Monday, September 8, 2014

Group Work

Okay, so the whole Common Core is a tool to destroy education, and the over-reliance on standardized testing is pure evil, and the establishment Democrats and Republicans are virtually indistinguishable when it comes to education policy arguments are important. I mean it. I follow several groups that discuss these issues all the time. I have written blog posts about the loss of autonomy I have in my classroom as a result of these factors. It is epidemic. But, tonight I have a different topic.

Grouping students.

No, not grouping them into certain tracks or classes. Not grouping them into cutesy categories. I mean the roll up my sleeves and figure out the new groups I want my students to sit in tomorrow type of grouping.

I know this is mundane and prosaic. But, even after two degrees and twenty-seven years teaching, it is something I still need to do. And it can’t be done for me. I spent two hours of my life tonight working on the new groups for my classes. It was neither a walk in the park nor a lot of fun. But it was necessary.

Classroom management is a multifaceted task. One part of it is figuring out where individual students should sit. In one particular class, I have two pairs of young women who should not be seated near each other unless I enjoy breaking up a fight, one young man who has been pinching and harassing a female student, and one who argues with everyone I sit near him (when I sat him in a group alone, he started talking to himself—loudly enough to be heard several feet away).

On top of that, I try to diversify groups so that each one contains one high performing student, one low performing student, and two in the middle. I also do my best to balance gender and race. On top of that, I have to balance personalities. The hope is that I put together groups that will not only behave, but will be more inclined to academic success.

The seating charts are what I did at home. At school I spent about an hour updating my students’ discipline logs. And writing out a couple of referrals. And calling a couple of parents. This was not because I had free time I wanted to kill. I did it so I don’t have to yell in class--so that there is an atmosphere in the classroom that will facilitate learning.

When we have conversations about teachers and what we do, how well we do our jobs, how much we do or don’t work, things like figuring out a seating chart or calling parents are rarely mentioned. Grading papers and planning lessons are mentioned with much greater frequency. But if I don’t do the background work needed to set the stage for learning, my lesson plans will fall apart and the grades on the papers I stay up to finish will be just plain depressing.

So, tomorrow I will have new groups in my classes. Before they arrive in class, the PowerPoint with their new seating arrangements will be on the SmartBoard (after, perhaps, I take time to print and run off hall passes and parent sign-off sheets). My students will groan and complain. They will not know how much I time I spent putting this all together. They’ll figure it was all just random or that I sat them where I did just to piss them off.

So maybe tomorrow after school, after catching up on discipline files, referrals, and parent phone calls, after copying tests for the day after tomorrow, after grading at least one set of papers for each class, maybe I will have time to work on defeating the Common Core and ending the dominance of the Testing-Industrial Complex.  Or maybe I’ll spend a little time with my family. Or maybe I will fall exhausted into bed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare the folders that they will use to take work home to their parents.