Sunday, February 04, 2007

There are good ones, too!

I have a nasty tendency to get a little negative on this blog sometimes. Okay, so I've got a nasty tendency to get a lot negative sometimes. But there is an explanation for that. Although I frequently argue that public schools are doing a much better job than we're given credit for, I think it's essential that we improve. That being the case, it's natural to focus on problems. And when you focus on problems, you tend to get negative. After my last post, Elizabeth said this:

You sure have some dumb kids! I'm surprised you haven't become a total burnout case.

It occured to me that maybe I've been getting a little too negative, so it's time to put things in perspective.

I have had some "dumb" kids, but for every one of them, I've had others who were clearly smarter than I ever was. These kids can finish reading an assignment in about half the time it takes others, and their comprehension is flawless. They ask great questions, and it seems that every time they're called on they have the correct answers. Sometimes they don't raise their hands as often as they could because they don't want to be seen as showing off. In other words, their social skills are as good as their academic ones. When I put them in groups, I know that they will lead their groups and their groups’ work will be excellent. When I grade objective tests and find any of their answers wrong, I know I better go back and check the key. I usually find that I'm the one who made a mistake.

I have complained a lot on this blog about "students" whose effort is miserable, but for every kid I have had like that, I've had others who worked harder than I ever did when I was in school. I'm not talking about historical wizards, but some of them consistently earn top grades because of their work ethic and persistence. It takes them longer to read assignments than some of the other students, but they get it done. When they answer questions orally in class, they'll be wrong as often as they are right. They'll have to study longer for a test than those really bright students, but they'll put in the work, and if they don't get as high a score, they'll be close.

I have had kids who are loud and obnoxious, but for every one of them I've had some of those quiet, reliable ones--kids who never raise their hands, but always have their assignments done and are always prepared for tests. Many experts emphasize student participation in class, and I don't deny the importance of that. As a teacher, I certainly want a fair amount of students to raise their hands, ask and answer questions, and participate in other ways, but as I often tell parents jokingly, the more I've taught, the more I've grown to appreciate those quiet kids. They may not say much, but you'd have to be a fool not to admire their quiet diligence.

I have had kids who are so surly that you take a risk if you even say "hello" to them, but for every one of them I've had others with fantastic personalities and senses of humor. These are kids who I know I can tease, and they'll always have smiles on their faces when I do. If I take a shot at them, they'll take a shot right back at me, but they have great common sense, and they rarely go too far. I like just about all of my students, but I have to admit that it's the ones I "insult" that I usually like the most. They make the class more fun for everyone, including me. Heck, especially me.

I have had classes that I've gotten headaches just thinking about, but I've also had some fantastic ones. I walk into the room and see smiling faces, and those smiling faces are the result of the students’ happiness at seeing me and being in the class. Students come to class having done the assignments, so when I bring up a subject, almost every one of them knows what I'm talking about. When I ask questions, hands shoot up, and the biggest problem is keeping students from blurting out answers before I call on someone. Not only do they answer my questions, but they ask me questions because they are actually interested. When we have class discussions, they get excited and even show some emotion when they argue about the subjects with which we're dealing. When someone says something funny, it's not meant to hurt anyone, and if there's a lot of laughter, I don't have to worry that this is going to cause the class to reel out of control. No that is not a dream, and it's not just a description of an ideal situation. I really have had classes like that.

So I want people like Elizabeth to know that although I've had my share of bad students and bad classes, I've also had more than my share of good ones. It's the lousy ones who give me the most material for my blog, but it is those great kids and classes that put a smile on my face every morning that I walk into our school.


Blogger Elizabeth said...

My comment's not your fault!

I think the reason I said what I said is I think it's amazing so many of your kids managed to fail the class. I know that some people just can't do math, and others have difficulty writing (probably because of subtle, subclinical learning disabilities) but U.S. history? I mean if someone just showed up, paid attention, took notes and studied them for the exam--wouldn't they at least pass? Am I wrong? So that's why I was thinking, some of these kids must be really dumb, or are they TRYING to fail?

2/04/2007 5:11 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Elizabeth, I'm glad you made your comment, because it led me to write a more positive post. I really do need to do more of that. But one thing I do believe is that most people in the general public don't realize what we have to deal with every day. I know that I was struck by that when I first began teaching. You just don't realize how little some kids try. There are even students who have said to me, "How can anyone fail this class?" In fairness, kids can't just show up to my class and pass. If they don't do the reading assignments with some regularity they won't make it. But my reading assignments are rarely more than three pages. Some kids just don't do them.

2/04/2007 6:07 PM  
Blogger B!G said...

Great post.

Your "About Me" is very similar to what I hope mine will look like in 34 years. High school social studies teacher and hockey coach.

I'll for sure be bookmarking your blog. Thanks for the great read.

2/07/2007 6:27 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, B!G!! And best wishes to you in your career. As you probably know, in many places, being able to coach is almost a necessity if you want to get a social studies teaching job. I hope you can start out as an assistant in a great program, and then move on to become a head coach. For eleven years I assisted Cary Eades, who is now at the University of North Dakota and is the best hockey coach I've ever known. He once told me that it would be easier to begin a hockey coaching career career as an assistant in the NHL than as a head high school coach. Although I know nothing about coaching in the NHL, that sounds reasonable to me. Coaching at the high school level has become that difficult and demanding, but it sure was a lot of fun!

2/08/2007 5:21 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Dennis, not apropos of this post (or maybe), have you seen this article:

I thought it was so interesting.

2/11/2007 1:44 PM  
Anonymous California Teacher Girl said...

You're just dead on. Obviously, some teachers use blogging to vent about the bad stuff, but we wouldn't be doing it if there wasn't a ton of good stuff there too.

I teach US Hist. too and I can totally relate with what you posted about.

2/12/2007 1:33 PM  
Blogger Ivan Chew said...

Hi Dennis, seems you ought to blog more about your experiences with the better & quiet students, as much as about the "problematic" ones. Ok, keep blogging your insightful posts. :)

2/17/2007 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your blog and thank you for giving me hope. I am currently in college and my major is education. When I hear all the bad things in the news I tend to think what am I getting myself into. After reading your blog it gives me hop for the future.

2/19/2007 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this blog, and it reminded me of the time when I was an assistant teacher. There were days that the children were very chaotic and it practically ruined my day. But as the years and routines gradually started to seem familiar to me and my students, they were the most precious little darlings.

2/20/2007 4:20 PM  

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