Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You just don't get it sir!

Yes, the kids do call us 'Sir' still, it's a mark of endearment for some kids - but before anyone gets too excited, there's usually a 'f*ck off' in a nearby sentence.

Occasionally you get a disruptive student that says "I just don't get maths" or "I don't need maths in "... and I think to myself here we go again. Do I have an honest student that has no faith in their ability or a student looking for excuses to maintain poor behaviour?

I have a great test for this but it requires being done in a period before lunch. I suggest that if they don't get it, it's ok, wait behind after class and I'll give them as much time as they need. In fact I insist, it's very important that they master the concept and not fall behind. It's amazing how many students get instant inspiration and get the task done.

Some students think I came down in the last shower and copy another student's work. A quick question usually indicates that I know when they are 'borrowing answers' and then I insist that they remain to get additional assistance to avoid such dependence on others. At this point they can be quite stroppy.

I start them off and they usually take about half of lunch procrastinating over the first question, arguing, complaining and whinging. They eventually realise I'm happy to wait until I see some success and start work..

.. and that's where my real work begins. I ask questions about how relevant they find maths, what do they find hard, I watch their every move and slowly, subtly start helping them with each answer. How can I make learning easier? Where in the class would they be less disturbed? How do they think I feel when teaching becomes impossible due to the number of interruptions? How can I connect maths with their aspirations? Other students come in that I have great rapport with (in senior years) and I give them a hand whilst the student is working. By the end of the period they see (in most cases) that a) they can do maths and b) if they just read their notes they could figure out what to do c) despite being noisy others students get work done and d) most students in my class have had this talk. I then let them in on the real secret - if teachers really didn't care, they would just let students fail and not try to get them to succeed. I suppose it also helps that I grew up in the area, know the type of kids to some degree and was reasonably successful prior to teaching.

If this fails, the next level is discussion with other teachers and the parent call/three way conference with pre-prepared wads of homework and suggestions of reduced TV/sport/PS3 time. Word quickly gets around it's a bad idea to get me 'organised'.

Maths is a confidence game and building the confidence of key students in a class can help make it all work. It's amazing what a class can do when disruptive influences become positive and the right opportunities are allowed to flourish.

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