Diary of a teacher: Struggle in grade 7

Grade 7b is an extremely diverse class. In Maths, I have 13 students as the “basic course”. Of these 13, many seem to hate Maths. Nothing new there, I hear you say? To me it is… I want my students to feel like they CAN do Maths, do feel like they know what it’s for. But grade 7b is far from this.

After sick leave last week, I got back today to someone telling me, the kids are sick of fractions. But when I got to class, I quickly realized that this is not it. The kids were extremely overwhelmed by the most basic questions. So we backtracked…. and it seems like we have to go way back before we can catch up. 

This is where the trouble begins… the curriculum says they have already done this. Formally speaking, the 13 students in the basic course, who, according to last year’s teacher, were the ones who couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it, have no time to catch up. 
No worries, we will. 

So what do I do with these Maths-hating, “I can’t do Maths”-saying, generally occupied with other things and problems teenagers? 

  • Make sure they have some positive experience… start off with something they can do or that is relatively “easy” (and at the same time use this period to set boundaries and rules, which is another thing the class struggles with).
  • Focus on the main aspects of fractions and decimals in order to get to what is meant to be done according to the curriculum
  • Make them explain and reflect instead of completing typical drill-based exercises
  • Allow time for us to get to know each other

As far as behaviour goes, that’s another story for another day. But we’ll get to this! I can already tell you that grade 7 will probably be my main opportunity for learning this year and as such, you will probably read more about them as we go along. Thanks for reading and please do post your comments, ideas and anything else!

Changes… but are we prepared?

I’m all in favour for change. Really, it is the one thing that helps us to move on, develop and better ourselves. But sometimes I wonder whether we are ready for the changes that are being implemented or thought to be implemented in the German education system.

Currently, students with special needs can be taught in the mainstream classroom or go to a special needs school. But we are now thinking INCLUSION, the term going through every German educators mind right now (if it is not going through yours…. why not?). The aim is to teach all students inclusively.

I’m all for it. Definitely. But HELLO? Are we really READY for something big as this? Here are a few questions I wish to raise… and I wonder how other countries/systems deal with this!

  • How do we staff our classrooms? Are we still thinking that one teacher is enough to deal with a class of 20-25 primaries which include possibly 4-5 or more special educational needs (more likely 20-25 😉 )
  • What about grades? Are we planning to grade all students as we are doing now? Are we not grading the “special kids” and thus make them “special” again?
  • Curriculum? Who does it apply to? Are we sticking to age/grade specific curricula? Are we not even going to consider phase-based/individual development plans for all students?
  • How aware are the teachers who will soon cater to a variety of needs? Learning disabilities, social and emotional problems, etc etc. Are we asking too much maybe?
  • Where is the collaboration or at least cooperation between special needs teachers and mainstream school teachers going to start and end? What about social workers?

These are just a few questions. I don’t think we are ready. The reality is gruesome. We have teachers who are afraid of students with disabilities; not because they are not tolerant, but because they have so much on their hands they worry not be able to meet their needs! And because they lack experience!
We grade students and as a result make them stand out or disillusioned!

We are not ready. But change still has to happen…. just how?

Where is their curiosity?

I know I’m spoilt. I know that most of my previous schools where exceptional, esp. in the pedagogic approach (IB schools in particular). But I wasn’t prepared for this.

I’m at a high school in a very socially challenged area. The school form, a less academic secondary school, is threatened with closure, the school deals with being understaffed. The students come from a variety of backgrounds, but mainly families with little educational background (and interest), unemployment and more often than one would like see (not that we want to see this at all) major problems such as abuse, etc.

I teach grades 5, 7, 8 and 9. The upper grades were my main worry, but to be honest, they seem fine. What really shocked me is…. that grade 5 is full of kids with no natural curiosity… with a fully loaded hatred for school and everything that goes with it. A grade full of kids that think that learning is “stupid”.

Where do you go from there? How do you hook these kids? How do not end up in the “open your books on page 5”  dilema?

That’s another thing… all my other classes have been trained to “work by the book”,…. how do you open this up?

Challenges!