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The Blue Students

These are my people, my students this year. They’re averaging just a bit above a 1.5 GPA.

I tried to graft a structure onto this post but nothing stuck. Topical bullet points from the failed drafts:

  1. a description of what happens to the blue students next, of their regrettable slides further leftward and their occasional, triumphant slides rightward.
  2. tortured musings about correlation and causation. (ie. “if I take some credit for their progress, must I then accept some blame for dot dot dot et cetera.”)
  3. a description of effective motivators for my blue students, none of which include teacher approval, parent approval, disciplinary consequences, or perfect attendance badges at the end-of-year assembly.
  4. the economies of scale I can’t seem to access as a part-time teacher, two of which, however tacky the terms may seem in this context, are “word of mouth” and (even tackier) “branding.”
  5. really, how irresponsible and inaccurate it is to compare one class to the next and yet, wow, that was some group last year, the first and last group for whom I’ll ever take a summer school bullet.

The only draft that mattered was this:

The blue students indulge none of my laziness. They tolerate none of my bad habits. There are all kinds of students at this school — gray students, we’ll call them — who will let me slide on all kinds of carelessness so long as I keep them moving toward graduation, college, and career.

But graduation, college, and career are all abstractions wrapped in scare quotes to my blue students. So they pummel my flabby pedagogy daily to the point that I’m burger. Lean burger. You can’t believe the gratitude I have for such a challenging year.

16 Responses to “The Blue Students”

  1. on 11 Nov 2009 at 6:45 amValerie

    In contemplating my own future teaching career, these are the students I fear. They will expose my teaching for what it is, and as a preservice teacher I know it will fall short in some areas. Hope I am up for the challenge.

  2. on 11 Nov 2009 at 7:59 amJackie Ballarini

    What of what you have done in the past is still “working” with this year’s students? What isn’t?

  3. on 11 Nov 2009 at 10:52 amThe WCYDWT Fairy

    I think those students are the only reason I’m a semi-decent as a teacher. I started out in a school composed of only those students. Sink or swim. There was no tolerance for bullshit and I floundered for quite a while. A few more years and I might have ended up a pretty good teacher.

    That experience does explain why I look at so many educational things through their eyes and think “that sucks.” Seems to me you ought to force all teachers to teach those students occasionally. Those students force a purity of intent and a clarity of understanding that the gray students simply don’t.

  4. on 11 Nov 2009 at 10:53 amTom

    Ha. Looks like the cookies on this machine have a long memory. Sorry about the WCYDWT Fairy thing above.

  5. on 11 Nov 2009 at 9:49 pmDan Meyer

    @Jackie, I’m struggling with 50% larger classes this year. That’s the long and short of it.

    Yesterday, I broke from my scheduled introduction of percents to talk about the point of tipping, to ask them for their good and bad experiences with waiters and waitresses. We made a list before talking about the $55 tip I left on my wife’s birthday party dinner bill. I asked them to figure out how much the bill was.

    They were generally into it and working well and, more importantly, the math seemed to have a toehold in something real. All of which is to say, the stuff that works now is the same stuff that worked last year and the year before. There’s just less room for error.

  6. on 12 Nov 2009 at 10:10 amMr. K.

    I’m in the opposite situation this year. I’ve spent the last two years at a very low school, where 2 seconds of being off of your game lost the entire period. I was used to walking a fine line of discipline and content, doing my best to be engaging without allowing the (very talented in that regard) students to side track the conversation.

    Now I’m at a school where doing anything more than just solving problems out of the book counts as engaging. Even on days where I’m not on 100%, the kids still stay with me and are willing to give it a shot.

    I’m afraid that my skills will atrophy, but boy am I enjoying the restful sleep I’m getting at night.

  7. on 12 Nov 2009 at 10:54 amTheInfamousJ

    That is pretty much my /entire/ teaching schedule this year. Do you experience the behavior problems that students who typically score that lowly bring? I swear these kiddos think that if they act up enough then I won’t notice that they have educational deficits?

  8. on 14 Nov 2009 at 9:02 amBSirolly

    How did you make that data visualization at the top of the post? I always create histograms of grades, but that is so much better.

  9. on 14 Nov 2009 at 1:03 pmDan Meyer

    I begged a list of freshmen GPAs from the counseling office. I ranked it in descending order in Excel. I changed the cell color of my students to blue and then deleted all the names. Then I shrunk all the cells down to 1px or 2px and flipped it on its side.

  10. on 14 Nov 2009 at 1:22 pmAurelia

    “The blue students indulge none of my laziness. They tolerate none of my bad habits.” Well put.

    I teach blue students at a school a colleague described as in fourth down, punt formation at all times. Despite the school climate, I’m having a hard time picturing myself as a teacher somewhere else. Those sentences are the best description I’ve read of why I find this job compelling. I thrive on the challenge. These students force me to change and force me to teach. I can see myself building a career on meeting their challenge.

  11. on 17 Nov 2009 at 10:55 pmKen Burgin

    hehe – maybe this would help with motivation http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1701

    Cheers!

  12. on 02 Dec 2009 at 2:03 pmTiffany

    I thought it was really interesting how you refered to comparing classes as irresponsible. I feel like this is something that will be hard not to do when I become a teacher and yet I feel strongly that you shouldn’t do this. Each class is going to be so different and I feel like you could go crazy if you constantly compared class to class each year.

  13. [...] this off by giving them all the data and asking them to compute the ratio of cost to volume. but my blue students are poorly-served by that approach. So many of them have been burned so badly by math that if I [...]

  14. on 26 Jan 2010 at 10:59 amOliver Quinlan

    Wow, that final paragraph gave me real food for thought (pardon the pun!). So true.

  15. [...] He didn’t realize that he didn’t have a clue, until he was  faced with “blue students” who are not immune to poor instructional practices (or very tolerant of [...]

  16. on 27 Apr 2010 at 3:22 amJulieR

    First of all, LOVE the visual! I taught 100% of these students my first few years of teaching in an inner-city school. I loved it, but it took my entire self.

    “I think those students are the only reason I’m a semi-decent as a teacher. I started out in a school composed of only those students. Sink or swim.”
    This is so true. Once you learn how to teach children who don’t want to learn, you can teach anyone. I still use many of the same techniques on the private school students. No kids scare me now.

    “The blue students indulge none of my laziness. They tolerate none of my bad habits. There are all kinds of students at this school — gray students, we’ll call them — who will let me slide on all kinds of carelessness so long as I keep them moving toward graduation, college, and career.”
    I love how you sum up everything that I felt and thought so eloquently. I wish I were as good of a writer. My kids had their trust broken by everyone they knew. It took so long for me to “win” it in the beginning of the year. Once I won it, they would work for me. I found it was the ONLY thing that worked. Every Time I slacked off, it was a personal affront in their eyes. They felt like I didn’t care and that they were just waiting for me to let them down like everyone else in their life had before me. It killed their motivation to work for me a little bit at a time. It really made me WORK.

    The tipping lesson plan did NOT work with my kids. They had no idea what I was talking about. They informed me that they tipped, “$1 per person” no matter where they went or what the bill was. They thought I was crazy. LOL!

    The best teaching method that I used for my blue students was music. We sang everything, we made up raps, we made videos. They loved it, they learned, but most importantly, they retained it. I had one of my students come back and tell me that she sang our songs all the way through her community college math course. It was the only way she passed. She went to college. She was one of the few who made it, and it made it all worth it.