Monday, February 12, 2007

37 is too big a number

To most people outside the world of teaching, 37 might seem like a very reasonable and understandable number, but in my world it represents the illogical approach my school takes to just about everything.

Our big writing test (TAKS: the awful standardized test that apparently determines the future of my school) is coming up a week from tomorrow and suddenly everyone is getting worried. You would have thought we would have been worried in the fall with a group of seventh graders who collectively have a very challenged notion of grammar, but no, not here. Instead the TFA teacher who had two classes worth of these students quit in the fall and they replaced her with a temporary sub and then replaced her with a particularly wonderful man who they then decided to move to seventh grade math, bringing in the students' fourth teacher from an eighth grade social studies class. Hmmm... my thoughts on the newest teacher aside, four teachers in four months is anything but positive or productive for these children.

Because it is obviously too late to go back in time and not give these students four different teachers we took the next step in this little thing I like to call "McReynolds Logic" and decided that for the last week before the test we should not only teach EXACTLY the same thing, but we should co-teach by splitting the failing classes into mine and Ms. Reece's classes. Um... really?

I know I'm supposed to be a team player and I know I"m supposed to care about the entire seventh grade, but these are my babies. My 69 students are my all and all. They are the reason I get out of bed every morning, they are the reason I stay late. They make me laugh, they make me mad and they make me cry (only a few times). Their success, for better or worse, is going to be a major marker for this year of my life. I don't want to see even one of them risk failing so that I can have 15 extra kids in my room who need more attention because they've been screwed over. I realize this is wrong on so many levels, but I'm handicapped with the feeling that I can't save them all in a week and I've made a commitment to the ones I already have with me.

After being very upset last week about all this being thrown on me I decided to go with hopeful instead of despondent. On the upside, having all of our activities planned out isn't so bad. It gives me focus in a time when I'm simply desperately trying to figure out what to teach my students in our last week before the test. I was also able to split the classes so I had control over what students were coming into my room and most of them were students who were mine in the beginning of the year before my classes were leveled. I was regaining control and trying to be positive.

Then 37 students walked into my first period class. Wait, first 15 extra desks got shoved into my classroom, then 37 students walked in. No co-teacher, just me. Me and 37 students. I feel quite horrible complaining about this considering some of my friends actually teach in schools were 35 students is the standard class size, but really, 37 is a lot to take. I think I would be somewhat prepared to deal with a larger class size if it was a standard thing. In my world, the way you gain control is by setting up a classroom culture and creating a motivation system for your students. I didn't realize how well I had done this until I had 15 extra students walk in who had no interest in my motivation system (because they wouldn't be around long enough to earn the reward) and no real understanding of the classroom culture or way of acting. My kids were a little put-off by the attention being taken from them and the behavior of my new students. Needless to say, it was anything but constructive or functional.

Thankfully, I'm not alone in my thoughts that this is a horrible way of doing things. Not only could I not teach any of the students I already had, but I was even less helpful with the ones I attained because I had to spend so much time getting them to behave and learning their names. I wrote a rather wordy email to our principal and content specialist about how this is an ineffective plan for the week before TAKS. I'm sure he won't like my comments, but at this point i don't care. I'm not here to please my administrator, I'm here to help my students plain and simple.

37 students a week before this test is not helpful.

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