November 13, 2015

Last Block

We run an A/B day block schedule. Our kids who are behind in math get double block math. A few years ago I had some students who had math last block every day. Then last year I had a great schedule where I had one group last block A days and a different group last block B days. It meant that on the alternating days I saw them second or third block. And they're really different kids at different times. This year I have my contained math class last block every day. I was not excited when I saw that schedule, but it wasn't until today that I realized exactly why it's so hard - I have them after every other class.

Reasons I've cited before:

  • some kids medications are wearing off by the end of the day
  • some kids have expended all their energy focusing in other classes and don't have anything left for me 
  • some kids (less my ninth graders) will leave school last block if they don't want to attend, but they're less likely to skip a class in the middle of the day
These reasons are all true, but today I realized that the biggest issue is not about the time, it's about all the things that have happened between 7:30 and 12:30. 

One kid walked into my class and immediately put her head down. 
One kid walked into my class and was talking rapidly in a high pitched voice. 
One kid walked into my class and touched another student, I told him to stop and then he did it again on his way back to his seat. I sent the affronting student in the hall and asked the other student to not yell because I was going to take care of it. That student threw his paper and pencil on the ground and pulled his sweatshirt up over his head and hid inside it. 
Two kids started class ready to complete the first task. 

Yes, I have a special group of kids. All the more reason for them not to have math after all their other classes. 

Because the girl who put her head down starts her day cheerful but her mood changes based on her interactions with peers. 
Because when I asked the boy talking in a high pitch voice to stop he said he'd had a hard day but he'd try to stay in control.
Because when I talked to the student in the hall he told me that he was really mad. He didn't want to talk about it. He didn't think he could come into the class without getting in trouble.
Because the student who was sitting in his seat until that other kid tapped his neck? If he'd been having an okay day he would have joked with his friend, or yelled at him and then moved on. But he was out of patience for the day.
Because I don't have quite as much patience as I would have earlier in the day.
Because one of those two kids who started class ready fell asleep repeatedly during class. He apologized at the end of class explaining that he'd had physical training in JROTC. He also shuts down and falls asleep in stressful situations - and class today wasn't exactly calm.
One student had a good day today.

Does every day start like this? Of course not. Usually only a couple of them start the class off already frustrated. But every single one of them has a substantial learning disability in math. Almost all of them have other challenges (that's typical for kids with substantial learning disabilities). Asking me to teach them math (a challenging task to begin with) after they have already faced the challenges of an entire day of navigating ninth grade is unfair.

So next time someone (including me) complains about teaching last block, I'm going to remind them (myself) that it's not really that they're fidgety and ready to get out of there by the end of the day, it's because they've already faced all the challenges of the day. Because school is really hard for a lot of our students for many more reasons than we ever remember. Because we're not our best selves as teachers after a full day either. But the schedule is already set for the year, so we have to deal with what we've got and allow students to take a minute to let the rest of the day go before we jump on them demanding they get started with our class. Maybe our do now activity should be deep breathing. I might just try that on Monday. At the very least it would prepare me to bounce between all the different emotions and experiences of my students.

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