Everyone Has THAT Class
I’ve been teaching for 17 years and every year I have been honored with THAT class. You know THAT one. THAT class that makes you work just a little harder as a teacher. This year THAT class is a co-taught class and even with two teachers in the room who utilize a variety of teaching formats in both individual and group contexts, I struggle with maintaining their motivation and attention on a daily basis. I have remained positive throughout my interactions (to the point that my co-teacher commented to me this morning “I don’t know how you always stay positive with this class”). Right now I have been reading the book The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. This book hit me between the eyes with the idea that I need to take “100% responsibility for my life”. Although this idea is not necessarily new, reading it while thinking about the context of my class really made me reconsider MY ROLE in why this class is unmotivated and lacking focus. The thing that I love about taking 100% responsibility is that you also feel the need to rectify your role through actions.
Everyone Has THAT Student
Last week we administered practice SATs to sophomore students. I had several students from my classes in my randomly assigned group that day and two of them decided to basically not even open the test booklet to try. I encouraged both on the day of the test. The day after when I could really talk to one of them, I asked him about why he didn’t try. He just shrugged. I asked him about his plans for after Rich East and he just shrugged again. After having this student in my class since August I was saddened by the fact that he did not have any kind of goal to share with me at the time. I knew that something had to happen and something needed to happen now in these last 30-some-odd-days of school. Again, in taking 100% Responsibility for my life, I had a role in his lack of motivation to try on the practice test.
Action Step One: The “I Want” List
The first action I took with my THAT period class was one outlined in the book. I started on Friday by having my students write an “I want” list. I was really happy with the improved focus in my class that day (ESPECIALLY on a Friday afternoon when the weather was about 70*). I was surprised that even when we moved on to another part of the lesson, I saw a couple continuing to add to their list secretly off to the side. Sometimes I think that we need to give students more opportunities to think and write about what they want as opposed to thinking and writing about what WE want as teachers.
Action Step Two: SMART Goals
When we returned to class on Monday, I had students work on turning one of their “I wants” into an actionable SMART goal. I’ve done SMART goals before and was not happy because they seemed forced. In this case however, I realized that SMART goals were perfect for my students. The “Timebound” part especially had my students realizing that the end of this school year is near and that the time will go too quickly if they don’t start acting now. The “Measureable” part made my students consider the metric and the math involved in any goal worth having. I was pleased with this activity and am excited to post the goals in my classroom to refer to on a daily basis. As was said in the book and in this article from the Huff Post by Mary Morrisey, people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. I put the statistician in me aside (you know, the girl who raises her hand and says “correlation does not equal causation”) and just went with the idea for the betterment of my class.
Action Step Three: Who Wants $5?
Unfortunately, the aforementioned THAT period was still struggling to live up to my “50 minutes of math” expectation yesterday. I made a ton of phone calls (positive as well as constructive), reconsidered my lesson plan today, and made an alteration based on another activity from Canfield’s book and inspiration from Dave Burgess and TLAP to do something to grab their attention. To get their attention, I held up a $5 bill and said, “Who wants $5?” and JUST like Canfield described in his book, and similarly some students said “I do”, others held up their hand, and after what felt like the longest minute of my life one student finally came up and grabbed the money. I DEFINITELY had their attention. I has students describe what was holding them back from coming up and taking the money and here are some of their responses:
We talked about how all of these reasons holding them back in this situation were holding them back in this class and sometimes in life. We talked about how I wasn’t holding their grade back and I am happy to give them all A’s if they earn them. We also discussed what the student who did come get the money did differently in that he “got up and went after what he wanted”. We talked about how they need to do this in class, too.
Today’s lesson was amazing with the level of focus in my room. Even the student who didn’t even open his practice SAT was ACTIVELY trying today and asking excellent questions. I appreciate the other inspiration from Angela Watson a couple of weeks ago when she mentioned that the count down to the end of the year should be reframed to be a count down to make a difference in these students lives. Today was a great day and I can’t wait to build off of it tomorrow.
I questioned whether I could pull this lesson off in another class on the same day immediately following this one. I thought that the students from second period would clue SOMEONE in for my next class. No one did. Totally worth the second $5 in the next class.