As a teacher, there’s no such thing as easing back into a new school term. From day 1 you are bombarded with everything from new timetables, class lists and topics to teach, to IT stuff-ups and the same old problematic behaviours. Coming out of the last five days, I feel like I’ve been smacked in the face.
I want to take a step out of all that though and focus on one young lady, whom I’ll call Tina, who in my opinion is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. Tina is in a maths class that comprises about 75% boys. Many of these boys walk into class each day, ignoring any implicit (or explicit) distinction that exists between the classroom and the playground. For some of these boys, I am slowly applying Skinnerian operant conditioning techniques in order for them to independently get out a pen and begin their work each lesson.
In class, Tina sits alone, but positions herself between two of the more “studious” groups of her classmates. At first glance, Tina doesn’t appear to fit the mould of the model student: she has straightened bleached hair, wears heavy make-up and manicured nails. Yet she is respectful, hard working and somehow seems to always remain unfazed by whatever crap is going on around her.
Ideally in a lesson much of my time should be spent wandering around the room assisting students with small but meaningful questions about the maths they are working on. In reality, my time gets distributed very differently. I ask Student A to put away their phone for the n-th time; request that Student B stops drawing on Student C or ripping pages out of their peer’s book; write an out-of-class slip so that Student D can stop sniffling and go and find a tissue; legitimately assist Student E with a problem that then takes 10 minutes to explain given that they are three years behind the level that they should be at… And during all of this time Tina continues with her work. As she tells me, when I finally get around to assisting her about 2 minutes before the bell, “I’m not sure if this is right. I just guessed for some of the questions”. Looking down at her book I see neatly set out rows of equations, showing a fluent understanding of the required procedure. With only a minor error here or there, I can’t fault Tina’s work.
In amongst the many disruptions, I honestly don’t know how Tina’s drive and perseverance is maintained. I haven’t seen her once get angry or annoyed with her peers, and perhaps that day will come.
What I do know is that much of my own learning and development as a teacher is occurring so that I can better manage the behaviours in my classroom to not just help students like Tina, but push them to be more confident and to excel in their learning.