Monday, 25 February 2013

Salvation in a teapot

It's been 3 weeks since the last blog post. Not that there hasn't been plenty plenty plenty to write about in the last 3 weeks, but this is rather an indictment on the time available in which to write about it.

The week after the last blog post felt like a genuine corner turned. Something clicked and for reason, for me, the kids were on side, on task and getting on with it. Despite trying to address the staff shortage issue, something worked for me in my classes...

I'm super pleased to say that since then, my relationship with my grade 9s has grown and grown. Despite grade 9 having such a bad rap as the really 'tough' year in high school, I think there is a difference for this cohort as the 'seniors' of the school. They ARE the big kids, and hence don't need to prove it. There is also a small advantage to the slightly older kids who have repeated a couple of years... they add that small core of maturity which you wouldn't get if the whole lot of them were 14. A few 16 year olds is actually working out well in this case.

But grade 8! Going into grade 8 feels like going into war. I drop my helmet, don my gas mask (in some cases, literally!! what are those kids eating?!?!) and venture forth ready for battle.

In the case of grade 8s, it feels like quite a few major factors are collaborating together. Our rooms are very long and narrow, and it feels like battling a dragon when you can only access the head. The classes are just that 3-kids too many too! Man, what a difference when a couple of them are absent! 33 I can manage. 36 is just over the tipping point. And you feel like a tennis ball between the back and the front of the classroom: you get the back to shush, and then the front starts up. The front is quiet, then the back starts. To be honest, on days when a troublemaker (and there's a critical mass of them!!!) is sleeping, I actually don't want to wake him/her up. I know I should. But can you blame me? It means the other 30 kids actually learn.

Also for me, grade 8s have somehow ended up later in the day. Man, you can set your watch by our kids' behaviour depending on the time of day. The first two lessons? Angelic, across the school (ok, almost angelic). After first break? Mmph, a bit rowdy, a couple of flare ups, but nothing a decent lesson plan and some routine can't sort out.

After second break? Good bloody luck to you. The Gizmos turn to Gremlins and it's just anarchy. And most of my grade 8 lessons are the last two of the day.

I thought it was just me. I thought I was missing something... but it turns out I'm not the only one who feels like this with Grade 8. I dread it. And of course, the kids detect this, the perceptive little $%£. I notice I find myself prioritising my Grade 9 planning, my grade 9 preparation. Which makes it worse of course.

The teacher voice in me says 'plan the crap out of them--blow them out the water with such an engaging lesson that they can't help but behave because they are too darn interested'. Easy to say unless you're on 5 hours sleep a night and working 80 hour weeks. Very easy to say. In situations like this, one can hardly be blamed for focusing on what works and picking the battles it feels like you might win.

The week before last was just hell. Something in the water? I don't know. Grade 8 were climbing the walls by 9am. What is it? Bad learning habits? Critical mass of students? Downward spiralling relationship? bad planning? Bad time of day? Combo? Probably. Either way, I need to find a way somehow of breaking out of this loop. It's like a really irritating record stuck on repeat and it's driving me mad.

My lousy grade 8 classes are enough to make me reflect on each day and dismiss it as a failure. My blood has boiled and I've had enough. Genoeg! KWANELE!

So here's the crux of today's post (I have so much else I could write about, specific or general, theoretical or practical: I'm just going with a brief update and one thought-for-the-blog)... focusing on positives. Small positives. Daily wins. Here are a few that are keeping me (and the others) ticking over:

-the students are starting to greet us in a genuine way instead of sarcastically. :)
-last week Thursday 6 students set up a couple of chairs in the courtyard and just started reading. They had borrowed some Roald Dahl from me, and some from the english teacher. Some had brought a book themselves to school. They sat in silence, propped up against each other, nose stuck in book, completely absorbed. It was awesome!!

-the choir did their first little song at assembly. They have improved so much in 4 weeks! 2 new very enthusiastic boys now want to sign up: they really enjoyed it that much.

-my grade 9s make me smile daily. I had the worst grade 8 lesson ever and then walking to my room next door to find they had, without being reminded, gone to fetch the brooms and cleaned my room.

-one grade 9 chased after me today to return a pencil I had lent him. Given how much of my stationery the grade 8s have been stealing, this melted my heart.

-one girl wrote in her journal that she 'is now no longer afraid of fractions and its so good'. :)

-we have books! Kind donations have started our library: we have 300+ books! It's great.

-one of my grade 9 boys who has such a naughty reputation got 70% in his maths test last week. Despite all the others' really bad marks, this really made me smile :)

--my grade 9s seem to genuinely enjoy maths. Like, really enjoy it. :) they are trying hard.

There are others. These are a few. Manna for my soul. Fuel for my tank. We're half way through term... let's see what the next 5 weeks bring. Right now my salvation is in small victories and my teapot or coffee thermos. Sterkte.

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