Posted by: Magistra | March 13, 2008

Stuck

The third quarter ends tomorrow. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had one conversation bouncing around in my head, sometimes at the front, demanding my full attention, other times quieter in the back, whispering at me. I was talking to G (the initial having no relationship to his actual name). G has previously made comments about how the last time he learned any math was in third grade and that starting in fourth grade he stopped getting it. Turns out, I’m the first math teacher G has ever had. Think about that for a second. He’s in 9th grade and he’s never had a “real” math teacher.

When G was talking, he automatically overlooked his elementary teachers. There’s a good discussion to be had there, but I’m more interested in G’s perspective than a adult’s explanation of why that’s an incorrect assumption. After all, even if you leave out K-6, there’s still grades 7 and 8. Seventh grade he never had a “real” teacher. G’s definition of “real” is someone who isn’t a substitute (long-term or otherwise). 7th grade math was a series of substitutes. 8th grade math started out with a “real” (meaning full time, presumably credentialed) teacher, but she “freaked out” after a couple of months. She broke down in the classroom, yelling and crying, and was gone the next day. Now G’s got me, a first year teacher.

The other thing that’s been in my head, is that no student has asked me if I’m leaving this quarter. I first got asked the question towards the end of 1st quarter. At the time I basically dismissed it. It’s September, the year is barely starting, how can you think I’m leaving? When we came back after Thanksgiving (when the students had the whole week off), I overheard a group of students saying they were surprised I was there. At least I understood it then. Second quarter, in particular one student who has since been transferred, was not easy. Before winter break, students asked me if I would be there in January.

We’ll, it’s March now, and they’re still stuck with me. If nothing else, I have demonstrated consistency. I have been reliable. I have been the most consistent, the most reliable, and the only “real” math teacher G has ever had. I’m in my first year and if you made a highlight reel of G’s math education, I’d be in it. Hell, I’d star in it.

I want to be filled with righteous indignation for G, for my other students with the same story. But I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to teach Algebra and reinforce number sense, and maybe encourage problem-solving, and strengthen vocabulary acquisition. In the classroom, I see the bar I want them to meet, and I expect them to work towards it, every day. But after they leave, and I remember this conversation with G, and the other questions about will she still be there?, the bar seems monumentally unreachable, and possibly irrelevant.

Yet tomorrow morning they’ll be back and so will I. They’re stuck with me.

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