Wednesday, June 10, 2009

525,600 minutes...How do you measure a year?

In the beginning of the year, they have you set goals.  A barometer of your success, really – a way to keep track of what gains you are making.  So many times this year I have felt that I am taking one step forward only to take 2 steps back.  Often it feels like one step forward over a ledge I didn’t notice looming ahead of me.  Or perhaps the ledge wasn’t there until I took that step…


In any case, success is a tricky concept, and after a difficult year full of challenges and surprises and disappointments, it’s a little bit hard to know how to measure it.  I set out with the ambitious goal of 80% students mastering 80% or more of the Social Studies Standards for NY State.  This is a realistic goal, actually, and one which was given the stamp of approval by those around me who know much better than I.  I will be giving the final examination on Monday, and on that day I will be able to determine how much of my efforts this year have really been effective – or at least, I will be able to measure whether or not I reached my goal.  When it comes down to it – my efforts this year have been far less streamlined than that goal would imply.


Based on the review activities we have been doing in class this week, I do feel that I’ve probably reached my goal.  I have some superstar students who balance out those students who refuse to lift a pencil, and the majority of the class has tuned in enough this year to be able to answer the questions on the test.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the students were able to do well on the test, which covers material that I’ve drilled into their reluctant heads ad nauseum, all year.  But even if they get those scores – is that really a way to measure success?


I have an advisor who comes to watch me teach occasionally.  He gives me notice that he will be coming, and then arrives and sits quietly in the back, typing furiously on his computer while I struggle not to embarrass myself in front of him.  He ducks out of the room right before the class ends, and then emails his notes to me.  The notes record my actions as well as those of my students, and then he will make comments.  They will often highlight the students who I am missing – the ones who are sitting in the back and are not engaged.  It will show how pathetic my efforts to engage them are.  Especially at this point in the year, when my frustration with a year of slacking off and causing trouble has reached a boiling point, I tend to neglect those students who are adamant about being defiant.


Would he say I’ve been successful?  Through his eyes I am forced to examine my weaknesses and failures.  On any given day there are still kids talking back to me, kids out of their seats, kids punching one another, arriving late to class, talking when I am talking, not even writing their name son their papers.  And yet, even with disorder and chaos, most of my student have been able to learn.  I weight this against the other goals – teach respect, have good class management, etc. and it’s hard to see what wins.  


I do feel like I’ve learned a lot – I know how to teach in a way where they will learn, despite their best efforts not to.  But the learning curve was steep, and months wasted in the beginning of the year mean that I didn’t make it fully through the year’s curriculum for the 7th grade.


I feel compelled to end the year on a high note – thinking positively, and feeling good about the time that I spent with my students, but it’s difficult to find a way to measure that looks beyond the numbers.

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