If you’re new to my blog, WELCOME and I’m SORRY! You need to understand that my blog is a brain dump. It is not meant to be inspiring or thoughtful or even normal. I’m just a regular teacher that screws up like everybody else, but I bust my butt to help kids because that’s my job and I LOVE IT. I am at school an hour early and 2 hours late most days to help any kid that bothers to stop by and I’m HAPPY and THANKFUL when they do. Once I get home, I make quick video tutorials for any kid that tweets/e-mails a detailed question to me. If you know me at all, this isn’t new. But for you newbies to my rampant attention-deficit-disorder, you need to know the kind of teacher I am before I really get started.
I have to say that I am very proud of my pass rate on the AP Stats exam – it’s my highest rate to date. BUT, it wasn’t as high as I wanted and the fault (as usual) lies mainly with me. Since I punked out on my blog this past semester (don’t judge me – you knew I was gonna do it), I need to recap what happened:
The class started out amazing. The kids were interested and intrigued and excited about the class. HOWEVER, somewhere in all of that they assumed that effort wouldn’t be necessary for the course. I don’t know how/why/when I led them to that assumption, but I am taking responsibility for it. BUT this assumption didn’t become evident to me until later in the semester. The kids had been told from previous students that stats was cool and interesting and (I guess this is the problem) easy. The math in stats isn’t nearly as complex as AP Calculus, but that doesn’t make it easy (this problem will come up again later in this post, be ready). Also, I went with the “here are suggested problems to use to study for tests, quizzes, but I’m not requiring homework” attitude. It’s worked for other math courses I’ve taught and I knew I had mostly seniors (SENIOR PROJECT-AUUUGH!), so I just went with it.
I soon realized I had a problem – students were confused. Well, that’s not unusual, but it was WHY they were confused. I often heard, “This isn’t math!!” and “I don’t like this!” and “I should have taken Calculus – at least I’d know it was MATH!” Yeah, those hurt pretty bad.
I started the course with HOW we collect the data – through sampling and experimental design. I think this is a good place to start because it IS different. So many times we start a course with review (I’m guilty of this in Alg 2) and students soon get the impression that they should already know how to do the material the first few weeks of the class. This didn’t happen for them and it caused a riot of sorts – especially with the kids in the top 1% of their class and kids with whom I’ve always had great relationships. They were caught off guard with the amount of new vocabulary and how quickly they were expected to apply the terms. They felt betrayed and lied to about what the class was (remember that “easy” comement?). They thought they’d been tricked into taking the class and they were PISSED. Not just angry or upset. I’m talking UBER-PISSED. Pissed at ME, pissed at former students (called them LIARS), pissed at counselors, etc. And so my awesome semester went TO HELL pretty fast. And these weren’t small classes – we’re talking 30 kids crammed in a small area that are all now wanting to take my head off or tape me to a wall (ok, that DID happen – much later).
The grades for the first few assessments for most of my students were not A’s, so obviously that didn’t help my case. I don’t know about your school, but here some students think “No A” equals “something must be wrong with my teacher and she SUCKS because I DESERVE an A regardless of what I do”. (Did that come off spiteful?? Really?? My bad. NOT.) And it doesn’t help that we have counselors who suggest to teachers that they “fluff” the grades (see very upsetting blog post here).
Anyway, I’m going to be 100% honest right now: I didn’t change a THING from the way I had taught stats the previous year. I was so close to my previous stats kids and they loved the class. Granted, I only had SIX in the class, but the way I taught them (labs, discussions, activities, tests, free response questions, ALL OF IT!!!) was the exact same way I tried to teach this past semester. But because stats wasn’t coming easy to some of my new stats kids, AND it was a little different than what they usually got in math, AND that the A’s weren’t flowing like milk and honey, the rumors started. These are my replies to those rumors that I kept to myself but will now say aloud (my apologies in advance to Seiler cuz I’m gonna cuss):
1) You’ve made the class harder than you made it last year.
A: Why the HELL would I do that?
2) You made the class harder because you have more students.
A: Well, granted I did have an easy time grading with six, but do you REALLY think I would make the class HARDER??? As in more work for me???? I have 60 stats kids right now – why would I make MORE work for myself??? I spend 10 hours a day at school when I’m NOT teaching stats, 12 hours a day when I am teaching stats and now you think I want to add MORE hours to that? I barely see my kid every day because I’m prepping for your class or tutoring!! So I say to you that’s just stupid talk!!
