Two Teachers In One, But Not In The Good Way

Seated statue of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, in ...
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I have come to the realization that I have a split personality.

Or something like that.

I am one teacher for my sixth grade general education social studies class and a totally different teacher for my eighth grade class.

I feel like Certs. Two, two, two mints in one. Except I’m three.

I also have self-contained Read 180 special ed classes, but I’m going to ignore them for now and talk about those two social studies classes.

Today all my classes went on field trips. I stayed behind with the seven students who did not want to go. I still can’t walk very far, so that worked out nicely for me.

I spent the day hanging up large posters of the life cycle of the Nile River the 6th grade students had made. There were six in all, two each for the flood stage, the planting season and the dry season.

Each poster was very different from the others but they all told the story of their river phase in words and graphics more or less successfully. Some were very creative. Some were a bit too creative. I don’t recall seeing helicopters mentioned in connection with Ancient Egypt and I doubt the citizens lived in prairie-style log cabins.

As I hung the posters I recalled the noisy, busy and fun atmosphere in the class as the students worked in teams on their posters. It was the same as they worked in different teams doing map analysis.

I really look forward to my sessions with that class. I’ve created a Ning for them and relish their excitement using it. I teach them little buy I spend time thinking up projects to help them create learning.  The class works for me and I work for the class.

I’m a very different teacher in my eighth grade class. I’m more controlling, or I try to be. I’ve written of my difficulties and while things have improved some, its still not the class I want to have.

I haven’t made a Ning for them. I don’t do posters with them. I am trying too hard to gain control because I need to feel they see me in the room.

Today I had seven kids in my X class. That’s what we call the mixed grade class of students left behind on trips. I had five sixth graders, two of them special ed, and two general ed 7th graders.

I would also have had five students from my 8th grade class who did not have the $6 for the tickets to the play they were seeing but I paid for them. I also gave them money so they could eat lunch at a restaurant with their classmates.

None of them asked me to do that. And they all seemed surprised and happy that I would. I told them it was a loan and they had all the time they’d need to pay my back, but it was worth the $75 not to have to deal with five of the bigger troublemakers in the class.

Except that I think I got more for my money than the five trouble-free hours I expected. The three boys were stunned that I would lend them the money to attend the play, that I trusted them to pay me back.  The two girls gave me hugs and one was in tears.

These kids are not used to having men in their lives who they can depend on.

When I was out for three weeks with my knee troubles I was just one more guy who showed up then disappeared.

Today was my 13th school day in a row at work. It’s a new personal record for this year, shattering the previous record of four days.

I’m back. And today I made a small difference for those five kids by being there and solving a problem for them.

I’m hoping I’ll see some of the effect of that sixth period tomorrow when I have that 8th grade class again.

And for the first time since the first week of school I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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9 Responses to Two Teachers In One, But Not In The Good Way

  1. Deven,

    What you describe is nothing far from normal. I teach 6 classes a day, all of varied grades (K-6). There are some classes that flow smoothly and with whom I accomplish so much and feel so rewarded. There are other classes (sometimes in the same grade) that get little to nothing done, who make getting up in the morning very hard, and with whom I have pulled out everything I know about management and differentiation with little to no luck or change in classroom environment.

    Every class has a different dynamic, which brings out a different part of you as a teacher. Some classes need a sterner side of you for learning to occur and with other classes you can smile and joke around more. Perfectly normal. I promise :) I’ve been two different people when I needed to for 5 years now. I even tell the kids “I’ll be what you need me to be.”

    I’m glad that your kids appreciated your generosity. I’m sure it won’t be forgotten.

    • Deven Black says:

      I know its not far from normal for most middle and high school teachers, but it is for me. This is my first year teaching general ed, my first year teaching 8th grade and my first teaching social studies. I know every class has its own dynamic, but this dynamic cannot continue until June because I will have to break my vow of non-violence and, well, lets leave it at that.

      Today was the worst day yet in the class. A new marking period starts Monday. Things will have to be different. I’ve changed as many ways as I can. Now its their turn.

