Every Day for the Rest of My Life?

Very frustrated.

I don't know why this is getting to me so bad today, but it just is.

What do you do with kids that just do not care and will not try and only put forth the smallest amount of work possible?

We've been doing some partner work on a slope worksheet that I stole borrowed from Mimi. It's a great activity and the kids handled it pretty well. For the most part. But I had a few in each class that just copied off their partners and have no idea how to do any part of it. They don't care, they just want to be done. But I explained to them, I don't grade classwork. What is the point in copying? I told them if they plan on copying to just save their ink and do nothing because it's pointless. I explained that what we do in class is practice for the test.  I told them they can choose to do nothing but the consequence to doing nothing is a bad grade. And they stare at me.

I keep thinking that once they start failing, they will wake up and realize that they have to put forth some effort. But alas, it is not the case! They are okay with failing as long as they don't have to do anything. I don't know how to deal with this. How do I teach the rest of the class knowing these few are falling farther and farther and behind. How do I look them in the eye when I know they are not learning and I am not doing anything about it? I am supposed to care. I am supposed to remediate. I am supposed to engage them. I am supposed to create individualized interventions. But what is the point if they aren't going to do anything? Is this a classroom management problem that I am not handling correctly? That is totally possible so you can tell me if that's true.

I thought not grading class work and homework would help but I don't think it has. I don't really give homework, I never have, I just can't rationalize it in my head. But if we assess what we value, am I implying class work and homework are not important?

How am I supposed to do this every day for the rest of my life? How do I face these students that are failing? And I am letting them. And then we are supposed to do RTI interventions and I am thinking, I cannot possibly face these students a minute more than I already do. If they aren't learning in my class, maybe I am the problem? But in a small school, there really is no other options.

I do not want to lesson plan. I do not want to spend every night thinking of creative ideas and activities that they are not going to care about. I do not want to rearrange my room and put tape on the floor and set up fun stations and play games and so on when it makes no difference. THEY WON'T CARE ANYWAY.

And a few of these kids are so far behind that I just no there is no way to catch them up. I can't do it and stay alive. How can we go back and teach so much and still move forward?

Again, I don't know why I am so irritated today but I just can't shake it. I took a nap, watched tv, ate dinner, ate chocolate...and it still is just weighing on me.

Is this a frustration I have to learn to live with?


  1. Hi,

    Just want you to know, this is what most of us face on a daily basis. Many students turned off their listening/learning long before reaching your class. You can't blame yourself and stay as a teacher.

    Do the very best you can, continue to learn, (as I have seen you grow as a teacher) and don't let them get you down, you are better than that and you are becoming better.

    With older students, such as yours, perhaps you might institute a "have a meal with a teacher" or some other program to get to know the under-performers better. You will probably discover many things that might help you start reaching them, one at a time.

    What ever you do, don't quit, they need you more than you both realize.

    PS, this was one of the worst days I have had in years, I chalked it up to changing weather, (yes, students behave differently when the weather is changing - we had 6 fights and numerous referrals to office according to security guards). Tomorrow will be better.

  2. I teach a year 10 class that is low ability and all boys. There are 34 of them. Needless to say it is a challenge. In the first test that we did I had about 6 or 7 students pass. Most students got marks in the 30% range.

    I have 11 students in that class that are quite resistant to what I am doing. They take every opportunity to not work.

    This could make me quite depressed if this was what I focused on. However for the 11 that are going badly, I have 23 boys that are learning well and who are improving. I can spend all my energy worrying about the ones that are failing, or I can look at the 23.

    I made the decision that my main focus and energy would be on the ones that want to learn. Once I did that something fantastic started happening. The level of thinking in the class started to rise, and the 23 started getting more and more motivated. I started getting 10-15 students turning up to my after school tutorials, and their enthusiasm started catching on with the 11 others.

    I didn't abandon those who were disaffected, but I just made sure they got less of my energy. I also made some phone calls and sent some e-mail to parents, diplomatically asking them to ask their boys to tell them what they did in class that day.

    They are still a handful. They still drain me, but I look at the positives more than the negatives. As a result I am excited to teach that class, because I get to see how much the ones that will switch on will learn today.

    I have a large bad of end-of-year exams sitting in front of me, so we're about to see how well they have gone. I know that some of the will fail. I'm not happy about that, but I am going to celebrate the ones that have succeeded, and not let the others steal my joy.

    I hope this helps.

