Teaching is hard. You are working to develop minds which are vastly different from person to person. However, this challenge is one of the things I love the most about teaching. Since the pandemic, teaching has been harder. I haven’t figured out all the reasons why it is harder. There are so many things about it. One that I am sure is the change in the kids. Their mental state is more fractured. It is not all of them but enough. I thought this year would finally be the “new normal” year but it is not. Despite this, I have not had a desire to leave. Well, at least until recently.
Multiple challenges came to a head and I just lost it. There are too many challenges to name but the heart was the cell phone use by my students. Although I have structures for its use, classes were not following them often. I have tried various ways to address it but I discovered it is harder this year because they use it unregulated in many classes. I lost it during a class after seeing a third student engrossed in a movie on their phone while I was explaining the work time. The students immediately came to attention as my voice carried like a mother on fire. Please know raising your voice is not the best option to do. It should not be the norm and it should not be more often than being kind and loving. I apologized for turning on my mother on fire voice and the students accepted my apology and said they understood my frustration. I spent the rest of the day thinking about if it is worth working this hard anymore. There are so many other things that I could do that is still teaching but doesn’t drain me beyond empty.
That evening, I realized there were a lot of things that was contributing to my defeat but most of them I could control. I am not in a school where the admin are unnecessarily demanding or unsupportive. I don’t have kids who are ugly or talk to me in a horrible manner. It is just a situation that has become common after the pandemic. We hear about the extreme cases in schools all the time. We don’t hear the basic challenges that are occuring. As I examined each class period, I realized it is just two class periods that is causing most of my angst. I decided my first step was to tell everyone my feelings and that I am working on a plan that will be implemented the following week. I am always honest about what I feel with my students and I ask them to be real with me. I model for them how to deal with things that happen in life and how to right a wrong made.
There are two big problems to be addressed: phones and inconsistent work. The second problem involves something that occurs outside of class as well as inside of class. It is a problem but not as frequent of an occurrence as the first. As a result, I decided to first work on the phone problem which drives the lack of work in class. Part 1 of the plan is no one can have their phone out until midway through the work time. A warning will be issued if I see it once and if it happens a second time they have to go to the office.
I already had cell phone holders on the desk. The process in my class was students needed to put their phone in it or their school bag during the mini-lesson if they could not resist it. Two classes were declining on this procedure the most but my other classes could use the help as well. I had not been enforcing it as much as I should have and putting it back in place would help. Putting the phone completely away should reduce my need to give a warning or send anyone to the office.
Part 2 of the plan is low tech for at least a week. During the pandemic, our students were issued a chromebook and a hotspot. This is one of the best things I think came out of the pandemic but it is a different way of teaching. I don’t want to move the movie watching from the phone to the chromebook. As a result, we are not going to use the chromebooks for at least a week. They will only use paper, whiteboards and a TI-Nspire CX II calculator.
Although I have come to love not being at the copy machine every day, I need to print the work for students to help them deal with their tech addiction. The structure of my class (workshop model) is perfect for any learning strategy so I used it as the bases for the way students would work. This lead to the creation of the weekly learning organizer (You have permission to use this document for classroom use). Students fill out this organizer during the mini-lesson of the class and use it to support their work during the work time.
The final part of the plan is use the graphing calculator and whiteboards to assess students understanding throughout the lesson. Although I have used the graphing calculators all year, the students did not know the calculator can be used to send and receive student work. The first few days of class will have to be used to train students on how to send their work to my computer. The TI-Nspire CX calculators have a seperate tool called the TI-NSpire Navigator system. It is basically a top that is added to the calculator. It creates a bluetooth connection between the calculators and the computer. I can send students a question via a poll or as a document. The document can be used as an exam or as a self-assessment where students can see if they got the problems correct.
I am choosing this combination to achieve two major components of my class: ability to learn as an entire class and in small groups or individually. Before this shift, nearpod was my main tool to drive the classroom. Students completed a success starter (a form of bell work that is designed to set students up to successfully engage in the lesson. I got it from the book Learning in the Fast Lane) as a class. They had the ability to talk as a whole class to work through the answer. If the entire class gets the correct answer, they received a small piece of candy as a celebration. Students then would review the mini-lesson which varied from a modeling of the concept to a discussion with their peers to uncover the concept. Students would then move into work time which was also in the nearpod. Given they could not have a device, I needed tools that still promoted this community. The TI-Nspire will be used to deliver the success starter and sometimes the work time items. Traditional paper with the assignment will also be used. Students will work in small groups on a designated whiteboard during the class work time.
I am really optimistic about this plan. I still need to think about how to help students deal with the phone. I have family who have addictions and I have learned cold turkey is not a long term solution. People need to have tools to enable them to get over their addiction. I am going to research ways to help manage phone usage and also see what works when I implement the plan. Check out how the 1st week went on this post.