Saturday, November 11, 2006

Top and Bottom

Everyone should teach the top students and the bottom students, if not every term, at least every few years. When we don't do this we get jaded and forget what the other half is like. I know this because I taught special education for a few years and then followed this with quite a few years of only teaching bottom level courses. The math supervisor at that time didn't like me and this was my "punishment". I fooled him, though. I like the bottom kids. Those are the ones that make me feel like I accomplished something when they succeed. There is nothing like that feeling I get when a kid who has almost given up on ever being able to master a concept gets it, and then graduates high school. Anyways, let me get back to the point of this post. I am now deemed a good teacher by the administration and have been teaching advanced placement calculus for over 10 years. The kids in these classes are wonderful. They are bright, and motivated. They do homework, ask questions and argue over every point on an exam. I love teaching them as much as I love teaching the kids that struggle. I find that teachers that only teach these top kids forget that the ones on the bottom exist. They express an intolerance toward people that cannot perform what we deem to be ordinary activities (like making change when the computer register is not working.) The ones who teach only the kids at the bottom start to think everyone is like that and start to lose faith in the future of our country. When they see a kid that actually can do any work, they think he is a genius, when he is probably just an average student. The best way to appreciate and help students is to actually teach all of them--the good students and the bad ones.

8 comments:

happychyck said...

I AGREE! I've taught both, too, but mostly the bottom until the last two years when I started teaching middle school magnet students. I also teach in an alternative high school a few nights a week, so I definately have not forgotten bottom students. And sadly, bottom means they are just apathetic. Those apathetic kids make me so angry because there are students with real issues--like being SpEd or ELL. And the apathetic SpEd or ELL kids really get under my skin--people are working their butts off trying to teach you, a little help please? Having taught a wide range of abilities and interest levels throughout secondary (including that summer with 7th graders who had a 1st grade reading level) has helped keep me grounded, plus it helps me keep the bar at a challenging, yet appropriate level.

mrc said...

One class in which you can see it all: Geometry. My school doesn't have an honors course, so the freshmen who are advanced and the seniors who have failed multiple times are in the same class, with various and sundry sophomores and juniors mixed in.

jonathan said...

Agree, 100%

Even further, in one of the fancy private schools up here (maybe all 3?), the math teachers teach one high school and one middle school course. Way to keep us from forgetting.

Nic said...

"The ones who teach only the kids at the bottom start to think everyone is like that and start to lose faith in the future of our country. When they see a kid that actually can do any work, they think he is a genius, when he is probably just an average student."

You hit the nail on the head. That's EXACTLY how I felt after my first three years of teaching. And when the students I have now get a (probably fairly simple) concept the first time, I can't believe it. I do still have all levels in my classes, but I'm suffering from the "average student is brilliant" syndrome now, for sure.

Anonymous said...

I always ask to teach beginners. Most people don't like to do it, and frankly, there are people I don't trust to do it. They need more help than others, and the long tradition of fitting those who need the most help with those who have no experience whatsoever teaching is patently idiotic.

Given the caliber of people who run our union and school system, I've little doubt this tradition will endure forever, if not longer.

Pissed Off said...

I'm not only talking about the beginners, I'm talking about the seniors, still taking beginner classes. In order to keep things in perspective, everyone should teach both sides, at least every few years.

Anonymous said...

In elementary school you are supposed to rotate from top classes to bottom. There is such a striking difference between teaching these classes that some teachers get addicted to the top kids and can't bear teaching the slower classes, which also often have more difficult problems.

I had trouble breaking into the top because the principals had their favorites in there year after year and my looser style of teaching did not make them happy. I actually enjoyed many of the classes at the bottom but progress was always so slow. The class I had in '73-'74 was a difficult bottom class with all too many hoodlums, many of whom ended up in jail (one is still there after 25 years).

When I got my first top class in '74-'75 I found kids who could read and did read for pleasure. Amazing. Many of these kids went on to college and over the years I was invited to 3 weddings, the last one 5 years ago when my student was 37. The next year it was back to the bottom and that was quite an adjustment. But it turned out to be one of my favorite classes. (I recently received a call from one of them -- she must be around 45 now -- YIKES!!)

After that year, with a new principal, I had to resort to filing a grievance to get the top, as she wanted the same people at the top all the time. All the other teachers just accepted it because my principal was intimidating. I wanted to teach top kids at least a few more times in my careeer so I could feel some level of success instead of the frustration at the slow pace in the bottom classes.

One year after my grievance because it was my turn, the principal declared she was going to have an experiment with heterogeneous grouping in my grade only, giving me the more difficult kids to teach. I made a deal with her with the help of the chapter leader by "trading" some of the kids to rebalance the class. I ended up with about 20 top kids and 8 lower level. This mix seemed to work for the bottom kids and they did well. The other teacher had the reverse and did not have a good experience that year. I think I had 3 top classes in my 17 years as a regular classroom teacher.

Anonymous said...

I agree- except it also works with 'behaviorally challenged' students also the 'bad kids' too.
I had a child who was switched from the other pre-k class into my class 2 months after the school year. She was considered for a 4 year old to be 'a delinquent' and the other teacher wanted her thrown out of the school. Some of the issues that the child did:
1) drew black markers on her hands
2) jumped onto the cots with the other children at rest time

I was the third classroom she was enrolled in just a year. I actually have to say, I believe her behavioral challenges were just the child acting out because she was bored and not being pushed academically. When given children the appropriate tasks, they will succeed and act out less.

*Yes, the child still had her moments for acting out- but they were less drastic and consistent from her past experiences.

** I attribute my strength in behavioral management for working with children with emotional disturbances. This prepared me for a lifetime.