Suck it up and get better

return to “Big J in Greater New Orleans” index

previous entry .......... next entry

Suck it up and get better

written Saturday, 1/28/2006

Report card day

The grading period ended last week, and report cards were issued this Friday. On Monday, I showed my students what grades they had earned for the second quarter. Despite the overwhelming preponderance of D’s and F’s, there was relatively little protest over the grading. Either the poor students didn’t care enough to argue, or they knew they deserved what they got.

In class, I felt like I’d become more in-tune with the students’ abilities, and was becoming better at adjusting the pace and difficulty level accordingly. I started sensing that more students were understanding the material in both Geometry and Algebra 2. Unfortunately, Thursday’s quizzes proved otherwise. How frustrating, to think we’re making progress, only to find out that a majority of the class still has no clue.

As a first-year teacher, I know I can and will become a more effective educator as I gain more experience. I wonder, though, could even the best educator possibly teach much Geometry and Algebra 2 content to the students who lack even the most basic Algebra 1 and arithmetic skills?

A few parents contacted me to discuss their children’s academic performance and behavior in my class. The conversations were all polite and informative for me as well as the parents. I appreciated that they took the initiative to contact me. Normally, I would call all parents of students who are at risk of failing. However, with two thirds of my roster falling into that category, I haven’t yet tackled that overwhelming task.

Get better

It would be difficult to get anything done on Friday. The distraction of report cards being issued in the morning created a tough environment for learning. I started each class with the same pep talk/sermon. I encouraged the better students to keep up the hard work, and keep making me proud of them. I reminded the students “who didn’t earn such a good grade” that the start of a new quarter is a perfect time to start with a clean slate. I suggested that they start by working on their participation score, which includes homework and class involvement, and counts for 33% of their final grade. Once they improve in that area, the tests and quizzes (67% of their final grade) will naturally get better too. I requested that students come talk to me if there’s something I should know about their individual situations, so we could figure out how they could earn a passing grade. I reminded them that I’m available at lunch for tutoring.

I assured my students that I could relate to some of the challenges they face in growing up: being raised by a single mother with health problems, having an absent father, working outside of school, enduring learning disabilities, hating math (prior to high school, for me), failing classes, and almost flunking out of school (first year of college, for me).

“We could compare sob stories all day, and I’m sure many of you are going through challenges that I’ve never had to face myself. However, there’s not a job application in the world that asks ‘Did you have a tough life? Were you a Katrina victim?’”

While offering sympathy and understanding for their struggles, I simultaneously wanted them to realize that when looking for a job, “You’re going to be competing with people who have had many more advantages than you, and the world isn’t going to care about what you’ve been through. You need to either suck it up and become that much better, or quit right now. It saddens me to see that far too many of my students appear to have already quit, and I don’t know why they waste their time even coming to class if all they’re going to do is lay their heads down and sleep.”

I worried a bit that some might misinterpret my mentions of quitting, but in the end, almost all the students seemed to listen attentively to my message. Even in my wild 3rd period Algebra 2 class, they appeared to be paying attention. As I proceeded into the day’s lessons, I even noticed a few students showing effort for the first time. I don’t assume that the spark of motivation will last without me constantly trying to light a fire under them… but I suppose part of my job is to be a relentless cheerleader. Today, at least, I felt a glimmer of hope. My students, who typically blame their teachers for their lack of learning, were possibly hearing my message. After all, “The world won’t care if mean ol’ Mr. White gave you a bad grade back in high school. Suck it up and do what you have to do to get better and pass this class.”

Word on the campus

I ran into one of the academic deans on Friday, who’s dropped in on my classes a couple times for observations. She mentioned that students say I’m “strict” and “hard.” Good! I must be doing something right. She encouraged me to keep it up.

New cartoon in progress

Last week I storyboarded a new cartoon. This week I scanned a few sketches and started the computer illustration and animation. Normally I wouldn’t share any of the progress prior to completing the project, but what the heck… I may not finish this one for quite a while. TGNO classes are supposed to start up next week, and I don’t know how much spare time I’ll have. So, here’s an early preview of the first animated figures:

If above image is not animated, download and install Flash Player 6 or later from to view cartoon preview.