I’m really struggling with the older students right now, 5th grade in particular.   As I’ve mentioned before, their behavior and attitude are beginning to go south, and keeping myself focused in persevering in the right direction  is an additional challenge.

I teach in two buildings, and the longer the year goes on the wider the achievement and attitude gaps become between the two buildings.  Lessons that are a complete success in my full -time building are either incomprehensible to my “part- time building” students, or their “I couldn’t care less” attitude is so pervasive that it doesn’t matter to them whether they understand or not.  Lately I leave that building feeling unsuccessful and incompetent.

Why is this?

I think there are several factors.  I’ve already alluded to one of them in calling one of my schools my “part -time” building.  Because it’s a small building it shares specialists with the larger schools.  The kids get the left over days from everyone’s schedule.  Although we try to build in consistency, the fact is that on a weekly basis as well as from year to year, I only teach half of the students in the building.  My style of teaching is strongly related to, and to a degree, dependent upon the relationships that I am able to build with my students.  Without the consistency of having all of them every year, those relationships are considerably weaker than in my “full -time” building.  They see me in that school once a week.  To them, I am a visitor.  The sense of community is not as strong, nor is the sense of safety in being able to choose to sing and interact in my music classroom.  This is happens in the school that services students who can least afford second string learning accommodations.

Now, I know I’m treading on controversial territory, but the other reason for bad attitude, apathy and low achievement has nothing to do with me.  It has to do with where each student comes from, the value that is placed upon education  in their family, the kinds of experiences their parents had with school, the level of parental education and, therefore, the economic standard of living in their household.  Sad to say, money and the amount of time that parents must spend trying to make ends meet make a difference in a child’s attitude towards school, and ultimately, in their ability to be successful.  Much of the inability to tolerate rigor, and the bad attitude that I see, come, in my opinion, from lack of support at home, whether it’s because parents are absent from the home in order to work, or because they really don’t give a hoot about their child’s education.  Some don’t, and all students in a community pay the price for that.

My “part -time” school is, at almost every  grade level, 2 weeks behind my “full -time” school.  The difference in the students,  not in what or how I am teaching, is stunning.  With all of the accountability that is being placed upon teachers, it seems to me that there needs to be a way to hold parents accountable for their contribution to a child’s education.  I say this, not because I welcome more government intrusion into families and private lives, but because the reality is that teachers are taking the whole blame for something that isn’t entirely their fault.  If we really want to see improvement in public education, then everyone who is responsible  for a child’s education must do their part.  It’s very easy to “hold teachers accountable”, but it won’t do any good at all if the rest of society refuses to accept their own responsibility.


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann W.
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 17:44:18



  2. Rebekah Jaunty
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 17:53:55

    I’ll see Ann W.’s ‘amen’ and raise her a ‘hallelujah’!

    I’m a new teacher,and having a terrible time figuring out what to do with the students who Truly Don’t Care. It’s worst when the apathetic kids are considered ‘cool’ by their peers.

    Jane, I really appreciate your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences.


  3. Jane
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 18:08:29

    Thanks, Ann and Rebekah, for taking the time to read and comment.

    Rebekah, don’t give up. You’ll find that you have good years and not as good years, and the first year is a huge challenge. You’ll be feeling a whole lot better a year from now.

    Work on building rapport with the ones who DO care. Be honest with the group about how you’re feeling and why….some won’t give a hoot, but others…especially if they have a year or 2 more with you, will value the relationship, and therefore will strive to learn what you’re trying to teach. I’m aPrayin’ for ya!


  4. Ellie Wong
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 18:31:08

    Your description of your half time students made me smile because these are my students all the time. For myself, I use little treat incentives. It amazes me how much they care when I offer them a special shaped pretzels(a huge container of xmas shapes for 70% off) and this week in celebration of Oreos birthday I found a sale so each student in my choir had a cookie. In my 6th grade choir I try different songs to find the songs that click with them. Have you tried MK8 Peaceful? Now they are running to choir, they love it so much but they have the same social economic situation you’ve described. I also bought some new warm-up books: Roger Emersons Pop song warm ups. Their 6th grade teachers are now telling me that when they have their classes sing it calms them all down. I’ve given them my choir songs of this past year. I feel very fortunate to have turned my classes around with singing.


  5. Jane
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 19:22:22

    Thank you, Ellie! I will definitely look up “Peaceful” this week. (They’ll be needing it with the extra stress of State Testing.). I have tried the treat route….using smarties as bingo board markers, treats in the pumpkin for pass the pumpkin etc. works for some in my neck of the woods, not so much for others. You inspire me to persevere, though! You, who have been through so much this year. ” Never, never, never give up!”. —Winston Churchill


  6. Kelly
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 16:09:17

    oh goodness, can I ever relate. What got me through many a day in a tough place was reminding myself that in that building, I might be the ONLY thing those kids had going for them. There were so many administrative barriers placed on what I was doing as a music teacher that I wasn’t sure there was much music learning going on anyway, but the reality was that I was dealing with kids who came in from parents who didn’t care about whether they ate, much less if they got an education, and in far too many cases, were dealing with teachers who had already given up on them. At the end of the day, as much as it pained me, I couldn’t be upset if I didn’t get through a lesson or if we were further behind in the “curriculum” than I wanted to be. I was providing something else, potentially much more valuable for those kids, and I had to be okay with that, too.


  7. Jane
    Mar 12, 2012 @ 16:43:00

    Kelly, you are wise beyond your years, and absolutely right.

    As I thought about what I had written, particularly the part about relationship being so crucial to my style of teaching, I knew that I had to do something to strengthen the bond between me and at least some of the kids. So, when they came in this morning and some of the girls commented on my new haircut, I told the truth: “everybody keeps telling me they like it, but I’m not so sure I do”. I also had my glasses off, because I don’t like the way I look in them, either. One of the girls said, “Not wearing your glasses is why you look so different”. ” I think they make the hair cut look even worse”, I replied. Two of them shook their heads and one said, ” No, it looks better with the glasses on”. It was a small interchange, but it was about something that interested them, and on a semi-personal level. It set the tone for the morning, and as long as I was able to remind myself that certain levels of noise are acceptable when playing rhythm BINGO, things went quite well. And yes, it is often the girls who cause the trouble.


  8. CaraC
    May 01, 2012 @ 21:14:08

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you Jane. I feel the same way about teachers getting so much blame when we see our kids 1/3 of the day for 3/4 of the year. There is so much we can’t account for. We just have to do the best with the darlin’s we have.



  9. Brenda
    Jul 27, 2012 @ 07:46:14

    YES…YES…YES..I agree with your thoughts! Everyone who interacts with the student…child…must be held accountable. Also, as the student advances to a higher grade, they become a part of the ‘accountability equation.’


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