What I’m Learning From My Students

I’m almost at the end of my first week with eleventh grade students, and I’ve learned a couple of things. I was curious (hopeful, actually) that high school juniors would be a bit more mature than their ninth grade counterparts. Not drastically more mature, mind you, but if they could get past the bit in Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio references his “fiddlestick” without breaking into giggles, I’d settle.

After spending four days with these kids, I’m not totally sure they’re more mature, but they’re definitely more goal-oriented. With ninth graders, there are always a few in every class who won’t pick their head up, constantly fight your efforts to get them to work, and basically have no appreciation for the fact that you’re actually trying to teach them, dammit, so will they please pay attention? There’s only one such student in the eleventh grade group, and he’s actually a kid who was in my class two years ago and behaved exactly the same way. It’s no surprising that, although he IS in his third year of high school, his ID tag reveals he’s still technically classified as a freshman due to lack of credits.

With juniors, I think the deal is that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The freshmen have all the time in the world, and they’re going to waste all of it they possibly can. Juniors are more inherently aware of the fact that they’re supposed to graduate next year, and anything they do right now could potentially screw that up. Sure, some of them still don’t give a damn, but more of them do, and that’s actually kind of a rewarding feeling.

I still don’t know if I’d be ready to walk away from ninth graders to teach upperclassmen full time, or even if such an offer would ever be made, but for now at least I’m finding the change in attitude quite refreshing.


2 Responses to “What I’m Learning From My Students”

  1. March 18, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Yeah, I remember that moment in grade 11 – probably about halfway through the year – when I realized the stakes were getting higher and I should start behaving as such.

  2. March 21, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I think you’d be fine teaching upper classmen. Right now you’re just kind of bogged down by the extra work.

    The thing is, I think teaching 9th grade is more important. A Junior isn’t a lost cause, but with Freshman, you stand the possibility of making a real difference before the stakes get higher. How much easier is college when someone explains to you “hey, if you do the hard part now and get a strong foundation, the real work is so much easier.” You can make a bigger impact on the freshman. By the time they’re Juniors and seniors, it’s too late to course correct their GPA so they get scholarships. Of course they can still prepare to test out of basic course– but even so.

    Good for you, sir. I’d entrust my imaginary offspring in your care, which is about as high a compliment as you’re likely to get from me.

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