3) You made the class harder because you want to have the same reputation as the AP Calculus teacher.
A: Look, she’s freakin’ amazing. If anyone EVER compared me to her in a positive way, I would kiss them (well, not really). But you don’t like the fact that she makes you THINK. God forbid that an educator make YOU think for yourself. What were we thinking? Is she tough? Yes. Do I admire her? Yes. But I’m ME, like it or not. It’s taken me 30 years to be ok with ME and I’m not cool enough to be anybody else.
4) You’re a bitch.
A: ehhh… you got me on that one. But that’s your opinion and opinions are like noses and you get the idea.
Now that I think of it, I did do something different for this class. I put together a wiki!! OMG! I put everything I had on the wiki (including notes for class they could print out ahead of time and study guides and vocabulary reviews – OH THE HORROR!!) for them to download if needed. But I made it private to track the usage just in case I got called for not doing enough to help. Which I did. A LOT.
Anyway, the time to sign up for the AP test came around and of my 60, only 19 signed up. Of the 19 that signed up, at least half were taking it because it was free/reduced rate for them. The others were being forced by parents. I was bummed.
So when I would teach and say, “On the AP test…” I would get rants of , “I’m not TAKING the AP test so WHY are we doing this???” So I’m teaching a method to 19 students that 41 don’t give a crap about and they don’t put any effort into it. This was so annoying and depressing when I would give free resonse questions as assignments. My tests model the exam (some MC some FR) and kids would complain about that, too. I felt so frustrated and depressed almost every day. My Honors Algebra 2 class (last block) could tell and were SO great to elevate me out of that crappy mood at the end of every day. Loved them!
By this time in stats, we’d moved into the beginning stages of 2-variable data. Then we went to probability (too painful to talk about). I was frustrated to the point that I actually got into an argument with a student after a test – a student that I LOVED and had known for six years!! It was awful. After class, he was griping about the class and how he didn’t get it and didn’t know how he should be expected to and it set me off. I said, “SOOOO what could I have done to help you that I apparently did NOT do?” After about 15 minutes of hearing each of his excuses to which I had a valid rebuttle, he angrily conceeded that his failure was his fault and stormed off. Worst day that semester by far.
But something happened after spring break – about half of my kids had an “aha”. They started to catch on because they began to see how all of the material tied together. They started DOING the suggested homework and reading the book ahead of class and that group started rocking the class. So in each of my two classes, there became an obvious division – those students who were putting in some effort and those that were just going to bitch and complain. Those that were trying began getting those A’s and making connections and having a blast in class. The other group still bombed. The ones that were doing well even offered to help the others, but began to get frustrated with their apathy. One kid said, “Is THAT how I acted at the beginning of the class? Geeez!”
Senior-itis had bitten that lazy half and most of them were beginning to be honest and admit that. “Um, I just want you to know this class requires WAY more effort that I really wanted to spend. So, I still love ya and all, but don’t take my grades personally. I’m so ready to be out of school it’s not funny.” I appreciated the honesty. And so many kids from the engaged group were kicking themselves in the butt for not signing up for the AP test. “UUGGH! If I’d known that it would be this easy, I’d have taken the test!” I wanted to scream, “DON’T SAY THE E-WORD!!!” But I just nodded and smiled. By the end of the course, I had a small handfull that didn’t give a rip and the rest were on board.
And I finally reconciled with the student that I loved. The day yearbooks were distributed, he asked me to sign his. And he apologized and so did I. We hugged it out, I waited until he left to cry.
So what did I learn?
1. Do NOT use “easy” in the marketing strategy for this course. EVER AGAIN. I gave the impression that the course was simple and obviously it’s not.
2. The kids who did the homework got it. But at the beginning they didn’t do it (because I didn’t require it) and they ALL told me next year to DEMAND that students do it. Go figure.
3. Make 2 stats classes – AP and regular. I’ll have one of each this year – we’ll see how that goes.
4. Stop taking it personally when they get frustrated. They’re hormonal and immature and say stupid things sometimes. I have been teaching 13 years and I still have trouble with this.
5. I talk to much. This blog post is too long. And next time I need to FINISH the blog post after I start it. I had to stop in the middle of it last week and I can tell I totally lost my train of thought. But thanks to druinok for making me finish it. 🙂