Posts Tagged ‘6th grade’

For the last few weeks, nearly every time I walk into my Tree House classroom, I want to maim and mangle the little monsters I teach.  Sometimes I worry that it’s my lack of technique and proper strategy, but I usually comfort myself with the fact that most teachers who have a class in this curriculum hate their children as much as I do.

The true problem is that I like the kids individually and even mostly as a class (save Ian Wang, that wicked little blight on humanity and Jay the budding sociopath or politician).  It’s only when they have to be dealt with as a mass of children that the slow boiling rage starts to simmer and I use the teacher’s-desk-and-chair-as-cage on kid after kid in close succession.

Yesterday was terrible with this class and after I wiped the board clean of points and sent them home with no stamps, I went to my desk out in the main office space and put my head down to curse slowly and methodically and more creatively than is my wont.  Today, I sat them down and made them write two lessons’ worth of worksheets, and the situation was a little better.  The best thing was that Ian Wang was a little cowed by being sent to the first grade classroom yesterday and thoroughly and sickeningly-sweetly tongue-lashed by my supervisor.  What made me feel bad about myself, though, was that when he came back and apologized at break time, I could only see his sullenness and think “I want you broken, kid, not falsely contrite and seething.”

Teaching is not for everyone.

Or teaching certain levels is not for everyone, because my favorite class that used to be on Tuesday is now on Friday, and today was a wonderful end-of-level games day.  I made a crossword puzzle and photocopied the word search in the teacher’s guide, and also thought up a decent hitting-the-whiteboard game which upper elementary and lower junior high kids still enjoyed.  Surprisingly, the puzzles were the real hit, and there was utter silence for minutes on end as they deciphered the bastardized IPA that they’re taught here and found the resulting spelling words.  I had some nice conversation with my Chinese teacher as we shared standardized testing experiences, and enjoyed watching my students puzzle out the crossword clues.  At one point, though it was unrelated to the work, I had to explain to Ernie that bullshit was in fact a bad word, and he should say BS or crap.

When four kids had finished (and greedily claimed their prizes of a single Werther’s), I needed to occupy them and so told Brian Chen that if he was so set on speaking Chinese in class, he could write it on the board for my benefit.  Unfortunately, I could only think of the lines I had just made him write to claim his prize (“I will speak English in English class”), and I already know how to say it.  Overall, we had some fun writing various sentences in various languages on the board, although I had to police a little when it came to Sam, the oldest kid in class.

It was a really nice end to the week, and was only improved by home calls to my junior high class and cartwheels with a few Tuesday students.  I’m looking forward to the weekend, but without any sense of oppression from the week behind, and it’s a really great feeling.

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Last evening’s class was adorable. One kid I’ve fretted over since I started with his class in level one was remarkably responsive and so outgoing that I almost couldn’t believe it. He came right up to me during a patterns practice exercise, and even though he didn’t have the pattern down, I was able to practice with him one-on-one.

Even though there are 20 kids in this class, it’s starting to develop a real comfortable atmosphere. It’s a joined class of about eight originals, nine or ten kids from my old Kids Club class, and a few new ones. It took a while for them to get to know each other, but it’s coalescing and I have high hopes for this class. They really enjoy the singing and I actually find myself having fun playing it up with the dance moves.

One of the new kids is also the oldest one in the class, and he has the most confidence and spunk of all the students. The grammar point of the lesson was the object pronouns it and them, building from him and her in the previous class. To introduce it, I asked them if cookies was a boy or girl, and this kid answered “bogirl.” He’s a character.

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Business as usual

Today I had my favorite class, and it went as well as ever.  To top it off, I got two new students, twins called Herry and Jerry who evened up my return rate for that class.  They must be twelve or thirteen, but they have the deepest voices in the class… but they still wear matching clothes and even matching glasses.

This class has 16 students, but there are only about 10 names between the lot of them!  I have two Bellas, two Peggys, two Brians, and two Jerrys.  On the bright side, I don’t have any ridiculous names like Pony!  I only have to work on Herry, and I’ve had luck convincing students before (Toby was convinced his name was spelled Tobby before I told him otherwise).

Looking through my cell phone pictures, I found a few fun pieces of homework, so I’ll throw them up here without too much segue or explanation.  For this first one, I’ll just comment that you always have one or two of those philosophical types in every class…

For the next two, those who aren’t philosophers are artists with the written word.  Sometimes you don’t understand the art, but you have to respect the effort.

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My favorite days are test days because I teach a lot less.  Better even than test days are days when the oral test and the paper test are in  different lessons, since I get the ease of a test day, but don’t have to grade the test.  Before you turn away in disgust at my laziness and declare me unfit to be a teacher, let me try to redeem myself.  Oral tests are also my favorite days because I get one-on-one time with students (two-on-one time for the higher levels).

It’s a great time for me to see how they’re doing and offer more personal encouragement and congratulations.  It’s also a good time for checking and correcting pronunciation (and trying to make it stick), but sometimes, it’s just a good time for practicing my poker face.

