Before I dive in, I think Justin Aion and I are parallels of one another in the multiverse. His day was similar to mine.

Six weeks into this semester, I have three of six classes with averages in the 50% range. Some of those classes include students with sub 30% grades. Most of it is from choosing not to engage in any way, shape or form. I've tried blanket policies. I've tried meeting in the middle. I've tried strategy after strategy to no avail in some cases.

So I sat down with each class and asked them what to do.

Five of my six classes had fantastic conversations about the choices that have been made. We've talked about why we come to school, what the purpose of the class is, why I do what I was much more insightful than I expected. But, there was still business to attend to.


Most classes came up with conduct agreements that we all signed (students added their names to a Google doc which I then printed and signed) and are now hanging up on the wall as a reminder of what we've all agreed to. It includes things like:

  • One day each week to go over the week's stuff to make sure we're all on the same page.
  • Group roles (similar to POGIL) to be used any time group work is being done, not just special tasks.
  • An actual tray to turn papers in to, not just the corner of the lab bench.
  • An actual dedicated place to find extra copies of stuff (rather than relying on me).

And then the elephant: phones.

They've been a problem for the majority of my students. Some classes more than others. Most agreed to a Phone Jail system where the phone goes when it's reached the limit. They came up with particular infractions which will be self policed (that's the idea anyways). I'm the final say in Phone Jail.


I'm trying to keep it lighthearted. They know when they're distracted, I think calling it out with something silly/serious like Phone Jail will help.

All in all, I think they were healthy conversations that helped us all understand each other a little better.

Then, The Class Who Chose Not To Choose.

I prompted, they were silent. They came up with, "You need to be more strict" and "Just kick people out."

Another asked, "Dude, why are you asking kids how to do your job?"

That was a good one.

It's sad that our culture is one in which students can't imagine a better way to work together. I'm the teacher. They're the students. What I say goes (unless they disagree with it, of course).

I made it very clear that their indecision and unwillingness to work with me meant lockdown. No phones, no freedoms to choose seats...nothing. I was met with silence. When we got to work and I gave two students a phone warning...well, you can imagine how that went.

Changing culture takes time. I have to remind myself that it's a multi-year process. I'm blessed that the majority of my classes are willing to try and address culture shifts. It's jarring when one group of very talented people choose not to take that step of faith.

One thought on “Choices

  1. Brian,

    I can only partly comiserate as your school culture is is different from my school culture and you have gone farther into new expectations of learning than I have dared tread. What I can identify with is how out of six or seven classes it is so easy to focus on my perceived failure in one rather than the positive success in the others. I think it is the desire teachers have of themselves to always bat a thousand. This is fed by admin and parents as well. It is expected by students and leads to the comment “why are you asking kids how to do your job”. Whether that comes from students never feeling enfranchised or on the opposite end of the spectrum feeling owed and entitled both are excuses to not participate. As teachers we need reminded that contrary to our desires or the desires of the students learning requires participation.

    My encouragement to you is focus on the win, learn from the setback, push forward with high expectations. Batting .350 gets a player in the hall of fame.

    P.s. I am cc: myself this email and set it to arrive the first week of 4th quarter as a kick in my own pants.

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