First Year: Teaching "Dumping Ground" Classes Successfully?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Newb, Dec 12, 2012.

  1. Newb

    Newb Rookie

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    Dec 12, 2012

    I've posted a little bit about the situation I'm dealing with in other threads, but I could use some more specific, overall advice for how to turn things around. I'm going to give you a lot of context here to explain what's going on before I ask any questions. If anyone has the patience to read this and offer advice, I'd appreciate it.

    I'm a first year, 9th grade English teacher at a rural school who groups classes by ability. I have two "Inclusion" classes, which are the lowest performing students in the school (about 1/3 actually have special needs--mostly ADHD or LD). My other class is a general class that contains the next lowest performing kids who couldn't get slotted into the Inclusion classes. Basically, I have the "Dumping Ground" classes.

    My kids mostly come from horrible family situations that struggle with poverty, drugs, neglect/abuse, bullying, etc. and it manifests itself in a lot of behavior problems, hatefulness, and very low self esteem.

    In my inclusion classes, I have a SPED teacher to "co-teach," but aside from teaching one day a week (on whatever topic he chooses without talking to me) he just sits there the rest of the time and does very little. He comes strolling in a few minutes after the bell, sits quietly, then leaves a few minutes before class ends. Sometimes he'll float around the room to help the kids with their work or deal with a misbehaving student, but that's it. We have planning together, but he's never interested in collaborating or offering any real advice, though I get the impression he quietly judges me every second he's in the room. Yet, he is really good at working with the kids and raising the test scores of the classes he teaches by himself. The kids have a lot more respect for him than they do me, and they actually pay attention and (mostly) behave for him when he teaches. They've told me this directly.

    My first semester has been a disaster. I started out trying to be compassionate, respectful and engaging to the kids, but all the activities I'd come up with fell flat and they took advantage of my attempts to build positive relationships and be patient and caring. The kids just shut down when I tried to do any kind of higher order thinking activity, refused to listen when I wasn't yelling, and when I put them in groups it's been a disaster because they flat out refuse to work with anyone who isn't their friend but then they won't work when they're put with a friend. Some kids just want to run around the room or flop around on the floor like kindergarteners.

    I spent my first 2 months scrambling for whatever materials I could put together until I got textbooks, then when the textbooks came the district Literacy Coach told me I should follow the book's Essential Course of Study exactly as written to ensure our students would be ready for their test this year and their Common Core stuff next year. My kids, who were already shutting down at open ended questions and writing prompts, completely balked at that point and I'm not sure how to get what little attention or motivation I had from them back. When I hand them an assignment, about 1/3 of them don't do it at all and there are a few in each class who'll just throw it on the ground and openly say they're refusing to do it.

    Just trying to get through a single class is hard. When I enforce consequences, like having them copy rules, move seats, go to the hall, stay after class, do jumping jacks, or get a failing grade on the assignment, they either refuse to comply or make an even bigger spectacle of themselves in the complying. Since I'm forbidden from writing them up (which did no good, anyway), I don't know what more I can do to prove I mean business. The SPED teacher has their respect and they do what he says, but when I try to model him, the kids lose respect for me.

    What I want is advice on:

    1. Earning their respect, since expecting and demanding it has done me no good.

    2. Coming up with lessons/assignments they'll actually pay attention to and participate in.

    3. Coming up with classroom management policies and routines that work and build a calm, respectful environment. I had a bunch that I wanted to put in place, but they fell flat from the beginning and my attempts to adapt and find a solid routine have been unsuccessful. I've read a bunch of stuff, and I've tried to be consistent and professional in applying that, but none of that has worked with them, either.

    4. Finding effective, efficient ways to help teach those basic skills (like reading comprehension) that they're so lacking in.

    5. Help with teaching and motivating kids to do better on standardized tests, since our school's mission is to be a testing factory. In my subject, I have 88 testing standards they might see on a 65 question test, and most of my kids don't/can't even read the test properly in the first place.

    Sorry if this is so long winded, but I need a lot of help and most of the classroom management stuff I see is geared towards Elementary age kids and hasn't worked for me. When I try that with my students, they just get pi$$ed and act even worse. When I relax and try to pick my battles, a handful of students keep pushing and pushing it until I enforce consequences, then they blow up and I have horrible classroom meltdowns on my hands. I find myself bored by the low-level material I'm teaching and frustrated at fighting just to get students to behave respectfully and decently.
     
