The Achievement Gap and Middle School Math

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 03 2011

Update on first week with new classes.

I started with my new students last Monday. We went over classroom procedures the first day and then jumped into some new content the next day to keep on pace with the other math teachers. Now, instead of offering morning help sessions whenever anyone wanted, I am now specifically saying that help sessions are available on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and that people can arrange another time with me if they can’t make it on those two days. I announced this in class on Monday (with my new students) and one person actually came on Tuesday morning!! In the past, in order to get people to come to these sessions, it usually took me calling parents to tell them that their kid wasn’t doing well and needed to come to a help session–but a kid showed up anyway on Tuesday morning, without a phone call!  On Thursday morning, there were two!!

There were a few good moments of actual learning this week, which was nice. However, those were few and far between mixed in with mostly moments where not much learning was happening. I still have trouble getting students to actually focus on what we are doing. Whenever there is the slightest transition in what we are doing, or someone asks a question, there is always a sudden, large increase in talking. There are suddenly so many people talking, it is impossible to fairly and consistently hand out consequences, which causes the problem to escalate. I’m working with my TFA manager person to set up a system where the class can get a certain number of class points each day there isn’t uproar when we transition from one thing to the next. We’ll see how that works.

Last Friday was picture day.  All of the students get a little card with their name and a barcode. They hand these to the photographer as they get their pictures taken. These cards were distributed to homeroom teachers in the morning. This is fine except that individual teachers’ classes were scheduled to go get pictures taken at particular times during the day, but students aren’t in their homerooms at those times. For example, my name was on the list for 3rd period, but I don’t actually teach anyone from my homeroom during that period. Luckily, most of them have language arts class next door at that time, so they weren’t too far away, but there were a number of students who have classes in lots of other places that we had to find so they could get their pictures taken. By the end of all of that, 3rd period on Friday ended up being about half as long as it was supposed to have been, so we didn’t get a chance to actually cover any new material, so now that class is a day behind.

Which is fine, since all of my classes are about a week behind where we are supposed to be anyway (due to the class switching, and due to being behind already before that). This would all be fine, except Monday and Tuesday of next week are early release days for parent teacher conferences in the afternoons, so there will be a strange schedule, I’ll only see each class once during those two days, and nothing will get done anyway because of the crazy schedule…..which would be fine, except that the district-wide 7th grade math first semester interim benchmark test is on Thursday. This test covers all of the material students were supposed to have learned in the first 9 weeks of school (except that we are a week behind). The scores on this are supposed to count for students’ grades, but I have no idea how that will work, since we haven’t actually covered all of the material that will be tested.

Conferences should also be interesting tomorrow, since I have only known my new kids for a week. There are still lots of them for whom I haven’t yet been able to match a face with a name with 100% accuracy, let alone actually know how they are doing in class. I got a printout of the previous teacher’s grades, so I spent a while on Friday afternoon entering those into my gradebook.

It should be another interesting week!    This is the 9th week of school, so the first quarter is over after this week. It is amazing that we are already 1/4 of the way through the school year! This also means that we have a furlough day the following Monday, so we get a 3-day weekend!  Unfortunately, I am about a month behind on my work for an online class I am taking as part of my certification, and the course ends in the middle of the following week, so I’ll have to spend all of my 3-day weekend catching up on that work. Oh well….

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    Closing the achievement gap with middle school math

    Metro Atlanta
    Middle School

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