The Achievement Gap and Middle School Math

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 12 2012

On failing

Until this year, I had never really failed at anything. I was always pretty good at most of the stuff that I did and the few things I wasn’t good at (all sports, for example) I decided weren’t for me and I moved on to other more interesting things.

In school and in all of the other extra things I chose to pursue, I always worked moderately hard, and had very good results.

In contrast, with teaching, I work EXTREMELY hard, and have very poor results. Usually I can’t get my class to shut-up long enough to hear a simple direction for how to do an activity, let alone actually get them to learn something from the activity. In some of my evaluations by my supervisor in my certification program, I have been getting zeros (on a scale of 0-4) in some categories…..notably, classroom culture.

Never before have I ever been so unsuccessful at anything, particular something that I am working VERY hard on. This is an interesting experience, albeit extremely frustrating that I am not doing a better job of teaching my students.

In a sad twist of irony, this actually helps me understand some of my students a bit better. I don’t know what it feels like to fail continuously all day every day every year (some of my students do), but having this experience of failure at least gives me some insight into what my students in that situation might be thinking or feeling….

9 Responses

  1. CY

    Zack, you are not alone!

  2. Ms. Math

    I pretty much wrote this exact same post on my blog at least a few times.

    I thought it was insight into what it was like to be put into a horrible school as a student too. Even if our kids try hard they have out of control classes, bad curriculum, inexperienced teachers, poor administrative control. Failure almost seems inevitable. I thought that working hard led to success, until I realized how hard it was to succeed when faced with seemingly unmovable organizational issues. Completely opened my eyes and forced me to re think my earlier success. I no long attribute it just to my own hard work ,but also to the systems I was lucky to fall into.

  3. zacksg1

    Well said, Ms. Math!

  4. Tracy

    Classroom management is 75% of teaching. If you don’t have it, get it, because they can’t learn without it.

  5. Unfortunately, working hard in some schools can make you realize that you you might as well dial it back a bit.

  6. phatmhat

    dont you dare think you have failed. its not you that has. its them (for whatever reasons, parents, poverty, whatever.) its not you.

    that being said, you know how to get them to be the way they need to be. you do. you’ve just probably been given so many conflicting messages and hampered by a number of confusing ever changing policies that you struggle to get your students to behave as they need to.

    so look inside yourself to see how you deal with kids who arent being how they need to be and deal with them the way you feel best. get the results. like others have said once you do so much is way better.

  7. phatmhat

    felt it would be good to describe more of what i said above about mixed messages etc.

    when it came to having kids be as they should in my classes i was told conflicting or confusing things. on the one hand i was supposed to be zero-tolerance like. set an example. immediate consequences. procedural. these kids know how to be in class and they get one strike and off to deans or in house detention or whatever.

    then on the other hand i was told these kids are going through a lot and punishing them doesnt really change their behavior or do them much good. love and logic type stuff. i should get to know them. develop a relationship with them. figure out more individually suited ways to deal with their particular problems in the class. i was not to send them to the office or whatever. there was no detention. they were my problem and i was supposed to deal with them.

    and what i just described above is way more clear than the many messages i was getting.

    so thats why i said what i said in my first post. :) you just gotta say heres who i am and heres how i work and heres what i think and you make it happen and the kids behave well and everything is way better.

  8. Dick Westheimer

    Hey, Zack. As others noted, I, too, could have written this same post. My first year teaching — in 1975 in urban Cincinnati — was my first encounter with high stakes failure. I was up ’til midnight most school days, working all weekend, showing up at school at 6AM and just couldn’t get it right. Disruptions abounded. Instructional success? Not so much. And yet, it got better. By year two, I was much more effective (and efficient!). And slowly, “I” could emerge and my character and passion for my work could suffuse my classroom work. And, gratifyingly, I’ve had kids from the first year tell me (years later) that I “changed their lives.” I was among the first that brought intellectual curiosity and respect for them as individuals to their classroom life. I thought year one was a total disaster. It now seems that many of my students felt otherwise. This does not change the fact that I really DID fail in so many ways. I was punitive to so many kids. The disruptions stole so much time from what we could have been doing together. My incoherent instruction cheated them all of what could have been. But, to steal a phrase from Dan Savage, It Gets Better.

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Closing the achievement gap with middle school math

Metro Atlanta
Middle School

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