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  3. Myrisophilist

    Myrisophilist Habitué

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    Dec 12, 2012

    :hugs: Hug for you!

    I tried something new with my biology classes today: (truly) random grouping. I needed something to quickly group students so they could switch partners each time we worked on a new question. These are sophomores, BTW. I found an excel/Google spreadsheet document that allows you to enter students' names and either the number of groups you want or the number of students per group and it will randomly assign each student to group #1, group #2, etc. All I had to do was click and they were repaired. Would something like that work for groupwork in your classroom? Perhaps if you kept switching the groups many times each class and the students knew that they would have a chance to work with a friend (but also had to work with people who are not their first choice) and knew it was very temporary, then they would be more receptive.
     
  4. Newb

    Newb Rookie

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    Dec 12, 2012

    Thanks.

    I'd like to try something like that, but just asking them to even *sit* near a student they don't like leads to a bunch of screaming and drama. It's not just that they don't want to work with other students: they're openly hostile to them and refuse to cooperate if they're even put close to each other. That's what's so frustrating about it.
     
  5. HTCC

    HTCC Rookie

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    Dec 13, 2012

    I'm also a 1st year teacher so Unfortunately I don't have much advice because I haven't experienced what you're dealing with. One thing that I found incredibly informative (although I haven't put it into practice yet) was a prof development I went to about classroom management. It was through our regional education office, so you may want to check and see if yours offers anything similar. Our presenter recommended several books, Love and Logic, Do One Thing Different by O'Hanlan, Try and Make Me by Dr Levy, and Real Boys by W. Pollack. I also found a teacher workbook on Dr Levy's website that has some information we covered in the class. Maybe you'll find something here that works for you.

    I've read your other posts, but I can't remember if you've tried contacting parents. I know most of mine don't even return phone calls but I would say try it anyway. Hopefully at least some will be on your side. Or they'll get tired of you calling and tell their kids to start behaving.

    If there's anything you enjoy about teaching don't give up! Hang in there! Find a mentor teacher! And try to remember that all schools are different. This one sounds like its not a good situation, but next year you can find a new one.
     
  6. cult

    cult Rookie

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    Dec 13, 2012

    Sounds like we are in a very similar situation. I have used the disciplinary approach and this, along with my "teacher roar" have been effective, along with differentiating instruction to the sub-atomic level. I have 10th graders, some of whom cannot read and others of whom read on grade level. If you have a Half Price Books in your area, I was able to find textbooks there for a song (sometimes as low as 2.50). You can buy a textbook and make as many copies as you need.

    Just remember, that classroom is your house (I say that to my students all the time and it whips them right into shape). Nothing happens in that room that you do not allow to happen - ever. Taking power back from the students is critical. Their behavior is their problem, not yours and certainly not their classmates who are being subjected to it. For myself, I have developed a zero tolerance approach (and I am a special ed teacher with 100% special ed students). It's the middle of the year - the time for warnings is over. You don't behave - you are gone. It's that simple.

    I am interested to hear more about how/why you are not allowed to toss disruptive, chronically non compliant students out of the classroom. EVEN students with IEPs can be removed given certain conditions are met. This may be an issue with the administration. What is admin's policy regarding removing disruptive students so you can instruct?
     
  7. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Dec 13, 2012

    I would beg, flatter, cry or whatever it takes to get said partner to help you out. Plead ignorance, youth and inexperience to show your need. Explain how you see his competence and rapport with kids and how you want to learn as much as you can. FLATTERY but try to act sincere (if it isn't). I wish you were working with my SPED friend. He mentors many college kids in his classes.
     
  8. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Dec 13, 2012


    I agree with this. Since the special education teacher knows how to reach and teach students that struggle, you really need to have him mentor you. If you approach him in the right way, he may be glad to help you out.

    I hate to say it, but often times, kids are now put in inclusion classes that absolutely need more specialized instruction than what is given at the general education level which is why your lessons are falling flat. They probably don't meet the needs of the students. Students pick up on this rather quickly and if not provided with something they are capable of, they blame the teacher and act accordingly. Often the instruction is way above where these students are academically. From the mindset of the students, they are given work they have no way of being able to understand or do without the right help but are often blamed for not producing. If not blamed, they are failed via grades. Again, seen as blame.

