We’re almost there. Two more weeks are all that are left. Yet for almost half of my eighth grade students, it will seem an eternity. My eighth grade ELD class, the one in which the students are deemed Intermediate, who speak English very well, and have little to no interest in school, has many students who will not be promoting this year. They will go on to high school because after all, we can’t have students driving themselves to middle school, but it won’t be because they have done anything at all to prepare themselves for this next step. They are the non-doers, the sitters. Occasionally there is a time, and it resurfaces every so often, when they rise up and seem like they might do something in class. But after handing in a hastily prepared assignment or two, they sit back and watch again. This is not only in my class. They do this all day long, all year long. I have no idea when this habit pattern formed, but I sense it started before they arrived at middle school.
Mostly these days what they watch is their phones or iPods. You know those videos you see where people walk around with their heads down, missing their lives because they are looking at their little devices? Yes, like that. Even in a very low income area, most of them have an electronic device of some kind. It is a constant battle to keep the devices in their pockets or backpacks. I tell them to put them away, and eventually I take them away for a while, but in the big picture it isn’t much use. The other day I found one of my non-doer students with two devices out at the same time.
But this post isn’t really about the problem of electronics interfering with what’s going on, it’s about what’s next for these students. The electronics are a symptom, but they are not a reason. I wish I understood what drives their inertia. I worry about their lives, what they will do with them. I wonder if they think they will start doing school in high school, or if they just don’t see the purpose for it. I look for engaging things to offer as class activities, and I will admit that snake week was pretty popular, but only from the point of view of an observer. The written work that accompanied it was not done.
I didn’t ever see this, or at least not to this degree, when I taught high school, but I don’t really think this is a middle school anomaly. It would be very surprising if these guys suddenly began doing school in two months. They don’t know how to do school because they haven’t been practicing. They get good attendance, but that’s about all. I suspect that high school is very different now from how it was ten years ago when I taught it. In fact my colleagues have alluded to that truth.
Next year I will try again to start the year off in a well organized, structured way. I will have high expectations for my students and will communicate those clearly. I think I do that each year, but each year I think that next year I’ll do it better, more effectively. Next year I’m teaching eighth grade, all eighth grade, so I already know who will be in my classes. The outlook is a little bleak, to be honest. Still I will do my best to change things up, because there is nothing else I can offer other than my best effort. And for now, I’ll make it through the next two weeks, and then I’ll rest a minute before it all begins again.