wrong parents and tell them that their kids can’t see).

So, the homework is harder than what should have been assigned tonight based on what actually got done in class today. Which is fine, except that I’ve been told from multiple sources that the most important thing for a new teacher during  the first couple of weeks of school is to convince students that they are actually learning something (which is best accomplished by not assigning homework that is harder than they are able to do)…and then challenging them much more once they are convinced that you are a real teacher who was actually able to teach them something.

Ah well. On to tomorrow!

5 Responses

  1. Brenda Gatti

    Now you have your lesson plan for tomorrow – teach the homework. I had days like that now and then. Tuesday’s lesson plan gets moved to Wednesday and on down the line. It will all work out. Truly.
    Be sure to always use the tried and true formula for parent phone calls: start with a positive, hit them with the negative, and end with a positive – even if you must be creative, wildly imaginative, or outright lie to come up with 2 positives. :)

  2. Wess

    Ugh. I hate when I discover “tricks” my kids have been taught in years past. I would rather teach them the MATH so they discover “tricks” on their own!

    Sounds like you’re right in the thick of it teacher-brain-fry! Do you carry a clipboard? I keep a page that has a seating chart and space for things I need to jot down during the day. AND I just received a magic pen that attaches to my lanyard, so now I’ll have something to jot WITH!

  3. Dan Mirus

    Do you a copier machine and paper available? For the first week or two, have your assignments on handouts. That can possibly eliminate or lessen the need for books until things have settled down. Assign less problems and have review problems on the paper. Adjust the assignment to what you cover. If you don;t cover enough donl;t assign homework, or have some extra practice copies of previous learned skills. What about email to the parents? Keep the faith. You are not alone. You are going through what every new teacher does. It is a little harder because you did not do student teaching or have the “September Experience”.

  4. zacksg1

    There is a copier, but my yearly allocation of copies amounts to about 1 page per week per student for the year. I’ve been more careful with deciding a few homework options that I can pick depending on how far we get in class.

    On the bright side, today actually went relatively well, overall.

  5. Lauren

    I think your “Ah well. On to tomorrow!” attitude will carry you far :)

Post a comment

About this Blog

Closing the achievement gap with middle school math

Metro Atlanta
Middle School

Subscribe to this blog (feed)