I've been feeling really disconnected lately -- from my students, my job and from teaching in general. I feel like I'm starting to take out on my students all the inner resentment I have for the BS I'm asked to deal with, and I hate feeling that way because we do still have some lovely moments of clarity together that are unfortunately overshadowed by all the other nonsense. There is definitely a system of trickle-down pressure at work in my school -- teachers who are under pressure from administration then put that pressure on their students -- and I can't shake the feeling that I know I shouldn't be blaming my students or expecting more from them than they are capable of just because my administration has completely unrealistic expectations...but somehow I can't help it.
This month, for instance, we are working on a non-fiction science unit in which the kids will be researching a topic (say, plants) in reading and then writing about it during writing. The first problem with this unit is that there are multiple grades doing it at the same time, and there just aren't enough books to go around. Some of my teachers were gracious enough to make sure they had enough books for my group as well as their own and we just intermixed our kids, but others assumed I would be bringing my own books for my own kids...where am I supposed to unearth these mythical books from, you ask? Yesterday I made a trip to the public library to check out mounds of books, and today I made a return trip, and I ended up with the maximum number of books allowed. I even pleadingly asked if they could make an exception for schoolteachers, but no such luck. Now I have to impress upon my students that under threat of death they will take exceedingly good care of those library books.
The second problem with this unit is that, like everything else my school does, it is over-ambitious and rushed. Today, for instance, our readers were supposed to browse the books in their topic and ask themselves, "What smaller topics inside my big topic do I want to gather information on?" -- basically, they were supposed to choose six sub-topics to research. We talked about examples of good sub-topics, like, "What They Eat," "Where They Live," "What They Look Like" (the "They" being dependent on one's actual topic, of course), and some of them did an admirable job. But realistically, can you expect a seven-year-old to decide on six good sub-topics in fifteen minutes of non-fiction reading when this is only the second day they've ever seen the books at all? I feel like that's a concept that some high schoolers and college students would still struggle with. And these are the topics we're expecting them to stick with and research all month! I felt like I was telling them, "In other words, if you do a half-assed job today, you're screwed." One of my colleagues suggested that we ask permission to carry the lesson over to tomorrow as well, and I thought: Why should we need to ask permission to make a judgment call on a lesson that we didn't think went as well as it could have?
So when my usual troublemakers were stirring up trouble, I was more short-tempered than usual with them -- trickle-down pressure. There were the kids who had been daydreaming during the mini lesson and missed the point of it completely, who went off to their science reading and began to complain, "I don't know what to do." Then one of my lower readers, in an attempt to follow my suggestion that he use the table of contents to help him choose his topics, chose "Index" as one of his sub-topics.
I just see the whole month going this way -- one disaster after another, because the workshop model is not going to help them learn how to research a topic when we model it once and then just charge ahead and expect them to do it. Oh, and let's not forget about the parade of interruptions from running records and NYSESLAT testing. If I had my way, we would focus on fewer things, give them more time and attention, and I would meet with students individually and in small groups to help them with their research instead of pulling them for these ridiculous "goal" strategy lessons.
But of course, I don't have my way.