this is only a test.

woooo hoooo boy! test day! yikes! 10 questions, show all work.

what was the highest score? ... 2 out of 10. i shit you not.

i stayed after to grade the tests. i showed them to my guiding teacher. she shook her head and said, "look, i know that the desire to stop and go over it again is overpowering. but think about it. did they do their homework? did they show up to tutoring when both you *and* i are available? did they pay attention in class? the answer to all these questions is a resounding NO. you held up your end. you taught the material. if they decided to make no attempt to learn it, then that's on their end." and it's true. once i gave the exam, the kids were a chorus of questions: "help me, i don't get it! how do i distribute? does this become a negative?" she said, "did they ask you yesterday? you gave a practice set of questions, and what did they do? nothing. they didn't take advantage of the opportunity. and that's what you are supposed to do: provide equal access and equal opportunity. you did that. but you can't force them. ultimately, they make the decision to learn or not."

yeh, but i probably won't sleep any better. my guiding teacher and i talked about the culture that surrounds these kids: why do they think it's ok to be stoopid? they don't have learning disabilities, just self-imposed handicaps: "i don't need to learn this, my parents are going to take care of me for the rest of my life" -- ha ha ha ha. "i don't need to know this, i'm going to deal drugs!" -- ha ha. "i already know this! i don't need to do my homework!" -- ha.

anyway, we also know that there are no "educated" role models in these kids' lives. i'm going to talk to my field supervisor next week about trying to get a field trip for my kids to get up to ucla. maybe if we dangle the carrot in front of them, it might motivate them, even a little bit.

does anyone who reads this know anyone at caltech? it is a math class, after all. i imagine caltech has a lot more fun math and astronomy stuff.


Steven said...

I know some people who know some people at Caltech.

I'm not sure role models are an answer, by and large. We've struggled with this in my employer's educational outreach program, trying to get kids interested in math and science. You can generate interest by building a lot of bridges out of popsicle sticks and flying a lot of model rockets, but eventually the kid has to take (and pass, and maybe even understand) freshman calculus if s/he wants to go down that road. In contrast, the role models for "success" without math skills are all around these kids, in the form of parents, siblings, etc.

Knowing math -- and I'm writing now about arithmetic, not calculus -- really isn't that necessary a life skill anymore. The ATM tells you your bank balance, the cash register tells you how much change to give (cf. your subsequent post); it's pretty much moot for so many of these kids.

mrc said...

Hi. I'm a first-year math teacher as well. It's cool to find your blog. I know some people at caltech; email me and I will hook you up.

Also, a lot of the things you're saying resonate with me. I see the challenge as partly a sales job and partly a management job. On the one hand, you have to sell math, and role models help a lot with that. So do honest discussions about social justice and how they might be able break the cycle, beat the system, etc, and honest discussions of how much hard work it will take, since so many odds and powers-that-be are set against them. I use jobs and college and the SAT and making bank as a corporate executive as levers all the time.

But it's also a management job, and I don't just mean classroom management. I mean that we are as much responsible for their time as they are. If they were adults, we could just provide the opportunity to learn and if they didn't seize the day, then it's their problem. But they're kids, and they need strong guidance. They are much more likely to do what my 6'3" black male colleague says out of the box then they are to do what my 5'5" white female colleague says. But it's not the size, it's what you do with it. If they know you're unafraid to whip their ass (metaphorically, of course) it goes a long way.

I totally empathize with your problem of having days go by when no work gets done. This makes me angry and I let them know it. Over time, my class culture has evolved so that they know that when they work, I am fun and happy and kind and helpful and we get work done and it's cool. They also know that when they slack and play and don't work, that I get cranky, start ejecting kids who cross me, calling parents, and raising all kinds of hell for them. It still happens, but more rarely, and my class leaders have emerged. Now I have students telling others to straighten up and even helping others learn.

Anyway, sorry for the novel-length comment. Good luck with everything!

jellybelly692 said...


I am liking your blog very much. It is interesting to know what goes on at the other end of the spectrum. I am a preschool teacher, Montessori, and I am not sure what kind of an influence I have at all. Especially in the location I am at. I wish I could offer help, encouragement, even a shared situation. But I cant. Your efforts are commendable and I do not envy your job. I do think if anyone can help them, it is a person like you. Your dedication will show.
I know people from Cal Tech and JPL. I am not sure what they can do for you, but if you want info, call Bryan.(this is seadra by the way...HI!!)
Good luck and I look forward to reading more...

Anonymous said...

I didnt find thing that i need... :-(

Anonymous said...

Buy levitra online