The BAD Class, I'm teaching the "Stupid Kids!"
Updated: Aug 29, 2018
WHOA! Hold your pants, this is NOT going where the title suggests it will.
I think the kids call it "clickbait". I remember using actual quarters in payphones though, so what do I know?
Don't get me wrong, related to the title it is, but not in the way you initially thought when you angrily clicked this link.
Bare with me, I go in circles...but eventually I get there.
So I will do as I always do when I tell a story, start at the beginning, then go totally off course 4 or 5 times, then tie it all together and leave you mumbling..."Oh, O.K. that makes sense!"
This summer I had the privilege of teaching a grade 9 applied English full credit 4 week summer school course (say that 6 times fast). My students were mostly coming out of locally developed and 24 of the 26 had IEPs. I was pre-warned that I had 'the difficult class'. I was told well in advance of taking the contract that they were at risk and heavily behavioral.
Music to my ears, challenge accepted!
I love 'at risk' students, I was an 'at risk' student. They are my tribe, I understand them in the way that only someone who has already walked their path can, but I digress.
So I printed out my growth mindset writing prompts, I opened my wallet and bought them all journal notebooks and portfolios (no summer school teachers don't get ANY supplies, all out of pocket friend) and I set out in my car at 6 am with a song in my heart and butterflies in my tum-tum.
I walked in met my new friends, did my diagnostics, and jumped in head first (this is how I roll).
They couldn't write.
When I say the couldn't write I don't mean like:
'They couldn't write like Miss Cat when she insists on using run on sentences because she is a little too Joyce for her own good.'
I mean they couldn't write like:
'I had just finished a 1/2 split the week before and the majority were at about that level.'
Sentence fragments EVERYWHERE!!!
Tenses, what does that even mean????
I had my work set out.
I focused on critical literacy, character education, and I differentiated my teacher-tush off.
I also focused on the mighty paragraph. They wrote so many critical reflection paragraphs it was mind-blowing. These kids, my kids, who couldn't write, who formerly wouldn't write, wrote for a solid hour every day connecting to self, text and world.
I kept the prompts relevant (Kanye, Drake, Beyonce, Spiderman, Kendrick Lamar, Harry Potter).
I kept my routine transparent and consistent (boy do they ever crave consistency, don't forget at risk kids often can't rely on much). My GOD did they ever bloom. In 4 days the majority went from initial assessments at second grade, to grade level. We got our vibe set, our flow in place, everyone was safe, and not one of them doubted that I was there for anything other than their best interests.
Some were even starting to show potential for an academic strand. I called one mom on the third week, at first she was bracing for a fight, I told her how smart her son was, what an incredible gift for writing he was developing and that I thought he should be academic. She cried. Never had anyone given her a 'good call', got me wondering why the heck not, why do we only call when it is negative? Again, I know, I digress...back on track.
I gave my teenage too-cool-for-school friends glitter happy face stickers on every single paragraph each and every one of them wrote and left them detailed positively framed comments and corrections. They scoffed at me at first, then started collecting the happy faces in colour categories and letting me know that next time they would like a blue happy face because that was the only one they didn't have two of.
I did conferences with them one-on-one, they took numbers, waited patiently to be called on and then sat at my desk and went over their work with me. I fell in teacher-mama love with the whole class. This was my class, these were my kids, they had a track record of making poor choices, and no they were not without flaw with me, but they were lovely young people and I enjoyed sharing time with them!
Then at the start of the second week I was in the staff room scrounging for free food after a staff meeting, I may or may not have missed, when another scrounger crossed my path.
I asked him what he was teaching and he replied "Grade 9 applied math, you know the STUPID KIDS!" Then he shook his head like he was mad and skulked away with his bagel....
Oh how I wish I wasn't caught off guard by that one, the comebacks I had in the car on the drive home were earth shattering. But, in that moment, I stood there, bagel in hand, slack-jawed, and nothing came out of my typical machine-gun-paced mouth.
THE STUPID KIDS!
How dare he!
What an ugly, toxic, and hopeless condemnation. It upset me so deeply to hear it, I was shook. I stormed up stairs with my heart set on overcompensating for his negativity and I went on one of my love rants. I told the class they were gifts from God, that they were all smart and we were in the process of figuring out how each of them could showcase that, that they were worthy and capable and that I cared for each and everyone of them.
I went Oprah after sangria with Martha on them.
They were a tad shell-shocked, but in that it was in character for me to jump around ranting about hope and possibility they weren't too offset by it! lol
As fate would have it two days later in one of my one-on-one read through sessions the student I was working with said to me:
"Miss, my whole life since I started school I have always been in the BAD CLASS!"
This time I was ready!!! I said something along the lines of:
"You are NOT in the BAD CLASS. This is NOT a BAD CLASS. This is a GOOD CLASS full of bright, kind, hopeful students who have more potential then they can even begin to realize at this moment in time. You are in the GOOD CLASS who just hasn't yet been give the tools to be as GOOD as they will eventually be. You are not BAD, and neither is this class!
We are all getting there!"
*Sidenote: Any teacher, or administrator, who walks by me and utters an obligatory "How's it going?" I always respond without skipping a beat with a cryptic "We're getting there..." Where is there? Heck if I know, but we are perceptually progressing forward, both my students and myself.*
Where was I? Oh yes, my friend who had always been in the BAD CLASS. Well after my rant, he looked at me cast down his eyes, smirked and responded with a simple:
Then he walked away from my desk with a little extra swag in his step and I would hazard to guess that half smirk still resting easy on his face.
Why do I tell this story?
Well, yes I do like to ramble, I got a pocket full of platitudes, I'm practically a platypus, and typing does sooth my O.C.D, but more so because of impact.
What do you bring to your classrooms, to your 'at risk students'?
Do you walk in and shake your head and think "I have the STUPID KIDS"?
Do you show up and get watery eyes thinking "If they can't even write a sentence how am I suppose to teach them anything"?
Do you stomp around huffing "...24 IEPS, how am I suppose to manage this"?
Do you think you have the BAD CLASS?
If so, you need to step back, re-frame your practice, and remember what you have been called to do as a teacher.
Rita Pierson says it much better than I ever could, she also wears red better than I ever could, but never forget it teacher friends:
Every child needs a Champion!
Now get out there, and BE THAT CHAMPION.
Oh, also practice what you will say to another teacher who says they have the STUPID KIDS so if it happens to you, you are good, well and ready!
Oh, and if you are the teacher who said that to me...SHAME ON YOU! That said, it is never too late! Be a better person, embrace the positive.
Look at me friends, four whole posts on this blog, and up to 19 followers from 18 on my Teacher Pay Teacher Miss Cat's Classroom...I am walking on sunshine!
Things are looking up! lol
Remember, the future of the world is in your classroom today!