Double Bind

I nearly lost my temper this morning.

One class in particular has some…big personalities. I want to be able to do hands on, interactive work with the group, but they test my limits pretty regularly.

They don’t test me with silly questions or with using equipment incorrectly. No…it’s much more nefarious. They use the NBA.

For whatever reason, comparing NBA players and teams gets a small group of students heading down a dangerous path. Dislike of one player or another leads to all-out honor defenses and stat showdowns. If this were happening in a civilized manner like on Outside the Lines, I wouldn’t mind so much. But, these – lately – have turned into all out, across the room, Mr. Bennett is invisible cage matches.

I’ve done seating charts. I’ve set time limits and deadlines. I’ve used proximity, redirecting, and direct instructions to students. NONE of it has seemed to have any effect. And what makes it even more frustrating and intolerable is that the entire atmosphere of learning for the other students in the class evaporates completely, and I feel powerless to wrest it back.

And so today, they broke the camel’s back.

On Monday, we’re heading into full lockdown. They’ve shown that they cannot handle the independence. They are getting yet another new seating arrangement and I am taking the reins.

And yet, I feel like I’m punishing the community over the acts of the few.

I have control issues. I don’t want to spend my energy managing a classroom. I lose the interactions and the opportunities to talk about what learning is happening. I can’t prompt individuals and groups and I can’t celebrate small wins. But I don’t know what else to do.

How to you build community when the leaders in the group don’t care? They’ve never been asked to care about school, and now that they’re faced with that choice, they don’t know how to handle the responsibility. If it were the beginning of the year, I would love to take them through that team-building path of developing a culture of learning and a culture of open discussion. But instead, they’re functioning just outside the bounds of their traditional school experience, and it’s creating a chaotic space. And that’s not okay.

I feel like I’m a double bind – I need to direct the time more, but I don’t want to put the rest of the class in an unfair situation. Unfortunately, I don’t see any other alternative.

Funny Money

How much money do we spend to go to conferences? A few hundred, easily.

How much money do we spend on tools, apps, programs, and resources to use in our classroom?

Or better yet, how many people show up for sessions which talk about programs you can buy to use with your kids in the classroom?

It’s strange that we put so much out there to travel and hear about tools, but all we want to hear about is the free stuff.

Grade Games

I get asked abou my grading a lot because it’s pretty different than a typical classroom. I’ve refined it slowly over the years, and I’m by no means totally happy with it, but I’m happy with how it’s changed the way I (and my students, eventually) think about grades.

I tend to struggle and wrestle with what grading communicates, even if it’s not something students (or other teachers or parents) latch on to at first. I’m a big believer in the idea that everything we do sends a signal about what we believe. Grading is at the heart of school (unfortunately) and the policies in place say a lot about teachers.

1. I grade skills, not papers. I don’t care what papers get turned in. It doesn’t prove anything to me. Mostly because copying is rampant, and this helps curb that tendency. Writing something down does not equal understanding. I want to see application and thought. That can happen in writing, but it’s easier to see in the moment with probing questions and observation. I think at the core, you could call this modified Standards Based Grading.

2. I want to see evidence. Papers may not be graded themselves, but they can serve to build an argument to demonstrate understanding. A student may have the written work – even copied at times – but it lays a foundation for their understanding. So, keeping track of notes, worksheets, labs, etc., can build a more convincing argument for learning. But, remember, students still need to communicate the skill in addition to showing the evidence.

3. I make sure grades are fluid. Once a grade is in the book, it isn’t final (up until the quarter/semester deadline, at least). If a student isn’t happy with their grade, they can take a minute to make it better. With this system, it’s not just a missing assignment: it’s a gap in a student’s understanding. The standards are specific, and they can go back to work on that one idea to improve their grade. At the same time, I’m reinforcing the fact that I care about what they learn, and not what they turn in.

I don’t have a specific book setup, other than each standard goes into the book as a one (you get it) or a zero (you don’t). I don’t play with percentage arguments because it’s all subjective. If a student feels they deserve a 90 rather than an 85 on a lab, prove to me why, and I’m happy to change it. Grading should really be the ultimate form of formative feedback – a glance at where they are on a given day that informs work for the future.

Find Your Seats

I’m a big believer in letting students make their own decisions as much as they can. In high school, they’re dictated to. A lot. I figure picking somewhere to sit is one way to give a little bit of agency and ownership to the classroom space.

I’m back in the classroom for the first time in nearly two years. I’m the fourth teacher this particular class has had – starting in January. This is a near perfect-storm of tough starts. I wanted to set my standards high and gave the privilege of allowing students to sit where they wanted – I was hoping my act of good faith would let them see that I wanted to treat them like adults.


Turns out that no, making a seating chart doesn’t make me a bad teacher. I’d forgotten that structure and routine are what allow us to get to a point where students work independently reliably. I have to build the ethic into them, and part of that is restricting extraneous factors which can cause distraction.

I’ve realized that I worry about the wrong things sometimes. I’ve focused so much over the last fee years on being ‘student-centered’ that I’d forgotten the fundamentals. I’d forgotten that setting boundaries allows students to focus on what’s most important – learning. Many of our students don’t know what the learning process looks and feels like, so we have to emulate the basics. Once habits begin forming, then we can begin to ease some of those procedural guidelines.

And that’s the big difference for me – I’m setting these restrictions because I know what the endgame is. It isn’t a powertrip or “classroom management resource.” I’m setting up an environment which will – eventually – be one in which my students can learn openly and independently.