Wow -- it's been a long time since I updated this blog. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind!
On the whole I feel very good about the way my first year of teaching is progressing. I've been leading the students in a variety of interesting activities that all feed in to a central, cohesive theme. I'm starting to get to know the different students and recognize the ones who are really engaged with the material. Last Thursday our co-principal, Romeo, sat in on my lecture that introduced the nervous system, and by his tally more than half of the students asked meaningful questions about the material. Other teachers report that students have been speaking positively about my class and me as a teacher. The activities seem to be well-timed; while we don't have a lot of wiggle room on most labs, the students have generally been able to finish everything in time to get things cleaned up for the next class.
On the down side: I have a handful of students who seem like they really don't want to be there. One of them, P., is pretty obviously desperate for attention. He's been kicked around from one school to another and gained a reputation as a "bad kid", which he has apparently embraced. (Perhaps a negative self-identity is better than no identity at all?) He has a tendency to roam around the classroom during the labs and make loud outbursts during direct instruction. He can complete at least some assignments, but he needs a partner who will keep him on-task and be patient with his antics. In yesterday's lab I saw him working with one of my most earnest students, F., and on the sections of the lab where she assisted him he was able to complete his work and turn it in. I may ask her if she's willing to continue working with him like that; it may help her own learning to assist another student, and I think she has the temperament for it.
I also have a couple of packs of female students who are more deeply engaged in their mutual social life than with anything going on in the classroom. In my first section, 9B, the young women in question are the "cool girls", the ones who are beautiful and fashionable and oh-so-aware of this fact. When an activity is too gross or unpleasant, or when I'm trying to give instructions, they'll withdraw and talk to each other rather than focus on the work. They seem to be getting better about this, though, and on Thursday's lab they actually completed their work first and did an excellent job with it. One of them was even asking some very thoughtful questions during Thursday's lecture.
The pack in my second section, 9A, is more problematic. These are what I mentally refer to as the "chibi girls": cute, giggly, gabby, easily-distracted, and acting about three years younger than everyone else. When one of them goes to the bathroom, they'll all look for a way to sneak out after her when my back is turned so that they can go socialize. During lecture they keep up an almost constant background chatter; when I ask (or tell) them to be quiet, they start up again as soon as I go back to my instruction. In light of this, it should be no surprise that they're frequently lost during the labs, since they don't pay attention and won't read the worksheets that reiterate my verbal instructions.
At this point I think my biggest objective is to get the students to grasp the idea of the learning contract: I can be flexible in how I present the material and work with them to help them learn, but they need to be an active part of the process. If I'm going too fast, or not giving enough detail, or not explaining something in a way they can grasp, they need to tell me so I can make appropriate corrections, rather than just disengaging and doing their own thing. When Romeo sat in on that lesson, everybody stopped horsing around -- and because of that, they started to get interested in the material and asked some great questions, including the ones who normally don't get engaged. I'm hoping that this lesson will stick in their heads and that they'll start actively looking for the stuff that will engage their interest -- though Romeo tells me it will take them a while.
Of course, he also said that this group of 9th-graders is much better-behaved than their first group, so I'm hopeful that our ongoing efforts to build a culture at the school are working. Little by little, we build...