Friday, October 22, 2010

"tested" Teach, episode 2

Tony is reading a book, Of Mice and Men, with his class, but he notes that it wasn't on the curriculum; he just threw it in there. I wonder about that. Were there any novels on the curriculum? Why choose this one? It is a classic, I think (I never read it). So maybe he's trying to expose them to well-known literature? I wonder if he thought about choosing a more modern book easier for the students to relate to. This is an endlessly-debated question among high school teachers, I know, so what do you think?

We hear from a few students who are surprised that they relate to the book and are enjoying it. Yay! Of course, there are also several students who have no idea what's going on, they just don't get it.

Then he announces that they will take a quiz the next day. I love how they all groan and complain, even in interviews! I don't get why kids don't understand that there will always be a quiz, a test, an assessment. Come on, guys, you've been in school for a number of years now, surely you know these are coming? :)

Anyway, so Tony is nervous about the quiz, because he understands that it's just as much an assessment of his teaching as student comprehension.

He grades the quizzes at home. Half the class has failed. He is upset and frustrated. He says it's his fault and he couldn't sleep.

Is this familiar to you? Me too.

He tries to gear up for the next week, and his instruction coach tells Tony there's no quick fix, and and he shouldn't take it personally.

Boy, this was a common refrain my first year, and actually the rest of my years too. That statement always gave me trouble. Aren't I here because I take it personally? If I don't take it personally, who will? What else am I here for? If I'm their teacher, then it is me personally who has a stake in the outcome, right? But at what point do you have to let go and realize that not everything is actually your fault (though it seems like it all is, especially at first)? How much can you realistically do with kids that you see 45 minutes a day? What kind of existing issues are the kids dealing with that you have no control over?

And now here comes one of the big issues of this episode--those kids who "don't get it", some of them are special ed /resource room students. They had asked Tony if they could take their quiz in the resource room, and he asked them to try taking it here and now, they will do a good job.

A big brouhaha ensues. Well, not a brouhaha, but everyone is shocked and upset that Tony doesn't understand that resource room kids are different and HAVE to get services. He wants to build their confidence and see what they can do without a "crutch." We never learn exactly what the kids are working with--low reading levels, presumably, but why? Dyslexia? Another learning disorder? Anything at all?

Several people talk to Tony about the resource room and he remains stubborn. An admin meets with him and says, "You don't get the tag of 'teacher' until your students are learning.' Ooh, interesting. What do you think?

Then it seems like the admin stages a faculty meeting about the importance of special education services for students that need it, just to hammer it home to him. He finally relents and gets it and we move on to the next problem.

(Because not even on a television show can you portray a teacher dealing with only one problem. Oh man, wouldn't it be awesome if that were actually reality? Teaching would be so much easier. :D)

There's the advanced kid who aces the quiz and is bored. He approaches Tony about it and they come up with an extra credit project or report. We don't see any follow-up though. I definitely relate to this. I always struggled with how to engage the high-level kids.

There's another girl who seems disengaged. We see her texting during class (GAH!!) and Tony patiently tries to get her attention and get her involved. She is resistant and is all, 'whatever.' He talks to her and asks, "What can I do?" "Nothing," she says. "Then what can you do?" Shrug.

He asks his coach about what to do. The coach asks if Tony's called home yet, and he hasn't. He's nervous. But he calls her mom (or grandma?), and she comes to the school. She wants her student to improve and wants him to stay on her. He talks about having a partnership. Yay, this seems like a good first parent meeting! I was always nervous approaching parents, because while most of them are so reasonable, somehow one of them always turns unreasonable when the student doesn't improve and you try to stay in touch and on them. Ack.

We see the girl continue to be annoyed and irritated at Tony for picking on her, and "yelling" at her. We also see another student talking to her, suggesting that maybe he just cares about her and her doing well. She rolls her eyes at that preposterous idea. Heh.

In a later class, Tony comes over to the girl, who is not doing any classwork with her partner. Tony talks her through the questions, which she answers successfully and it seems like she's moving toward being more attentive. Then she interviews that, "I know better, he just nags." So she's coming around to the idea of working harder and that her teacher wants her to do well. I love it when that happens!

The last big chunk of the episode is a very familiar one to new teachers--Tony gets emotional. While briefly discussing his problems, his instructional coach jokingly asks if Tony's cried yet today. He chuckles and leaves, where things finally start coming down around him and he breaks down. He has finally hit a breaking point and the tears come.

It seems that this is still the first month of school, which means that he's actually doing well--I think everyone has a breakdown, right? If he's made it this far, that's a good sign. But it does have to happen.

I didn't cry at school for a couple months my first year. My mom says that I cried on the phone a lot when I told her about my day. (I knew no one in New York, no friends, no one to call and talk to, so I called her a lot. She was a teacher too, so sometimes had suggestions, but was also willing to listen to my shocking stories.) But I think she exaggerated. I was upset and frustrated a lot--at my own incompetence, at how my students wouldn't listen, which then came back to me--that I couldn't make them/teach them/inspire them to do the 'right' thing like listen and do work.

Tony doesn't seem to dealing with major discipline issues like talking or getting up or disrespect--I don't know if that's a high school thing, but I do imagine that the cameras prevent a lot of that--but he's right there struggling just like all other new teachers. You can tell he really wants to do right by his kids, but it's so tough not knowing how to do that, how to reach everyone, how to bridge the divide between the high kids, the low kids, and all the in-the-middle kids.

Of course that gets to you. It's endless and relentless. A battle every day; many battles every day, actually, big and small. You can't escape. You take so much 'feedback' and 'challenge' and it's only natural that it starts to get under your skin and wear away your self-esteem. You can only deal with it so long before it gets too much to handle and you just have to cry.

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