Why I Cannot Teach REAL Lifeskills to Today’s Kids

speaker-podium-mic-mdI am an English teacher. I teach good reading and inference skills and quality writing skills. Some would say, and with good reason, that I am teaching to a test. I do teach specific standards because my students are tested at the end of the year by a state-mandated measure of accountability. However, my ultimate goal is to teach “real-world” communication skills so kids can be adults, so they can make inferences about tone in others’ communication, so they can write coherent emails and documents for their employers, so they can express themselves succinctly and without fear. But, I’m just not sure that today’s world will let me teach those skills anymore. It’s not that they don’t want me to, it’s that they act so antithetical to them.

In my first hour, we started a unit on Argument and Persuasion. Most of my classes are subjected to long, grueling hours of research and paper writing. I gave my first hour the option to pick topics and debate their topics as groups. This is my more real world, vocational class. They are smart and fun and creative, but they need a bit more of a push to work hard. We started with debates last week. I gave them topics about school and each group presented their topics, then the other groups were given a chance to ask questions and play “Devil’s advocate.” They did so well. They were concise and funny and serious and I loved it.

Today, after a draft for teams and some planning yesterday, we began our debates. I’ve never seen kids with faces so red and angry. My captains were less than leader-y and my groups were falling apart at the seams. Yes, I set up the discussion with rules. Yes, I made them stick to the rules. But suddenly, everything became personal. Everything was nit-picky and rude and well let’s be honest… it reminded me of this:

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How can I be expected to teach kids good debating skills when the potential future leaders of our nation can’t even keep their heads on straight? How can we expect the kids themselves to remember the rules if no one else is?! I know we are human and that it is difficult not to get so upset. But if the HIGHEST LEVEL OF LEADERSHIP cannot hold their crap together, how can I teach hormonal 15 year olds to keep theirs together?!

In a world that DEMANDS life-skills, that demands the skills to take a position and support it with all your might, I find that I cannot teach my students these skills. In room 8, there are rules and a moderator who still has some power. In room 8, these kids still have some sense of respect for authority and leadership, but that is quickly dwindling. Kids are what they see, they are their leaders. They really are. If we have any desire to make the next generation great, we must be great ourselves. We must stick to the rules we say we enforce. We must learn how to respect one another.

If they get to adulthood and cannot figure out how to communicate without getting butthurt or yelling at the opposition, don’t come crying to me. I tried. Public school tried. It’s the rest of the world that failed them.

MM

They’re just little kids.

This semester has been a tough one for me. I’ve never been at the same job (except lifeguarding, but does that really count?) for more than three years. So when I started this year, among many other struggles, I knew that the sheer amount of time I’d spent doing this job would take a toll on me.

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I hate rows. But I love a quiet classroom.

Veteran teachers are probably laughing at me right now. My own mother is probably shaking her head saying, “Try 25 years with YOU and then tell me what struggles you have!” I know: 4 years is not that long. It’s a blink. It’s a gust of wind. It’s nothing. But, to a blossoming new teacher, it’s quite a bit of time.

Perhaps I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy, but since day one I’ve been tired. I’m tired of these kids’ attitudes. I’m tired of the bull-crap I have to swim to, just to take a teensy tiny breath of fresh learning for one single second. I’m tired of having to keep these kids’ attention for 1 minute at a time. I’m tired of them not listening. I’m tired. Not the best attitude, I know. But in a field where people is the game, it can be draining!

I’ve gotten so mad at my kids, all in the name of desiring them to grow up and pay attention. I’ve made little impact on my students, relationally. I forgot why I started. Yep, I said it. And during this final, it’s all boiling down to the end results… and I see all of my mistakes. The kid I don’t know. The time we wasted. The work we didn’t get done. The frustration of them STILL NOT KNOWING WHAT EXCEL MEANS EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE USED IT FOR THE LAST 15 WEEKS.

