Friday, February 6, 2009

The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two: First Impressions

My school is unique in that each quarter of the school year is essentially independent. Our entire structure has more in common with colleges than high schools: students pick new classes every ten weeks, and receive credits on a quarterly (not yearly) basis. To graduate they must reach a minimum amount of credits in different disciplines, as they would in college. Most students stay in the same level of math and science classes, but scheduling snafus inevitably cause students to be shuffled around. In addition, each quarter brings new students into the mix (as this is one of the few places they can get some credits towards graduation even though they're starting in February).

Thus while there is some consistency from quarter to quarter, each one is really it's own creature. It offers a chance to start over in ways that a new grading period at a traditional high school can't provide.

Things had been so rough this year that I felt something drastic was warranted. So on Tuesday night, I embarked on the second year of a daring motivational experiment that had been successful in 2008:

The Mohawk Experiment, Year Two: First Impressions

My Algebra I class has been my toughest by far. I've never taught a more challenging group, and considering my track record, that's really saying something. I told them on Tuesday that I was willing to do whatever it takes to get them to focus more, work harder and behave better. I was going to make the same deal with them I had made with my students one year ago: I would cut my hair into a mohawk, and keep it that way as long as they held up their end.

They were skeptical, as most of them are used to adults failing to follow through on promises. Wednesday morning, I delivered.

I was prepared for most of the jokes I would get ("Did you lose a bet?") and the attention it would garner. I expected the shock and the laughs, but not the widespread appreciation I received--often from kids who aren't my students. The phrase I heard the most the last two days was "I love your mohawk, mistah".

I explained the deal with my Algebra I class to everyone who wondered why I would do such a thing, which seemed to impress people even more. I was congratulated by many students who thought I was kind of "boring" or that I would never do such a thing. The experiment has had the unintended consequence of increasing my "cool factor" all over campus.

I heard from a colleague that I had scored major points with one of my students, who declared to her, "Now THAT'S a teacher." That was another common thread that's carried throughout the past two days.

As far as what it did for the class in question, the jury's still out. Wednesday was great, but many students were absent due to the inclement weather. On Thursday, things took a turn for the worse, and I was almost ready to give up already. I told the class as much, but the students who I am trying to turn around just aren't buying into this at all. I was adamant that I did not do this just to watch the class revert to their worst behaviors, and that things needed to improve dramatically today if they wanted to see this thing out.

I've been looking back at what I went through last year and realize that it's more similar than I was initially willing to admit. I just need to make it clear now as I did then that when the mohawk goes away, so does my goodwill. In short, they're not going to like what happens when the experiment is over. We'll see what today brings!

Read more about this experiment here.