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No freshmen for me

March 18, 2011 pm31 11:46 pm

In my small school we have 350 or so students. Generally, teachers elect to teach the same class year after year, with an occasional shift. Me? I had taught freshman algebra and a senior elective (combinatorics one term, logic the next) for a bunch of years.

And then I got tired of freshmen. Not like I won’t teach them again.

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Which is what happened at my first school. I saw a program for a new term, and this was now 6 terms in a row loaded with the most difficult grade – ninth – and I announced to my AP, full voice, in a full office – that if I saw a freshman class on my program again I would walk straight out and never come back. No one said a word. No sense of decorum, right? But for the rest of my time there, I never saw a freshman class again.

And my behavior may have been off, but my request wasn’t. Classroom management was a big issue in our school, and the freshmen were the toughest to manage, and I was a newer teacher with particularly problematic management skills. It was unfair to me and a disservice to the kids to have me teach the toughest classes in the building. Most teachers and kids so paired up would race to see who left the school first – the average teacher hung on about two years,  the kids about the same.

In the next few years I sometimes sat in that office where I once announced my displeasure, and when a kid who had done something to get thrown out of class, but not bad enough to go to a dean, came in, I would size them up. And engage them. At first about what they did wrong. And then with some math. But I had a special routine with a freshman. You knew how they looked and how they walked in who they were. Confirmed by the class they got tossed from. Having ascertained that I had a freshman in front of me, I would ask “What grade are you in?” “Ninth”  (I already knew) “Ooph, I hate ninth graders” [grimace] “but as long as you are here, let’s do some work.” And we would.

Occasionally I covered a class with kids who’d had that conversation. I still can hear the audible whispers: “shhh, he hates freshmen.”

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At my new school, first year, there were nothing but freshmen. So I taught them. And decided that the foundation skills in algebra were important. So I taught them the next year and the next and always asked for them and never threatened to leave if I got freshman classes.

But after six years I was tired. Teaching freshmen takes much more energy than teaching seniors.

There are high school habits to be taught, middle school habits to be broken. There are scared kids to be supported, and acting out ones to be reined in. There are raging hormones and crazy emotions.

And there’s bringing the skill levels from fifty middle schools from four boroughs to a more common place. There are habits of writing math, habits of speaking about math to be adjusted and reformed.

So I took a break. And strangely, the most carefully rotated classes in our entire school became freshman algebra. We don’t fight so much about plum classes; although I won’t say not at all. But Algebra rotated reverse seniority, one teacher each year. And now it is coming back at me. Plus I asked for it. It’s time to start teaching the littler kids again.



6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2011 am31 8:52 am 8:52 am

    I know we’ve talked about this before, but I love teaching freshmen. I don’t have the energy to do it six periods a day, but I would be sad if I didn’t have at least two or three classes of Algebra I. 9th graders are exhausting, but it is so important for them to get a good foundation. Unfortunately, in many schools, the experienced teachers refuse to teach 9th graders. We are having this fight right now at my school. One of our teachers is retiring. Due to budget cuts, she won’t be replaced. Who is going to teach her six sections of algebra I? My dept. chair is completely stressed out because no one will volunteer so she has no choice but to “force” people to teach a class they don’t want to teach. I am curious to see how it is all going to turn out.

    I know you are going to enjoy next year. The 9th graders at your school will be so lucky to get a great foundation that will carry them all the way through high school and into college. Plus freshmen tend to give you so much good material for your blog. They say and do the darndest things!

    • March 21, 2011 pm31 10:13 pm 10:13 pm

      they are fun, but they demand so much energy! Reminds me that it’s been a while since I was 25.

  2. March 20, 2011 am31 10:09 am 10:09 am

    It’s been a couple of years since I taught in the city, but I do prefer the 8th- and 9th-graders over the older crowd. The older they get, the more jaded they get and their bad habits (and self-perceptions of abilities) are carved in more deeply and are harder to change. (Younger than 8th-grade is tough for me; I start to feel like I’m babysitting too much, and I lose patience.)

    Right now I teach freshmen at a private school (in El Salvador), so management isn’t an issue. I love them! I think I love this age group more than the rest.

  3. Nathan permalink
    March 21, 2011 pm31 5:28 pm 5:28 pm

    I’m a long time reader and I know you use the MAA Mathematics of Choice book for your combinatorics elective, but could you share a little bit about your logic elective? What books,if any, do you use? How do you fill a while semester with high school logic? Or do you cover more than just the basic prepositional calc/truth table stuff?

    • March 21, 2011 pm31 10:19 pm 10:19 pm

      Long time reader? Wow. Thanks.

      I’d be happy to answer in more detail, in a full post, later. For now, I teach an intro college course. The book I use is by Hurley. I cover (if you find it) Ch 1, part of 2, and 3 – 7.
      Basic Terms / Language and Meaning
      Categorical Propositions
      Categorical Syllogisms
      Propositional Logic
      Natural Deduction in Propositional Logic

      I could, in theory, work in one more chapter, on working with quantifiers, but I choose not to. No one is going to award college credit for this course. I get 4 one hour periods a week, for about 15 weeks. And I choose to use three days for work, one for play (mostly we train on LSAT Logic Games. My kiddies like them).

      I also include project work that would not be in a college class. Diagram an argument from the newspaper. Diagram an argument from a newspaper, and id inductive fallacies. Create a dialogue that incorporates some of the fallacies we have studied. Listen to your classmates dialogues, and pull out the fallacies, for credit….

      But more in a fuller post, at another time. Thanks for asking.

      • Nathan permalink
        March 22, 2011 pm31 5:51 pm 5:51 pm

        Thanks for answering! I guess by “longtime reader” I meant 3 years at the most. I love mathematical logic but I have a hard time selling it to my high school students. Looking forward to haring more details…

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