12 May 2007

Using Your Resources Wisely

I subbed for an old English teacher of mine this week. She only teaches part-time now, and that doesn't include the A.P. classes anymore. I didn't realize until an hour into the first class that I was teaching what they call a "resource class." In short, this is a class that is a conglomerate of all the kids the school system has labeled as slow learners.

I couldn't believe the disrespect they had. It didn't help that Mrs. Goodman was there (I got the feeling she had been asked to help enforce rules for the rebels), because she acted like their friend but then took away all disciplining from me so the kids didn't learn to pay any heed to what I was saying. I ended up telling them to stop talking and write their letter. I had to walk around and tell students that they had thirty seconds to get their first sentence finished. Asking them to read for 20-30 minutes as outlined in the teacher's instructions? Ridiculous. Only two or three actually had books (let alone pencils and paper), and the rest didn't even bother to try to appear as if they were reading. Kids kept coming into the classroom to get their friends to leave with them, and I had to make them leave as they yelled, "Man, you're in prison!" The letters of feedback that they were supposed to write to their teacher were awful. I got them turned in, but they said things like, "I hate books. I don't like reading. You shouldn't give any assignments." Or, "The thing I learned in this class was how to tick off the substitutes. You shouldn't go off and have babies and leave us with Mr. Allred." Oh bother.

Let's just say that I was amazed when the next class read quietly for 35 minutes. I quite enjoyed Dr. Zhivago. They wrote their letters in twenty minutes, and they were well thought-out (I found it interesting that they almost all liked Of Mice and Men the best of all the books they'd read).

Slow learners, slow schmearners. I got to thinking about it and I really think each of those students must have problems at home, or emotional problems, or something. Not one of them is stupid. They are just very undisciplined. In my psychology class ages ago, I remember learning about motivators, and how when we are little we are motivated by rewards and punishments. The kids in that class are still in this stage, but it seems like they've been in that stage for so long and they've heard so many empty threats that they at least act like they don't care.

Another thing I started wondering about was why on earth they put all of them together in the same class. I asked Hillary (the helper's replacement) why they do that, and she said, "They can't keep up with the others in the regular classes." I don't believe that for a second. I believe they wouldn't keep up with the others, so to avoid showing that a teacher was too lazy to really work with a student, they instead said the student was too slow. A lot of people are at fault who have put down those students until they believed the insults. If one of my students ended up failing my class, I would see it as my failure, just as parents feel bad when their kids go astray (or should, anyway). By separting the students into a special class, they are just lowering expectations in hopes that the kids will somehow get a better grade. The fact is, they see that they are closer to having to do nothing, and they push it so they still fail. I really wonder how the students would do if they were integrated into normal classes.

The last thing I found interesting was that they were very clearly separated into groups--very clearly. There were the lazy preppy kids who glared at me because I told them to put their iPods away, then the girl who sat by herself and seemed pretty sincere in her letter when she said she'd try to attend class more next year, then the dude who kept his head on the desk the whole time except for when I asked him to read or write, and the punks on the other side of the room who never stayed on task and talked constantly and hate books and got physical with each other.

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