Slice of Life: Frustration Levels

Slice of Life(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

There’s a teacher at my school whom I respect greatly for her love of children and her teaching ability and style (I want to be like her when I grown up), but she often reminds us that, “I refuse to do more work than the student,” which is something she doesn’t quite mean (she does plenty for her students) but which hits at the issue of student responsibility. Yes, I — the teacher — have an obligation to help them learn, but they — the students  — too, have an obligation to learn and grow, too.  One rarely succeeds without the other.

I was reminded of this yesterday when the majority of one of my classes of sixth graders had failed to do a very  simple homework assignment given five days ago, even after having time to work on it in class on the day it was assigned so that I and my student teacher (who actually assigned it) could help them as needed. This followed on the heels of some other work not being turned in by much of the same class when I was away on Friday. Now, this class has a number of students with documented organizational issues, but this was just too much for me to let slide.

I know I have a cold and my head is tired, but I sort of lost it for a bit in class and took them all to task, hard, for not striving for the highest bar instead of the lowest, which some of them seem to be doing already (and spring isn’t even here yet!). I reminded them that parent-teacher conferences are next week, and that our report/progress reports are going on soon, too, but that most of all, they were disappointing me and letting themselves down  with their passive work ethic. I expect more of them, for heaven’s sake,

I don’t know if it got through.Their heads hung low and they were listening, but I don’t really know if my words got through.

In another class, I had to pull a student outside in the hallway and give a similar lecture, one-on-one. It has been a continuous string of excuses for not doing any work and I had had it (he didn’t realize that I had gone through this earlier with an entire class, poor kid). He nodded, and gestured a good game, but we’ll see if he follows through. Then, at the end of the day, after checking all of their planners, I reminded my students of a few things they should have already had packed in their backpacks and I was amazed at how many scrambled back to their desks. They would have come into school tomorrow, empty of the assignments but full of excuses about why they couldn’t do the work because they left stuff at school (and watch, there will be one or two who will have zoned me out and watched the classmates get their things and not have figured out that they, too, were missing something. I just know it. Or is my mood affecting me?)

Honestly, I felt like a frustrated babysitter more than a teacher, yesterday, and I am hopeful to see some changes in the days ahead, otherwise, we are all in for a rough patch of “Mr H. Turns on the Heat.” That’s never pretty to be part of, even for me.

Peace (in the my class, please),

  1. Interesting that you mention striving for the highest bar. I have read a number of times this last week about rigor and raising our expectations, not teaching to the lowest bar. I am doing a lot of wondering about how these raised expectations might help kids understand that we have confidence and respect for their ability to learn. Sorry that you are frustrated but your slice this morning is helping me as I ponder this topic of student work and responsibility. Thanks

  2. This kind of day was happening in more than one place. I had a Personal Scolding Session with three of my students. I said to one “Do you think I write on your papers to satisfy my own ego?” The code word for shame in our classroom is “That’s just so high school,” meaning, having to have someone track you and personally motivate you and remind you. I was pretty frustrated as well as the was the second time I’d seen that paper (it was a revision of the lovely mess he’d turned in the first time) and all he’d done was correct the errors. After our “high school” session at my desk, he said, “Okay! I’ll get this all fixed up and give it back to you.” Nope, I said. Your 68% stands. You’re done with this one. He was pretty stunned. Maybe, like your students, he’ll get the picture and get on the wagon. One can only hope. Isn’t that what keeps us going?

    BTW, I love that other teacher’s mantra. It may help me keep perspective when he hands me his research paper. (Can you tell I’m dreading that?)

  3. Sounds like the day I had yesterday. Some of my students are so over scheduled after school that they really do have a hard time keeping up with their school responsibilities. Whenever I make this point on back to school night, I get much rolling of the eyes, etc. – you know, mind your own beeswax teacherlady and do YOUR job. Often, when I hold a chld accountable for a late assignment I get a rude email (cc to the principal,of course) in protest. Nevertheless, I think it is our responsibility to teach our students to be accountable.

  4. Some people never get their homework done. Getting my husband to finish his master’s degree has brought my teacher voice out at home more than once! 🙂

  5. You are so not alone this week! We do at times have to “lay down the law” for our students to show them we care about their learning and expect them to rise to certain occasions (such as doing homework). We get passionate about student learning and thus it engages our heart and soul in the matter and at times it comes pouring out like a lecture. But remember, we do it out of concern and frustration because we know students potential!

  6. Kevin,
    Thanks for sharing this Slice. Although it wasn’t the most joyful part of your day (I hope!), it is a real part of being a teacher. I find these times to haunt me & I’m glad to know I’m not alone in it. I appreciate your candid reflection in today’s Slice.
    Thanks for writing,

  7. Keep on them! I am a fellow teacher and also a parent of a student who could be one of yours. He is driving me crazy! My post tonight was about me trying to decide how much to micro-manage this kid since he just fell flat for the past trimester. Hang in there — peace.

  8. I definitely feel you on this one. It’s very disappointing/frustrating when students turn in underwhelming work (or nothing at all). The appropriate response to this is always a challenge too. I’m never sure if taking a class to task for poor work/behavior makes a long term difference, though it usually does in the short term. It would be great if there were some magic bullet for laziness, but I suppose that’s the challenge/joy of teaching. It’s an adventure everyday.

  9. Oh, Kevin, I hear this loud and clear. I was in the same place with about a third of my class today. Not for their lack of homework (although there’s that, too) but for their behavior in the classroom. I started writing a slice about it and got so frustrated, I gave up and posted something silly to take my mind off of it. Maybe I’ll go back to it for tomorrow. Your post, as much I’m sorry for your frustration, really helped me. No, I’m not the only teacher who feels this way, I’m not the only one whose students sometimes disappoint. I know these things, of course, but I can forget when I’m in the middle of the situation. Thanks for the solidarity! And good luck tomorrow.

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