Tuesday, November 01, 2016

What a Difference Half a Day Makes

As UFT chapter leader, I get a period off, so I teach four classes rather than five. In fact, I teach two double-period classes, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. I am quite fortunate this year in that, after years of begging and pleading, I managed to get my kids into the TDF Stage Doors program. This means that on November 16th all my students will be seeing Wicked on Broadway at no charge.

It's pretty cool because the overwhelming majority of my students have never seen a Broadway show, or likely any live theater at all. But it's also a lot of work because my students know very little English, and very little American culture. So in fact, before they see Wicked we needed to make sure they saw The Wizard of Oz, and that they understood it. We've moved past that, and yesterday was the first day we started discussing the characters in Wicked.

Wicked is an interesting choice for my kids, because it's mostly about a woman who is, well, green. Kermit the Frog can sing It's Not Easy Being Green and it's cute. On the other hand, that's pretty much par for the course when you're a frog. Being a green person is really kind of tough. My morning class was all over it, and a discussion of Elphaba (the witch's name, created from the initials of L. Frank Baum) moved into a discussion about prejudice, discrimination, and even stereotypes. Someone hates each and every one of us, I told them, just because of who we are.

The kids were receptive. They discussed a bunch of questions I'd written, and my co-teacher pushed me to Danielson everything. They read the questions and discussed them in small groups before sharing them aloud. Even a painfully shy young woman who was reluctant to come on the trip with us smiled for the first time in my memory. My morning class was fully engaged and I'm sure if we'd been observed by someone not crazy we'd have come out highly effective.

So we were pretty encouraged to give the same lesson again in the PM. Sadly, we saw a lot of different attitudes. The kid who's always spacing out spaced out as usual. The boys who sit in the back and tend not to mix with anyone tended not to do so yesterday either. Some students didn't answer my questions because they weren't listening. A boy asked me what the question was, after I'd repeated it more than once, and got my stock answer:

A question is an interrogative statement designed to elicit a response.

Of course, that's just obnoxious. On the other hand, tuning out and asking for extra attention after having done so is not my favorite thing either. I wandered to the back and noticed that this boy, in fact, had written an answer to that question. It wasn't bad either.

Our afternoon class was not a disaster, but it was not great either. The morning class went perfectly. I wonder what the difference was. Is it the class size? The morning class has 26 while the evening class has 34. It's certainly easier to observe and keep tabs on the smaller class. Or is it the time? Our morning class meets at 8:46. The students have been through, at most, one class by that time.

Our PM class begins at about 12:30. By then, our students have sat through 6 classes. Are they pretty much washed out by then? Are they bored out of their minds? Are we further boring them out of their minds? I'd say up to eight students are not fully engaged in that class. I'm always walking around and lulling them out of their stupor one way or another. I give them the look, or if they're bent over sideways I bend over the same way and catch their sleepy eyes.

Sometimes I sneak over and try to get a photo of them sleeping. This is very tricky, because I'm actually am not aiming for the photo. I'm aiming to make them pick their heads up before I can get it. Usually, I don't get the photo and the students think they pulled one over on me. Alas, I actually have one photo of a sleeping student I took last week.

How can Danielson be fair when you can give the exact same lesson to two different classes and have two completely different results?
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