    Seems you special education "co-teacher" knows how to reach the students. You need to focus on building the relationship with him. It is actually the classroom of both of you. Re-examing the communication the both of you have had since the beginning of the year. Was there a lopsidedness to the discussion of the classroom. Could you possibly, in your excitement to have your own classroom, set a tone that it was your classroom and he was a visitor? You were going to allow some collaboration with him, but ultimately it was your classroom, even if this was not your intent. I AM NOT saying that this is the way your converstaion happened. I'm just putting it out there as a possibility.

    In our district, inclusion classes have the roster split between the general education teacher and the special education teacher. Unfortunately, most of the time, the special education teacher sits and is the warm body in the classroom instead of an equal partner in the classroom. The special education teacher in the room fulfills the legal obligation, but because of lack of cooperation (not collaboration) that ends up being the main reason and the students don't receive the actual benefit of the service.
     
  9. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Dec 13, 2012

    This is our biggest problem now. We do not have the ESE classroom for children that need that attention. They are ALL IN THE regular classroom and many are completely lost. I cannot believe our county does that now. It is not the fault of the regular ed. teacher in my opinion. Some of these kids do not belong in a regular class unless it is about 2-3 levels down.
     
  10. Newb

    Newb Rookie

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    Dec 13, 2012

    Thanks for the advice.

    I've tried to build a relationship with my SPED teacher. We coached football together, sit together at lunch, etc. but he still barely talks to me. He's a very nice guy and I like him as a person, but unless I corner him and really push him hard for it, he never offers any advice and when he does, it's usually vague. He's been here for a few years now, grew up here with a lot of the other teachers, had a father who taught/coached here, and it seems that he, along with a lot of the others here, are very slow to warm up to "outsiders."

    I tried from the beginning to welcome him as a partner and solicit his advice on stuff, but he wasn't interested in that. He just said "you're the teacher of record so it's your classroom" and really tried to stay out of things. I started out by showing him my unit plans and trying to solict thoughts and suggestions from him on everything from lesson plans to seating arrangements, but all I ever got was a polite "looks good." He just doesn't want to collaborate.

    If I had the room and the resources, I'd set him up with a desk and a workspace here to try and make him feel more at home, but I doubt that would do much good. He's only teaching the lesson once a week now because one of our APs has demanded he do it.

    Any ideas for other stuff I could do, short of confronting him point blank and demanding he help out more? It's really awkward for me because I want him to help out and it seems like I'm doing all the work while he sits there and makes more money, yet I also want to maintain a good relationship and don't want him to think I'm trying to shift my own responsibilities as teacher onto him.
     
  11. cult

    cult Rookie

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    Dec 13, 2012

    You SHOULD confront him. As a SpEd teacher I would be very receptive to a conversation like the one it seems you must have. I'd even go so far as to send him an email and cc the director of special education. Keep it professional and factual; you would like to schedule time to collaborate around the success of the special education students in the room.
     
  12. MissApple

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    Dec 13, 2012

    I would arrange a meeting with the SPED teacher and an administrator to work out what exactly his responsibilities are. Chances are he's under no obligation to give you teaching advice, but I'm sure he has specific job requirements.

    As for the students, it's very hard to tread that line of caring yet stern. Silly as it may sound for high school, candy can be a great motivator.

    You can check out whole brain teaching, which I found helped me a bit (though I picked and chose what to actually use).

    www.classdojo.com can be a life saver. When I first started it the kids thought it was babyish, but they were begging for points by the end of the 1st period. I give them all the same boring avatar, then challenge them to earn 15 points before I give them their secret code to make their own monster.
     
  13. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Dec 13, 2012

    If your SPED teacher doesn't cooperate, try finding other effective teachers at your school and ask for their permission to observe them during your prep.

    Take notes while you're observing. No matter how many times you observe you'll always find something new to add or work on.

    You've probably already been recommended it, but I would definitely get Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones. If you think it's childish, you're just going to have to grit your teeth and try the techniques out anyway. Even if your kids feel like they're being talked down to, or that it's too childish for them, dig your heels in and be stubborn about it.

    The truth is, what works for elementary schoolers will most of the time still work for High Schoolers. They may not want to admit it and they may try to get you to think otherwise, but if you keep having them practice it as a procedure, they'll eventually dissent.

    I'm worried that you're not giving some management techniques you've learned enough of a chance. You need to do more than just present a procedure or a technique and try it for a day and if it doesn't work try something else. Sometimes, even if it doesn't work the first day, you have to keep at it and keep trying to get them to follow the procedure. When they find that you're not budging they will eventually accept it.

