Posts Tagged ‘junior high school’

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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The good things

My sister is here, and that’s good. I had an excellent Spanish work-out on top of the pleasure of a close friend’s company, and I’ve begun planning our big trip.

Also, Wednesday is a one-class day and it was a good one!

Two students in my junior high class came to ask me questions about an assignment before class, and it developed into a larger discussion of their reading habits and school in general.  At the end of the last level, these two girls bought books from me with their earnings throughout the class (muchísimas gracias, Sra Hagar), and they talked to me about the books, how hard it was because the words were so small, and how, for one of them at least, it was her first attempt at an English book of this size.  I encouraged them and told them that it was absolutely okay to take it slow and even put them aside for a while and come back.  These kids are under a lot of pressure, and the main focus of the level I’m teaching is to keep them talking and work on writing.

I’m fortunate to have a small class that is rather outgoing for middle-schoolers, and some days they really crack me up.  We played a somewhat complex game today and it entailed asking some surprisingly hard questions about water.  The quick team was giving each other blatant hints with a little help from me, and I flagrantly cheated to help a girl on the laid-back team.  They all asked for help with problem words, which is always preferable to slowly struggling or slurring past words as students so often do.  I definitely laughed out loud more than once, and silent skinny Frank smiled at least one time.

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Remember how much I loved subbing Tree House classes?  Sadly, having a class all your own is not actually better than Step Ahead, like I thought, but worse.  I hate the stupid priorities (the students erase and write corrections over spelling mistakes and grammar errors, and then I have to see it and check that it’s okay, meaning I see their start-of-class quizzes and homework books at least twice, and often three or four times for the lazy or slow ones).  There’s so much busywork to do in one class, but strangely, two hours feels like five.

From right to left, crust crackers, peanut butter and Nutella sauce, and candy and banana toppings.

What this boils down to is that I’m appreciating all my other classes more, especially the silence and calm of the junior high class.  This is not to say they’re un-animated, because they talk well enough and burst into life at break times, but they’re closer to adults and they don’t fight all the time.

On Wednesday I had a end-of-the-level party, since I had introduced the idea of dessert pizza in lesson one, and decided to follow through in the party lesson.  We discussed what goes into a pizza and what substitutions we could make, most of them coming from me and surprising and shocking them.  Peanut butter and banana together?  Peanut butter is a sweet thing?!  No, teacher, no.

In the first hour of class, we played some games and I introduced the new unit, and in the second hour, I laid out the spread and showed them how to make the sweet cracker pizza goodness.  My favorite moment was when a student wracked her brain for a moment and then said she “could deal with” peanut butter and banana.  Idiom usage!  We then played the game where you have a name on your forehead and have to guess who you are with yes or no questions.  We had Katy Perry, Obama, my co-teacher Sharon, Kelly Clarkson, and Little Pig in the class.  Overall, it was quite a success!

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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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The elementary school just down the road from me plays songs on its bell system, and it’s been bugging me since I moved in that I couldn’t remember what a certain lunchtime song was.  Today, I finally remembered midomi.com and within 2 minutes, I had worked it out that it was Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  Sweet success!

Now I just need to figure out how to conquer little Mr. ADHD in my Tuesday class (I’ll have him again on Friday), and how to get my junior high class to talk.  I think a lot of it is the textbook, which sucks pretty hard.  Hopefully, the next level will be better, since theirs is a pretty flexible curriculum.

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The penis game

On Wednesday nights, I have two older classes, instead of a younger class and an older class.  The second class is middle schoolers and almost middle schoolers, so they are generally awkward and don’t talk as much as I’d like.  They are also, apparently, obsessed with sex.  I’m being honest here: I don’t recall being this way in middle school at all.

Perhaps I’m blowing everything out of proportion, because it was actually pretty funny.  At the break, two kids were loitering by the board, so I told them to go ahead and draw.  The first thing the boy writes is a character, which, judging by the giggles, was rude.  I told him he was writing and I said to draw, so he erased it.  I look away and do something else, and when I look back, there’s the beginnings of a pretty ugly sexual encounter going down.  I don’t mean it was shocking or horrifying; I mean this kid is an awful artist.  Those people were ugly and the poor man looked like he had a tumor.  What could I really do but say it’s inappropriate and erase?  I told him to sit down and read his textbook for the rest of the break, and he at least listened then.  Now I know who can’t be trusted at the board!

The best part: next week, we’ll be reading news stories about AIDS.  That’ll be awesome.

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