I teach physics, arguably one of the more rigorous courses students take in high school. In their wisdom, administrators in my district have decided that EVERYONE needs to take physics - yes - EVERYBODY. All of the students that were sophomores this past year are enrolled in physics this year. I will have one Honors/GT class with juniors and seniors and four classes of juniors in on-level physics.
So a significant number of my students will be those who barely survived algebra I, took geometry last year and is beginning algebra II. Many of these students are only enrolled because they are forced to be in the class. They are students with a fixed mindset who don't like math, don't want to work, don't like school, and often have personal issues that overshadow education.
I am genuinely and truly excited to have them. I have spent the entire summer reading the works of Daniel Pink, Carol Dweck, Jo Boaler and others. I have worked hard on designing my class to reach these difficult and disenfranchised students.
I use the flipped model of instruction. I am archiving content with a the enthusiasm of a squirrel hoarding nuts. I have designed and built in opportunities for do-overs. I am implementing student blogging for the purpose of reflective writing. I'm pulling out every trick in the book I know to make my class an exciting, engaging, and safe place that students will appreciate.
Are all of my ideas going to work? Probably not. Am I SURE I will achieve everything I set out to do? No. Am I taking risks? Yes - but anything I do is an improvement over the model that led these students to hate school.
I see this year as a golden opportunity to test and refine new approaches and teaching strategies. If I want to learn how to lead students into a growth mindset, this is the perfect group. If I want to prove that flipped instruction is truly a better model of instruction, this is a great group. If I want to test my skills at building relationships this is the group. If I want to try out the techniques I learned for teaching math this summer, I have the perfect heterogeneous group.
For all of the reasons I have listed I am genuinenly excited to start the year.
Or should I be afraid? There is another side to the coin...
No matter what happens, or how successful I am I know I won't reach everyone. If we judge my success by TEST SCORES there is no possible way that I can be as "successful" as last year.
You see, last year my only students were the GT/Honors kids - the ones that wanted to be in my class; the ones that signed up for my class voluntarily. The students I had last year were also an unusually high achieving group. Their collective test scores have been consistently above the norm every year as they have moved through the district.
There was an article in today's local paper that essentially claims my effectiveness as a teacher should be based on my student's test scores. If that's true I should find a new content area. Why should I teach a difficult content to students that don't want what I'm selling? Should my ability to provide for my own children and put them through college be based on the performance of these new students?
I know if you are reading this then I'm not telling you anything new. I'm "preaching to the choir." How do we change how people think? I know they believe they are doing what's right. Quien Sabe?
But I'm hard headed. I'm going to do what I am called to do - teach kids. I'm not going to bail out of the classroom. I'm not going to play it safe. I'm going to do my best to affect these kids in a positive way and teach them to think and love learning. Watch my blog through the year - I'll be reporting on how it goes.