    If you are continuously changing the way things run in your class or the students get the impression that your procedures depend completely on their approval of the procedures, then they'll string you around and do what they want.

    You need to be firm and you need to be consistent. As Fred Jones says, you are either consistent or you are not. There is no in between. You are either ALWAYS enforcing a rule or procedure or you are exhibiting "weenie" behavior and giving in when the students get too unwieldy.

    Good luck.
     
  14. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Dec 13, 2012

    I'm agreeing with this too. If he won't work with you on plans and doesn't help the kids, he really isn't providing services, is he?

    Seems since the AP demanded he teach a lesson it seems that he is supposed to be doing more.
     
  15. catlover

    catlover Rookie

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    Dec 15, 2012

    Wait a sec -- I think some important information is missing here with respect to the co-teacher.

    How many periods is he in your classroom? Is he in your room all day?

    How many other classrooms does he work in?

    It sounds like your efforts to get him involved amount to asking for some pretty wide-ranging feedback on basically all aspects of planning, from the syllabus to seating plans. If he is in your class all/most of the day, then fine. In that case, it is appropriate.

    But you said you had two inclusion "classes." Does that mean two periods of inclusion? You also said something about him showing up a few minutes after the bell and leaving a few minutes before -- maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but that sounds like a co-teacher who floats around the school and only shows up in your classroom for a couple of periods. If he works in multiple classrooms, there is a limit to how involved he can be in co-planning your specific class. I am a co-teacher, and last year I worked with 6 different teachers!

    Have you tried asking the co-teacher to do specific things to help you out? I bet he's more likely to collaborate if you ask him for more targeted feedback.

    Example: have you ever asked him to take a small group of students over to the side of the classroom to tutor them on something they're struggling with while you take the rest of the class through something else?

    Have you ever asked him to take the class through your warm up while you work with the more advanced students on a project?

    I would suggest that you do the initial lesson planning, but plan activities that leverage the fact that the co-teacher will be present. This actually gives you more options. Example: you could use station teaching, where the co-teacher is one of the stations. That opens up a lot of possibilities, because his station can be more involved, since he is there to explain it and help them. Without a co-teacher, you are limited to stations that are simple and self-explanatory.

    Since you are struggling with classroom management, I would also recommend the strategy of dividing the class. Example: If you take them to the library every so often, ask the co-teacher if he would take HALF of them to the library--keep the other half and teach them whatever you would've done with the whole class the next day. You'll do better with a smaller group. And then have him take the OTHER half the next day, and you do the same lesson you already did, but with the first half.

    If you take the lead and ask him for SPECIFIC feedback on the activities where you want to utilize him, I think it will work better. Just make sure you don't come off as if you're trying to boss him around. Discuss the activity well in advance and ask if he thinks it would work, and if he is okay doing it. If he objects or tries to get out of it, ask what changes he thinks are needed to make it so the activity will work.

    Once the two of you establish a better form of collaboration, you can try more involved things. For example, have half the students turn their chairs to face the rear of the room. He teaches one thing at the back of the room while you teach something else at the front -- switch halfway through the period, each teaching the same thing a second time but to different students.

    But to get to that point, I think you have to take the lead in planning it.
     
  16. Accountable

    Accountable Companion

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    Dec 15, 2012

    Katb has given you outstanding advice. I've been co-teaching for 4 years now, and I can tell that you've been short-changed, but by your school, not necessarily your co-teacher. The two of you should have had training together in how to work together so that you could have ironed out these problems before they come up.

    Consider that the co-teacher is put in an awkward position. He's in your classroom. You're the teacher of record, yet he's supposed to be an equal contributor. It's an impossible situation. Deferring to you as the teacher of record earns him a thread implying he's doing less than he should. He could easily unintentionally overstep, and this thread would be about him coming in and taking over your class.

    Do you have a mentor teacher? The three of you should sit down to nail down everyone's expectations ... maybe develop a list of questions the meeting raised but couldn't answer.

    Here's an idea: ask your co-teacher which of the other teachers' styles are similar to yours. As a floater, he's sure to be able to come up with a name or two. Those are the teachers you should go and observe. It plays to your strengths.



    eta: Oh, and stop calling your class a dumping ground. It's insulting. It colors your attitude, mannerisms, and the way you teach your kids ... and I guarantee they see it. It makes you a weaker teacher.
     

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