Ms. Singh in the Desert

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 19 2013

Becoming a Bad Student

“Miss, can I go to the bathroom?”

You’re bored. Damn it.

“Ask me after 15 minutes.”

“But I really gotta go!”

“If you pee your pants, I’ll buy you new ones.”

She always forgets to ask again.

Some students ask to go to the bathroom when their bladder is full. Others ask when the class is moving too slowly. Or too quickly. Some ask when they suddenly remember an urgent text they need to respond to.  Whatever the reason, they’ve zoned out.

And I don’t blame them. Not every student is polite and self-disciplined enough to fake attentiveness when she’s bored. The problem isn’t a lack of manners–it’s my lesson. Two weeks ago, I gave a lesson on the distributive property. My students were distracted, but it wasn’t their fault. My lesson was boring. But the next day, they became detectives and had to write police reports about “what went wrong” in math problems scattered around the classroom. And they were all into it.

I’m sitting in an auditorium for a full-day, district-wide professional development meeting, where I’m learning how to align my lessons to Common Core standards.

Or, I would be, if it wasn’t so hard to pay attention.

Common Core aims to “deepen student understanding,” and I think it’s a good idea. Focusing more attention on conceptual understanding and real-world application is a good idea. I will never forget how to integrate, because I learned it by finding the volume of a water bottle. I will never forget that by knowing the measure of one angle at any intersection, I can figure out every other one. I don’t remember trigonometry because I memorized some rules six years ago and haven’t used them since. I vaguely remember something about “period” and “amplitude”, but I couldn’t tell you what they are, or what they mean.

But if I hear another person use the words “deepen student understanding” without immediately following them with “and here’s you how you do that,” or “here is how your classroom should look and feel,” or “here is how you know your students are learning,” I’m going to… get very bored.

Nobody did. And now I’m bored.

I’m a polite student, so I try to be discreet when I’m not paying attention. Before I took a laptop to class, that meant doodling in my notes or writing stories. After laptops, it meant checking my email every 2 minutes and typing stories.

It begins innocently enough:

I just want to check my email. It’ll only take a minute. That’s okay, right? I look around at other computer screens. Everyone is checking their emails, even my department chair. This must be okay.

Inevitably, more things become okay:

Is it lunch yet? Two more hours?! Better see if I have any unread email… Nope, still nothing.

Time to go to the bathroom.


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