  2. teachin' says:

    This made me cry. They’ll remember this for the rest of their lives. Good good GOOD for you.

  3. Michael J says:

    It gave me a good feeling to get the email telling me there was another post up. Thanks for that and another great post to start the day.

    My two cents: do you have any thoughts about what exactly is the dynamic in the 8th grade that is different from the 6th grade?

    My first thought is that the hormones are running faster for the 8th graders. In an environment of strong hormone flow, it gives the space for the wise guys to act like jerks. The more they act like jerks, the higher their cred among the opposite sex.

    If it were me, I think I would keep close track of their behavior, then call mom early and often with concrete data. “Your kid is a pain or has a problem” is too vague. The kid will spin it at home to make it your fault.

    Grades, punishments in school don’t do a thing. That just increases their cred. But at heart, most of the most disruptive kids are “momma boys & girls.” In the few times that I got momma on my side and trusted me instead of junior, it did wonders and very quickly.

    • Deven Black says:

      I am actually planning to spend this weekend calling the parents of all the children in the class. I will give the parents of the unruly — to be kind — kids in the class specific details (throwing things, yelling out the windows, banging on the desk, etc.). I will give the parents of the well-behaved kids an apology and enlist their help in getting the administration to move some kids out of this class in order to change the dynamic.

  4. Sam says:

    Hi Deven,

    I enjoy your blog, and I’m feeling your pain. I am sure that the gift/loan you gave those students will make a difference on some level, but I’m also reminded of an experience I had with my 8th grade advisory a few years ago. It’s a cautionary tale.

    I had my advisory over to my house for brunch one Saturday in November. Great day.

    A few weeks later, things were falling apart in advisory. One of my students was particularly rude, and in a fit of anger, I said, “I can’t believe I invited you into my house.” It was just about the most unproductive thing I could have said at that point. It drove a wedge between us. I think it was deeply insulting to her.

    I made the classic mistake of taking it all personally. Her outbursts may have been rude to me, but they weren’t necessarily about me. And what she was doing then had nothing to do with my invitation. She didn’t owe me anything, and as it was a gift, I shouldn’t have asked for anything in return.

    I think the reason teaching middle school is so draining is often because we can’t separate what happens from what we make it mean about ourselves. Some of those students who you gave the loan to may improve their behavior markedly, but they’ll also take some steps back. When they do, I hope you don’t make the same mistake I did. Like you said, they’ll need to depend on you even when they’re acting horrid.

    Keep writing. I really enjoy your blog.

    Sam

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you for the cautionary tale. I am very cognizant of why I paid for those kids and it was far more for my convenience of not having to deal with them all day (if they stayed behind I’d have had them for five periods) than it was altruism, generosity, empathy or any other noble motivation. I got what I wanted, two kids paid me back today, and there is no way I will hold their taking advantage of my offer against them. If I were going to, it would have been today as it was my worst day yet with this class. Between it being the last day of the marking period, the class period right after their lunch (as it is three of the four days I teach them), and the day before Halloween, I didn’t stand a chance.

      Monday will have to be different.

  5. Lucia Meyerson says:

    Deven,
    In drawing upon two different sides of yourself you are rising to the occasion and being the teacher that is required for each class that you teach. The dynamics of the class ,based on the personalities of the students, will dictate how you teach that class. I’m sure your lending the students money had a positive psychological effect on them. A friend of mine who taught ,quite successfully, at Lehman HS once told me that the key to success with the older students was to make them feel that you,personally, really care about them. In the lower grades, a stern look or threat works, but when they’re older it’s trickier.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you for your insights, Lucia. As the 8th grade students get to know me, and I get to know them as individuals instead of merely members of “that class,” things are slowly starting to improve.

      I agree that the key to success with older students is showing them that you care about them, but I think that is also essential in the lower grades. Yes, the stern look works well, but it works better when coupled with a smile and acknowledgement in better times. Being a classroom teacher really is a state of “locus perentis,” and we serve all students best by setting clear limits, enforcing them with consistency, and showing all students that they matter to us as individuals.

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