Teachers have to be flexible

Many times I have heard that the best advice to new teachers is to be flexible. This is such excellent advice. So many times, there have been all kinds of unexpected events that have disrupted learning: fire alarms, field trips, assemblies that I didn’t find out about, all manner of useless announcements over the PA system that cut you off right when you’re getting to the punch line at the end of the lesson, etc. Then of course, there are the issues that students bring.

I’ll be administering finals over the next few days. Students invariably have all kinds of excuses and last minute issues and there is nothing else to do than to just roll with the punches. Some students told me they are going to skip school on Friday because of the World Cup. I told them it’s their decision if they want to fail their math class.

Other students have very legitimate issues. One student’s father passed away last week (and I know that this student would definitely not lie like this) and will miss school because of funeral preparations. Another student told me that her mother was sent to jail last week and she’ll be skipping school to take care of younger siblings. I’m not sure if the latter one will be back to take finals.

What to do about poor retention?

I was really frustrated today by my students’ poor retention of information. We were reviewing for our final exam in Geometry today and half of my students could not find the area and circumference of a circle. The problem was not obscured by context in any way, I just drew a circle, marked the diameter as 12 meters, and asked for the area and circumference. Students were working on personal white boards and as I walked around the room, I saw lots of blank boards. A few students were confused by the fact that you have to first find the radius (6 meters), but many students just didn’t know the formula for the area and circumference of a circle.

We have practiced finding the area and circumference of circles in various circumstances at least a dozen times. We measure circles, drew circles, made cylinders out of cardboard. A few times we just practiced doing exactly the task that I described. It is so frustrating that the information is just not sticking.

And this is just about finding the area and circumference of circles. Just imagine what the retention was like for other topics. It was pretty sad. It made me feel like a super huge failure as a teacher. I know part of the problem is that over half of my class does zero homework–without extra practice, there’s not enough repetition for  things to sink in. But still, I thought by now students would know the formulas for area and circumference of a circle, even without doing homework.

What do I have to do so that students will retain information better? And I’m not referring to some of the more detailed facts (like the fact that the intersection of the angle bisectors in a triangle is the incenter), but very basic and fundamental ideas and facts.

Ten more days to go

Only ten more days of school left in the school year! (Thank you, furlough days!)

Today was a surprisingly successful day. Students in Algebra 1 were amazingly attentive and quiet today, even though (a) it was Friday, (b) we are so near the end of school, and (c) these kids are usually a wild pack of beasts.

I think some of it had to do with the fact that I was pretty strict at the beginning of class and somehow we got into this weird situation where we had a long enough stretch of time when it got absolutely could-hear-a-pin-drop quiet and no one seemed brave enough to break the silence while working (one of those weird group psychology things, I bet). But I think the main reason for their focus was that they were doing math and doing pretty well. I must sound like a broken record by now, but I really do feel that motivation is mostly a function of whether students feel like they are or can be successful at a task.

Oh, and apparently I was voted “Most Chill Teacher” today by the students. Go me!