Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Down-Right-Ugly

Scenes from St. Augustine -- Graffiti from a window front at St. George Street. I snapped it for the allusion. I'm planning to make a big copy for my classroom as the seniors are beginning 1984.

I am fortunate enough to have a career I love. I can't imagine not teaching, even on the days when I'm tired and frustrated and grumbling aloud about finding something else to do with my degree. Today was one of those weird blends of what I love and hate about what I do for a living.

The bad. Oh, and it was bad. For about six weeks, I've been teaching the concepts of what makes up Post-Modern literature to my American Lit classes. In Georgia, American Lit is the only required English for all high school students and it has a high-stakes test attached to it. The standard relating to literary time periods, their context, etc. is hugely important and shows up on the EOCT and the graduation test. So when I'm teaching those concepts, it's crucial that kids get them. For some reason, this standard is hard for them to master.

So, for six weeks, I've been teaching my heart out. I could see them beginning to get the ideas. I had kids who were coming in for extra help on their Post-Modern paper (part of their culminating activity). I had them write rough drafts and peer critique and all the stuff that usually leads to successful essays. I had 99% of them turn in a paper, on time. I was thrilled.

Then I started grading.

By the tenth paper (about one-third through the kids), I knew we were in trouble. The knowledge was there. Not perfect, but there. The application of knowledge was there -- again, not perfect, but there. But they were failing. I went back to the rubric, checked it against the unit, against the standards. No faultiness in the rubric.

Finally, after I was braindead from grading (and ready to cry because I'd promised these kids that I'd set them up for success and give them what they needed to succeed and they were failing), it occurred to me that the problem lay in the fact that the rubric assessed multiple standards. Yes, they had the literary period context standard. They were missing points on the writing/grammar and the providing-sufficient evidence standards. Lightbulb! I can work with that.

However, that still left me with the task of returning papers with failing grades on them to a group of kids who'd been working really, really hard. And I was going to say, "Hey, you worked hard, but it wasn't good enough. Sorry, better luck next time."? Uh, no. Not in my world.

So they have papers. They were devastated and that was probably the most uncomfortable class period I've ever had. I have no problem laying down a failing grade where the kid has blown off the work or just slacked or whatever. But this killed me, because I felt like the failure (and in some ways I was). We're in that classroom together, and when they don't do well, that means we've not done well.

In the end, we came to an agreement. If the grade was less than an "A," they are required to revise and resubmit. I'm going to do targeted instruction and small group conferencing with them. Then I'll regrade. Hopefully, the results will be . . .

The Good. I *heart* my students. Some days, I want to smack them, but I do adore them (and unfortunately for me, a certain group of fifteen know that a little too well and will attempt shamelessly to turn it to their advantage). Anyway, this afternoon, two juniors came in to see if I'd graded their essays yet (I still had ten or so from one class to go). There were seniors milling around. The conversation went a little like this:

Junior 1, rolling his eyes playfully: I have to go home and read this boring book you're making us read.

Me: Boring? It's Gatsby, only the best American novel ever--

Junior 1: No, that would be To Kill a Mockingbird.

Me: No comparison--

Senior 1: Y'all are reading Gatsby. I love that book.

Senior 2: You have to get to the end, but it's worth it. The movie is pretty good, but it doesn't stand up to the book.

(I'm looking between them, wondering if they're being sarcastic, then picking up my jaw when I realize they're sincere.)

Can you say English teacher's dream?!

Anyway, it's midnight, I'm tired and I still have a ton of stuff to do this week. I'm pondering how I can have the seniors turn my classroom into a representation of the Orwellian society in 1984 . . .

1 comment:

Esther said...

I don't know if it would be possible, but wouldn't it be wonderful to create a class, or assignment, or something, where the seniors tutor/help/?? the juniors? To somehow foster the kind of ad hoc discussion you shared with us? That would be cool!

POV: I run the math peer-tutoring center at my CC and it has such a great impact on the tutors as well as the students getting help. I had one of my new tutors visit me today (after only 6 days of work) telling me she already had a following!