Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 05 2012

Seating charts, mindsets, and fellowship

I haven’t posted any knockout success stories from the classroom in a while, so to make up for that, today I have two. Emerging from a January filled with extremely late nights, management woes, and stress over teacher evaluations (more on that in a future post), it’s encouraging to celebrate the evidence that I’m nevertheless improving and making a difference.

First, creating a collaborative-learning-oriented seating chart for the second semester has transformed my T-4 Algebra 2 block from an army of rebellious, hormonal teenagers into a group of attentive, industrious little angels. Hyperbolic as that may sound, it’s true—the difference between this past week and most of December/January was like day and night, and even my district induction coach, who normally refrains from making any judgment statements, was positively gushing after observing the class on Tuesday. The best part is that although assigning seats has all but eliminated irrelevant chatter, the students who used to sit together and ask really insightful, probing questions (“What’s the pattern? What happens if I use a negative number instead?” and so on) have continued to do so with their new neighbors, thereby increasing the rigor classwide. My only concern now is how to keep talking to a minimum even as students become more familiar and comfortable with the new arrangement, but at least I kind of know what I’m doing now in terms of preempting conversations, handling bad attitudes, etc. Words cannot describe how relieving it is to not have to brace myself for battle before fourth block every other day.

Second, I finally have some hard evidence that I’m changing attitudes and mindsets in addition to math achievement levels. I have a kid in my Algebra 2 class, Y, who wrote on her beginning-of-the-year survey that math was her least favorite subject because she was bad at it. Over the course of the semester, I discovered that she fell squarely in the middle of the class—she wasn’t actually terrible at math, but she wasn’t excellent either. Unfortunately, this meant that I rarely had time to focus on her needs (and those of other “middle” students), since the lower-performing students demanded so much of my attention. Well, apparently something about the way I taught and ran my class was helpful to her anyway; Y is now also in my (semester-long) Math Lab, and on her beginning-of-the-semester survey, she wrote that math was now her favorite subject because, in her own words, she “can work hard and become good at it.” Y, you go girl.

In other news, today’s sermon at church was an incredibly convicting reminder to live a life that is open before God and to walk in the light, in order to “have fellowship with one another” (1 Jn 1:7) and so that I won’t “shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 Jn 2:28). More on the latter in a future post, most likely in connection to teacher evaluations (oh, this profession is so rich in gospel analogies), but I did want to mention that today was possibly, and sadly, the first time that I really felt the desire to love and have fellowship with all the members of my local church—not just the ones that I hang out with on a regular basis. Sometimes I get so caught up in serving the needs of my students and this city that I forget about the very people I’m supposed to be closest to, and looking over the congregation while playing bass today really drove that conviction home for me. Gotta be better about coveting my time..

And finally, here’s a video for all the Miyazaki fans out there. I’ve had it on repeat for the past week—it’s THAT good.

One Response

  1. els

    Yay for empowering students! And I think that January was rough for everyone.

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New city, same vision

Rhode Island
High School

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