  3. Sounds like there are non-classroom factors affecting their motivation to perform.

    After all, no matter what you do, if somebody has a strong prejudice against work in general or math in particular, you'll not be effective.

    To pin down the source, talk to the other teachers. Are the unmotivated students behaving similarly in other subjects? Any motivation issues in the past? Ever been referred to counselling? How's their home environment - do we know?

    If absolutely everything checks out kosher, then it is a classroom problem and you can obsess :)

  4. The "lunch with teacher" idea ie lunch detention, can be a positive experience. Don't bring all the "won't dos" in at once. No more than 2 at a time. Can they grab a lunch in the cafeteria and go to your room? Sometimes they just want that attention. If they don't follow through, assign an after school detention (or get the Office to assign one that the students serve with you)

    Is Guidance any help? Sometimes a counselor can help the situation. Sometimes not.

    Are they interfering with other students learning? If not then, in spite of NCLB, we can't save them all. Some idealistic readers might argue, but after 23 years in the classroom, I find some kids just chose to fail and whatever we try, it just won't work. They hate math and chose to not do anything with it.

    With that said we need to keep trying, everyday, to connect with those kids. Sometimes something changes and they begin engaging.

    Hang in there. Two weeks 'till Thanksgiving break and then 3 weeks until Christmas break, then two weeks and the year is 1/2 over. Second semester is ALWAYS better.

  5. I teach alternative ed. I second the trying to get to know them, and what;s going on. Also I think seeing how they behave in other classes could give you some insight. However, as an Alt. Ed. teacher, we know that some kids are just not ready to learn. They need some time to grow, to see what the outside world is like, and then they come back. I think the most important thing for you to do, is get to know them, let them know that you want them to succeed, and that you are there when they do decide they want to learn. They need to know that it's never too late. I always tell my student, I will work as hard as you will for you to succeed. If you are willing to expend the effort, I will do everything in my power to help you get there - but I can't go there for you.

  6. Lauren, that's a thoughtful response I learned from. Thank you.

  7. I clicked on your post from my Reader because I was dying to see what feedback you got in the comments, since I struggle with this same dynamic from several of my students.
    The recommendation to get to really know them so that they will know that I'm there when they do finally mature and recognize the value of education rings very true based on past experiences. It was something of which I desperately needed reminded. =)

    Make sure you are nurturing your social life. I think it is crucially important for us as educators...gives us balance when we get to that "absolutely must clock out for a while" stage.

  8. Thank you weemooseus, AB, Mykul, Dan, Lauren, and JamiDanielle for your encouragement and wisdom.

    I also agree that it was something with the weather and the next day was much better.

    What I took from these comments is to focus on the positive and don't let anything negative steal my joy. I will keep trying to connect with students. I know that I have improved 100% in my teaching since last year. I am offering them the very best of me and I am doing my job. It is their choice to learn. I will do my best to influence that choice while accepting that I can't make it for them.

    And life goes on.

  9. I'm glad to hear the next day was better. I've been holding onto this post to wait a bit and hear what the next days in your class were like.

    We all struggle with the same problem with our students and this year I feel like I've finally had a break through. This year I'm teaching a remediation class for the students that still need to pass the mandated state test to graduate. Since I've always done anything and everything I can to help the kids learn they know I really am here for them now and the older kids tell the younger kids that I will work with them. Especially now that the kids who didn't participate in the program fully failed it yet again.

    Eventually a light will go off in their head, it may not be this year or even while they are at your school but your efforts won't be for naught in the end. And keep telling them that they have to meet you part way. Keep your chin up and don't forget to take plenty of time for yourself!

  10. Sarah,
    Thanks for your comment about meeting them part way. Your comment was confirmation of the same comment from another teacher earlier today. That tells me that maybe you two are onto something!

  11. The problem of unmotivated students continues through seniors in college. I had a student write to me yesterday apologizing for not having done half the work of the course and hoping I would take it late---he didn't want to repeat last year's performance of just disappearing halfway through the class.

    The course is a tough one, and many students struggle with getting all the work done. I'm not sure how he plans to do 6 weeks' work in the remaining 2 weeks.

    And this class is the one in which the students are actively engaged in class each time. I believe that everyone in the class has asked questions and responded to questions from me. My other class (which I am co-teaching) has been dead---it has been like pulling teeth to get them to say anything in class.

    So don't feel that the problem is uniquely yours, or that it would go away if your students were just more mature. We all struggle with it.

  12. Thanks for reminding me that I'm not alone.