But they’re quiet right now, taking their finals. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any whining, they’re all just working pretty hard. I see their faces, their looks of concentration, their quick glances up at me, their puffy, sleepy faces. They’re just kids. Just little, sleepy, hopefully, hormonal, confused, happy, mad, bullied, bully, hurt, tired kids. Aren’t we all? We have no idea what we’re doing here, no idea what our next step is, no idea who we are sometimes… We’re just kids, in some ways. We’re all just kids in search of someone who understands us, who loves us, who nurtures us, who pushes us to do our best — even when we fight it.

They say that you don’t understand Christmas until you watch your own child experience it all anew. Same with teaching: you don’t understand it unless you see them as kids. Kids who need a hug, kids who need Jesus just as much as I do.

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ZipGrade for Android is so easy! Just create a quiz key, print off the pdf, and voila! The initial download includes 100 free scans! You can pay for one year of unlimited scans for $7. Well worth it!

In brighter news, I used ZipGrade this morning to grade my finals. My principal introduced us to it a few weeks ago. Usually I try to do a more in-depth final that isn’t all multiple choice, but since he was pushing ZipGrade so much, I figured I would do it. I included a paragraph portion, because hey it’s English… Y’all, I finished grading 30 finals in 15 minutes. Not even lying. It’s available for Apple and Android and even has a Cloud you can register for so that you can edit things online. I give it 5 out of 5 pencils.

Merry Christmas, Teachers and Parents and Students and Kids.

MM

 

 

I mean, what even is a curriculum map anyway? Heh heh… But seriously?

Year three is about to be IN DA BOOKS PEOPLE. They told me that my first year of teaching would be the crappiest year of my life. They weren’t wrong. They said that year two would be more about implementing good classroom management skills learned from what went wrong the first year and still tweaking my curriculum. They weren’t wrong. And then year three came. I’ll tell you, I have still been tweaking my lessons (something I hope I never stop doing, there is ALWAYS room for improvement), but I’ve felt so good about this year! I have covered, albeit at a very quick pace, nearly EVERYTHING these kids may need to know before taking their test and going on to English III. Proud teacher fist pump! I’ve got lessons, I’ve got videos, I’ve got interactive and meaningful group projects. I’ve got essays, I’ve got academic vocab. I’ve got bellringers. I’ve got it!

But that uh, that curriculum map… Yeah, I know what that is (I don’t know what that is). I’ve never seen one. My school doesn’t have one. I just know what the words curriculum and map mean. That’s it. So, since I’m about to be the only person in the department with more than one year’s experience in a high school classroom, I thought I’d try my hand on it. From what I think I’m told, curriculum maps are a great way to collaborate with other teachers in your discipline and out. So I made this Curriculum Mapping English II. You tell me, is that a curriculum map or did I just get a little crazy with the colors in Excel? It’s only for my Fall Block classes. I do a modified version for my all year classes because strangely enough we have INFINITELY MORE TIME ON OUR HANDS than block classes do. *coughIhateblockclassescough*

It doesn’t have the standards on it, as you can plainly see. I have a copy of the standards and I have highlighted in different colors the different standard0520151009s that I use in each unit. I just haven’t written them out on the lesson plans. I think I may make a map with the standards on it, just so I know I’m hitting all the bases. I have, however, stolen this great idea from HERE. That on the right is what it looks like in my classroom. I bought mini clothes pins to clip on to the standards we are covering each day. Is it tedious? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. It’s worth it because I need a daily reminder of what exactly our aim is, and if the kids ever wonder how it applies to the test: ta-da! It’s on the back board! Yes, that long list is the WRITING SKILLS I am supposed to COMPLETELY cover in ONE YEAR. Guys. It’s so much.

That board is my pride and joy, or will be when we come back next year. As you can see, I have pinned one of my unit charts to the board, as a reminder of what skills we are focusing on. I also made a list of English I and II academic vocabulary that I hope to implement so much more this next year. I’ll post those buzz words, along with some other key words, for each unit on the board as a clear reminder.

I’m meeting with the English I teacher and the English IV teacher over the summer, and hopefully I will come up with even more to implement this next year. I feel solid for the first time in a long time that I’m on the right track. What new things are you implementing into your classroom?

Happy summer, teachers!

MM