Monday, March 16, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #9: Engaging Students

This week's entry comes from "maddy" of Mad Hot Math, who found something she wrote in 2007 that still rings true today:

I've been trying to keep up with what's going on in the world of education lately, but reading too much of it can just make me feel angry and impotent. Every time I read an article about how I should be engaging every learner, I get a little more angry. Cumulatively, this makes me a very angry person. I believe my contract requires me to provide an opportunity for every student to learn. You may choose to ignore when opportunity knocks. It is not realistic to expect me to cajole you into opening the door, or bust the door down or even sneak through a window. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to engage most of the class. It takes superhuman energy to engage every student in the class. I can pull that off for an hour or so, but then I'm worn out and I yell at all the rest of my classes. I find that when I focus on trying to engage that one difficult child, I am forced to ignore 10 other students actively seeking my attention and help understanding a concept. This makes the children in my class angry and frustrated. They yell things like "I WANT your help. Why don't you just leave him alone. He never does his work. " This is sad for many reasons.
  1. Because I want to help the kids who want to learn. My energy is well spent that way and shows immediate results, re-energizes me, and encourages a student.
  2. Because I worry about children who never do any work, especially that they are teased by peers or perceived by classmates as inferior.
  3. Because I want to help both and I can't.
That makes me feel like an incompetent teacher because the media has convinced me that I should be able to help them all-- simultaneously. That is not possible. Read that again, America. It is not possible to engage every student all of the time.

So, here's what I try to do. I try to engage most of the students most of the time. I try to make sure that I help you proportional to the amount you help yourself. If you show effort (at all) I will put more effort into you. If you show no effort, I will not ignore you, but I will not ignore an engaged student to convert one. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I try to make sure that there is an activity/project that will engage every child at some point in the school year. They won't like them all, but they will all like something. Whether you agree or disagree, here is a nugget of truth amidst a blog of emotion -- I am trying my best to help everyone.

What can America do to make it better? Fund more assistant teachers. If I had an assistant to answer those other questions ('Did I do this one right?' ' Aren't you supposed to subtract on this one?' 'Is my answer supposed to be a decimal, etc. etc. etc. ) I could answer the unasked questions like "Why don't I get this?" " Why should I care about this stuff?" and most importantly "Does anybody care?"

Read more about this project here or add the 52 teachers 52 lessons tag to your favorites. Email your entries to teachforeverATgmailDOTcom. Week 10 will be posted next Monday, March 23rd.