Part 4: One of Those Teachers
Fortunately, my prep period was next. I revised the lesson based on the reaction from my first class. Third period was better. And by the end of sixth block, there were fewer hands in the air. I even got a few chuckles out of the students. Best of all, I did not have to assign any more quizzes. Maybe I was not going to be one of those teachers after all.
Was I wrong.
On the second day of school, I found it was a terrible idea to assign a quiz to just one class.
“Why are we the only class that has to take a quiz on this stupid story?” were the first words out of the girl who yesterday had asked if we were going to go over the syllabus.
Note to self - students communicate with students from other sections of the same class on assignments.
“Oh, the quiz is not that hard,” I said grabbing the quizzes off my desk and dispersing them. “Don’t worry. There will be plenty of quizzes later on for the other classes too.” What? Where did that come from? I thought.
“Now, I know we got a little confused yesterday when I just handed out the story and the guide and didn’t go over the instructions,” I said as I set the last quiz face down on a student’s desk. “So for this quiz, read the directions thoroughly and do exactly as they say. When you are done, put the quizzes in the basket on my desk.”
I was impressed. No one even tried to turn the quiz over to take a peek. “You may begin now,” I said. “Oh yeah, don’t forget to read the direct---” My words fell on deaf ears as they flipped the quiz over and began answering questions.
What they did not realize, though, was that I felt so badly that they were the only class to get a quiz that I had given them an easy out. All they had to do was read the directions, for they clearly stated, “Read the directions completely before beginning the quiz. If you do, all you need to do is put your name on it and turn it in.”
Yet, right before my eyes, I saw every student tear through the quiz! So much for my new emphasis on reading and following directions, I thought. Well, just let this be a lesson to them.
When the last student submitted his quiz, I asked, “Did anyone bother to read the directions?”
Students shook their heads and peered at one another to see if anyone had actually read the directions. I broke it to them as gently as I could that if they acompleted the quiz, rather than just putting their names on it, then they failed.
The group of overachievers in the front cluster drilled holes in my head with their glares. They were not pleased that it was only the second day of class and already they had failed a quiz. Others were shocked and wanted to know if that the quiz was really going to count. A few - namely a group of boys in the back - were grinning, impressed that I had pulled one over on them.
They began arguing that it was not fair. Some wanted to re-do it. Others wanted me to give the quiz to my other classes to see if any others would bother to read the directions. “Ha,” I quipped. “I know how quickly word spreads from one section to the next. That would never work!”
Then we spent the reaming 40 minutes discussing this issues. And something magical happened.
Somehow we entered into a zone where they freely shared ideas. They lobbied hard for me to disregard the quiz. I countered their claims and asked why shouldn’t I fail them for not reading the fine print?
The students took my rebuttal and countered it, offering evidence for their stance. I did not know it at the time, but despite the fact that I had not planned it, this was the first time I was really teaching.
It did not take us long before a student applied the implications of not reading the fine print to product placements on TV.
“It’s like those diet pill commercials,” a student called out. “Have you ever noticed the real tiny print at the bottom of the screen?”
“Yeah, that’s true,” another student chimed in.
“That’s right,” a third student stated. “It actually says something like ‘results not typical’ or ‘diet and exercise are the best way to achieve actual results!’”
Other students threw out names of bogus products they saw advertised recently. Other students named the rip-offs either they or their parents were duped into purchasing.
Note to self - record some infomercials tonight to share in class. Better yet, ask students to search their homes for bogus products and bring them in for show and tell. Also, what story can I use to tie all this together?
It was one of those magical times where I happened to glance at the clock and saw that the period was jus about over. We had not even discussed “The Harry Hastings Method”!
Hoping to tie the story in as the class period wound down, I asked students to turn in their reader-response guides. Only about half of the class actually opened their folders or books and took them out and passed them forward. Others stared down at their desks, a bit guilty that they neglected to complete their homework.
One boy at the back of the room fished something out of his back pocket. He then set it on his desk and unfolded it half a dozen times to reveal my carefully constructed reader-response guide, which was now crumpled and torn. He fished a pencil out of his other back pocket and scrawled something resembling a name in the upper right corner, so much for the actual spot I put in the upper left corner for their names, date, and class period. Then he tossed it over the shoulder of the student in front of him.
When I collected them, most were only partially completed. Only two students had even attempted to answer the post reading question. So much for my plans of writing essays based off of their reactions to the story!
Despite our wonderful discussion in class, things felt like they were falling apart again. I grabbed on to a lifeline. I recalled how my Fundamentals of Education professor always had us complete exit slips, calling for us to summarize what we covered in class that day. I included them in my mock lesson plans too. They never failed to generate honest and useful feedback.
“Okay, for your final assignment today,” I began, “I want you to take out a sheet of paper complete what I call an exit slip. Ever hear of one?”
Students shook their heads as they ripped sheets out of their notebooks, so I strode to my white board and wrote two questions: “What did you like most about the story?” and “What would you like to see me do differently in class?”
“This is a way for us to summarize what we have learned,” I explained. “Plus, it’s a chance for you to give me some feedback on how I am doing.” What? I had not planned to say that. What am I doing? What happens if they tell me I suck? Oh well, it was out there now, I thought. At least I was not one of those teachers who never sought student in put.
Students began writing their responses. I even had a few linger after the bell to finish. Hey, maybe I was becoming one of those teachers who worked their kids so hard they cannot finish during the class period. I recalled my high school Algebra teacher who worked us a minute past the bell every day. Maybe I would not mind being one of those teachers after all.
Was I wrong.