Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Failure

This week is finals week at school, and today we gave our first final. I should say that I'm actually pretty happy with the test we created--I feel like it covers the skills and concepts that we want our students to have learned over the course of the semester. We spent a LONG time reviewing--ever since we got back from break, with all of last week being very specifically focused on the exam itself.

But still I predict that about half of my students will fail the exam, as well as the class. There are some who I don't feel bad about. If a student only comes to class once every two or three weeks, I just don't feel like there was a whole lot I could have done. Honestly, I kind of wish some of them hadn't shown up for the final because really, what was the point?

It's the other kids who I'm so torn about. There are a good number (20%?) who come to class almost everyday and are still going to fail. On the one hand, coming to class should not be sufficient to pass. Many of these students do little or nothing when they are there, and make no attempt to make up their work or their knowledge gap. I would feel uncomfortable passing them because it is a straight up lie to say that they have proficiency with 65% of the material. And their study habits are, to put it kindly, lacking. Oh, you're coming in two days before the final to make up 15 assignments and retake a test? Good plan. You want to complain to me for 15 minutes about how you want to play basketball so you need to pass, but then when I ask what topic you want to start going over, you walk out? Awesome. I definitely had more than one student come in this morning asking if we had finals this week.

On the other hand, for all of these students, whether they do squat in my class or whether they forget about an exam that's 20% of their grade, it would be irresponsible for me to not consider what it is that I'm doing that's creating this barrier to their success. If they're in class, what is it about my teaching style, activity structures, etc. that's inaccessible or not engaging? At what points should I have been more explicit about what it means to earn an A in this class or what preparing for a test should look like?

Still it's easy to blame their low skills (How can I teach them algebra when they can't add positive or negative integers, or when they think that if x=3 5x=53?). It's easy to blame all the things that they should have learned last year, or all the years before. It's not my fault that their teachers didn't teach them. But now I'm their teacher and it's my fault if I don't teach them. I can't make up for what's happened to them in their past educational experiences, but that doesn't relieve my responsibility to address the academic debt they're owed by the collective education system that I am now a part of.

I'm nervous to see how the final grades turn out. Hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised by some of the results, but I'm not keeping my hopes up. Their failure is my failure, which I don't know if I'm ready to face.

2 comments:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

You still need to take into account the other years. And learning to live with the failure of some students is, sadly, part of the job. Have you shared this with your cooperating teacher? I wonder what she feels about it.

Anonymous said...

It is a hard one. You can only do so much. If you were to coddle and spoil and inflate grades or whatever, it would only come back to bite these kids later. Some, perhaps only one every few years, will take a failure as the kick in the pants they need to do better in the future. That is a lesson well, if sometimes painfully, learned.

You, and all teachers, need to keep that mindset though of looking at where you can improve the communication so that more kids are learning, to be sure you are testing what you are teaching and all of those good things. I know you and that you will always do this. Just don't beat up on yourself. Not everyone wants to succeed in math at this point in their lives.

I agree with Jen, talk to others and see what they have to say. You can be certain that all the teachers in your school are dealing with this same issue this week.