The oral test I had on Wednesday was in my oldest normal class, whose theme for this level has been technology, which means a lot of futuristic spacecraft and food pills (as well as the atrocious “intelligent” pill).  I called Jeff and Eric out as the last oral test pair, and as they looked at the prompt picture, they asked each other questions according to the forms below it.  The answers were free-form, and as with anything, the more you put in, the more you get out.  These two are some of the best students in the class, and when Jeff asked “What is the astroman doing?,” I knew I was going to get a good answer.  Eric responded by telling us that he was repairing the spacecar, and I had to regretfully inform them that he was an astronaut and it was a spacecraft.

Those are the kind of answers I love, though: both of them understand what the word means and and are working with the compound nature of those words.  If I may be technical (and possibly wrong) for a moment: they’ve grasped the morphemes and how they relate to the meaning, and when they can’t call the actual word to mind, they create a (phonetic and semantic!!) approximation.  I get the feeling that this is what most of my Chinese is right now: close and logical, but not quite right.

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This kid's home is plagued by spirits.

This story is a little old, but I just came from grading papers at work and I saw the students who originated this story.

Classes are set up with two 50 minutes halves split by a 10 minute break.  The students’ break is usually consumed by correcting their homework or quiz and test mistakes, but sometimes they’re able to eke out a few minutes to run around the hallways.  One day, this kid Marks (you read that right) lurches up to me hugging another boy (Wilson) tight and giggles “Teacher, we are G-A-Y!”

Um, what?!  So I told them, “OK, cool, but you cannot kiss anybody in class,” which I think was not the reaction they were looking for.  They didn’t figure on a teacher from Los Angeles!

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My Wednesdays used to be predictable: the first class would be bright and involved, the second class would be quiet and withdrawn.  Now everything has changed, and the junior high class is relatively talkative, while the other class is getting quieter.  There is one exception, and that’s Daniel.  He’s 13 and the epitome of teenaged mood swings.  He’s always lazy, but some days he’s talking, other days he’s sulking; however, he has such a strong and vocal personality that it always affects the class, especially now that there are fewer high level students in general and fewer girls in particular.

And I think that’s my point: the make-up of the class is vital.  I can’t imagine teaching a class of all boys (oh, wait), especially if they were teenagers or upper elementary school age.  Girls really help balance a class, but a class of all girls could easily go far too mellow.  A good mix is not only good for the students in terms of variety of social interactions and development, but it’s necessary for the teacher.   I know I can always call on Winston or Veronica in my early Wednesday class if some people don’t understand my explanation or the book’s examples, just like I know not to expect wonders from Jerry in the same class.  If all the information comes from the teacher, it’s very easy to lecture dully.  If you have quick students (boys or girls), you can use them to deliver examples and understand problem areas for everyone else.

This is probably Teaching 101, huh, Katie?!

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This week started poorly and has not been improved by the ever-warming weather.  Today continued the pattern: I was tired in Chinese class, one of my kindergarteners came back from a mini-holiday only to be sulky and uncooperative, the very thought of  my evening classes filled me with a mild but insidious frustration, and budget calculations show that I’m not going to have any fun until at least September (and only if I’m lucky and get a lot of hours).

Even though I wasn’t looking forward to teaching, I knew I could count on the early class today to pick me up–and was then sorely disappointed by apathetic, mostly out-for-summer 6th graders.  Not only that, the problem kid in this class, who is usually not too big a concern, actually caused some big distractions today.  I got back at him by withholding bathroom privileges for 10 or 15 minutes which felt far better than it should have.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m in such a mood lately, and I’ve boiled it down to job satisfaction: I don’t have much.  I see kids 50% of the time they come to class (the Chinese teachers see them every time) so there is a lack of consistency.  The school policy of 100% English is an impossibility that serves to create a gap between me and the kids that only the Chinese teacher can bridge.  In addition to the gap, there’s the added frustration of resolving questions and managing homework and classroom activities in limited language that the majority of the class can fully comprehend.

And to top it all off, I have discovered I can’t stand teens and pre-teens, who make up about half of my classes.  I believe I said earlier that I like mid- to higher elementary school students best, but I was wrong.  It’s lower elementary I like because they still have enthusiasm.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I couldn’t stay angry and frustrated because my junior high class actually cheered me up.  They were mildly responsive, and then my CT (Chinese teacher/co-teacher) suggested and implemented a seat change so we sat in a rectangle rather like a small college class.  She also brought out her stash of fake money so we could start a system like I had in high school Spanish: responses get money, students hold the money to buy test points or candy and class parties.  I have been wanting to do this for a while, but I haven’t had the money to buy… money, so I was glad when the CT brought up classroom ideas and volunteered her money for my idea.  I only wish she had brought it up before class, instead of just before break.  I won’t argue the results, though!  I’d be hard-pressed to say the class was on fire after break, but they were more involved due to proximity, and the CT sat in the desk-square and we had a real co-teaching relationship going on.

Another good thing: I know with certainty that I may be a good explainer, and even a decent teacher, but I am not and should never (again) be a foreign language teacher.  And it’s always nice to check something off the possibility list and narrow options down.

So now I’m happier.  Rebecca, this is how I do it: be angry and huffy in my head until something good happens.  When the good happens, let it outweigh the bad.

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