For three of the five classes today, things went fantastic. The goal was to get students working with, and understanding, The Triangle Sum Theorem. Full lesson prep here. Much like the previous lesson I had the chance to teach, the content does not excite me. Yo, all you're doing is adding angles together and getting 180. Nothin' cool about it!!!
So, again, challenge accepted. We started with a Which One Doesn't Belong that I found on @martinsean's blog post about his lesson (thanks, #MTBoS search engine), just to get the students' minds in the right place with a conversation about triangles and their properties.
I really believe that starting with appetizers like these elicit more discussion and higher engagement at the onset of class, which is the most important chunk of time we spend with our kids. They are coming in from another class, another experience, and need to let their curiosity travel to the math references. WODB does a great job of that.
Next up, I had the students get to this handout, which has students explore a variety of triangles. The kicker here is that I didn't make any copies, so I opted for students to force a copy into their own drive, then use it as a reference throughout the day. I floated between going through examples and letting students explore on their own. I'm not a big fan of the "I do, we do, you do" because it doesn't provide the flexibility I seek in my lessons. Rather, I employ the "dang, looks like a good time for you to explore... OK, now let's go back through it... OK, do your thing again... Wait, back to me so I can get some consensus."
Yeah, I get it; more structure. I'll work on it.
Here are the links I had students use to explore the Triangle Sum Theorem and Exterior Angle Postulate:
Triangle Sum Theorem Intro
Triangle Sum Theorem
So now, here's the reality of teaching: No matter how good the lesson prep is, you can only do so much to account for the nuance of human behavior, especially teenage behavior. As my colleague and I discussed, kids come in with a rap sheet of prior experiences longer than anything you could imagine... and you expect them to care about the fact that three angles add to 180? Nah.
One student was infatuated with the word "shit" and seemed to find a variety of ways to incorporate it into her dialogue. I playfully asked if she could find another word to replace it for the period, lamenting that "it seems like you really like that word... yeah" to which she agreed and vowed to try. She did. Matt Vaudrey's "Givachit Scale" ran through my head during the entire day.
Another thing that bugged me is that I heard kids calling each other gay or fags at least three times. Not one to let these things like that slide, I peacefully made my way over and asked them to find alternatives for the word after explaining what they meant, to which all three complied. Truth is, though, that we have a lot of work to do in eradicating hateful language in schools (and, to be real, outside of it as well).
Yet another part of the day that bugged me, and I knew this going in based on the level of students with whom I got to work, is the blatant disregard for instruction. As in, they are not going to do anything in class today. Not even for a guest teacher who has a fun lesson put together and brings the energy. Not even with the regular teacher in the room, encouraging the whole time. Not even... nah, just not happening.
Perhaps the part that got to me the most is that I let those small things get to me and impact how I taught those two classes. I noticed myself giving those students more attention throughout the period so I could keep them on task, but that also meant that the group near the door who looked a little lost didn't get enough of me. They didn't get my best because I was allocating it elsewhere.
And then I have to remember, again, that sometimes my best is simply not going to be enough. I am going to care, and teach, and try, as much as I can. I am going to work my tail off to give students the best possible experience with the content and the environment. However, if the external aspects of a child's life are more pressing than the work to be done in the classroom, external wins far more often than not. After talking to the teacher about the young lady in love with the "s-word", she has been in and out of trouble all year, so a small breakthrough is actually a big one. One of the young men using homophobic slurs is destined for alternative school and he knows it, which is a real shame. Another student had a 0.50 GPA last semester.
What is your best going to do for those kids?
I'm, not saying that we don't try.
I'm not saying that we stress over reaching those students and being the person who helps them turn the corner.
I'm not saying that we stop caring, loving, and being there.
I'm saying that, no matter what we do, there are days that we look back and realize that our best wasn't good enough.
And then, when you think that the day was a failure because of kids who demanded more attention than I could provide, I remembered that two students at the end of 5th period came up and told us "hey, that was actually pretty fun. Thank you for today." Three fifths of the day went very well, and there were even bright moments in the two tough periods.
It wasn't a total mess of a day, so I will take that not-so-small victory.
Happy "Finding My Best" Fishing