Impressions of a New School Year (2018-2019)

Uh oh

Hello again. 

Last year I was teaching middle school, 6th grade language arts to be specific. I am now teaching 4th grade reading and language arts. I made the choice to move schools, and not lightly, based on a number of factors.

First, and foremost, I knew the team of teachers I would be joining. They are all veterans and professional beyond belief, with over 50 years of teaching experience between them. I knew our personalities got along well and that I could rely on these fantastic educators if I got myself in too deep.

Second, and also foremost, because I can do what I want, was the fact that my commute was cut by 30 hours a month. The work week being 40 hours long, it was like having an entire week of (unpaid) working time returned to me. That translates into much more time with my little girl, Rosalyn, and more time with my wife as well.

Third, the school is less than a mile from my house. If my car breaks down, I can walk to work, which is pretty nice.

The, hmm, professional side of the transition has been just fine. I've got fantastic support in my coworkers, and I am a fan of my administrators, which is not something I'd say lightly. They're both great people, and so far have been very open with their communication and letting me try whatever I can to teach. They know that a good educator is best left alone, unless support is required.

The biggest and most difficult change, by far, has been the students.

They're just big third graders. Keep that in mind, Jeff.

When I received my preliminary roster I was excited. I only had 18 kiddos listed. My roster has since gone up to 24, but who's counting?

And boy, they're young. They're immature. They're more like big first and second graders moreso than big third graders. I know what all teachers know: summer is the enemy, the great vacuum which takes from us disciplined, engaged students are returns us with wild chimpanzees that have never seen civilization before, let alone sat down for instruction. 

But dang, y'all, these kids are something else.

Friday saw: 4 separate fights/playground scuffles, a kid kicked in the face, weeping, accusations of inappropriate behavior in the bathroom, one spelling test administered during the drama, the banning of sports at recess, and, psh, probably more. Who can remember? I was texting the other teachers in my grade things that came up simple so I could keep up with the nonsense later. Did I mention throwing food at lunch? Yes, food throwing. That happened, too.

The thing is, mostly it's my boys. If this type of behavior was more widespread, I feel like it might be easier to address, but I'm up against cultural expectations as well as the fact that fully 50-60% of my student population is making instruction impossible for the remainder. 

If you talk to educators about difficult students, you will, of course, hear some success stories. A lot of the time, however, you'll hear about a student, sometimes students, who are so demanding of management and time that a teacher's classroom quickly flips from 1 teacher and 24 students to 1 teacher with 1 student and 23 bystanders.

Problem behaviors with this group include: 

Out of seats.

Excessive talking.

Sass and backtalk.

Tattling.

Making up stories.

Physical aggression.

Bad language.

Inappropriate gestures.

Boy, the list goes on. What do we do? Parent contact, as it often does, has had little lasting effect on some of the more troublesome boys. The worst thing is, we know the problem, and it's not the kids.

That's right, it's the parents. The people who have the greatest impact on attitude and achievement aren't even in the building for most of the day. Parents, we need your support to make the classroom a successful place where all students can learn and grow. Unfortunately, as often happens with difficult students and student populations, our attention is drawn to keeping order instead of focusing on instruction.

All things are a two-way street in that we must create engaging instruction to go along with disciplined students. Without interesting lessons, there cannot be real, engaged learning. The onus is on us to create that content when we're able, and to be cognizant of the needs of our students, 9 and 10 years old. They need to move. They need to socialize. They need to create.

I just wish I could get them to do these things at their seats, and consistently. 

By the amount of grousing between myself and my 4th grade colleagues, this appears to be a difficult year before us. Unengaged parents, or, perhaps worse, too engaged (but not on the side of the teachers,) with a high SpEd population with immature students who are having difficulty with the high expectations of their teachers.

Much of this can and will be fixed by clear, consistent discipline throughout the year. (sound familiar?)

But much of this would not be an issue if the parents would be on board with us educators. At my school we serve a high-poverty population, with many if not most families in poverty having been there for generations. The students need examples to see the benefits of their education and the lives they could lead if they break the bonds of their circumstances. This they can do, but almost only when the parents recognize that education is a way out, a tool, a rope that can lift you up and out. They must wish for better than they have for their children, which, to me, is the ultimate goal and desire of all parents who love their children.

All that said, the year is here, and the difficulties are already upon us. As has been said, the real barrier we will see, the true difference from this year and last, are the parents, not the students. 

I'm not, myself, a particularly religious person, but I do find wisdom in the Bible in select passages, and this is one of my favorite. It's a good reminder for us, as educators, and for us, as parents.

Or who is there among you, who, if his son

asks him for bread, will give him a stone?

Matthew 7:9