The Trouble Table

I am overwhelmed by six small boys.
Bad Guys Trouble Table From Muppet Movie

This Table DOES Look Like Trouble

There are six boys intermingled in my class who are unbelievably out of control.  They shout, throw small objects, laugh loudly, hit others joyfully “in fun”, and in general make it clear that they are not at school to learn.  I learned well from my first year’s experience that The Office will be no help at all.  What will I do?
By the third week of class, I am already at my wit’s end.  No matter where I seat each boy or what incentives or disincentives are used, each child is determined to be disruptive.  It doesn’t even seem to matter if the boys are widely separated…Wait a minute!  That’s it!
The students all watch as I start moving desks.
“Argie, Juan, Angel, Chris, Alberto, Robert—Come here!”
I seat all six boys closely together, at their own separate table in a corner of the room.
“Welcome to ‘The Trouble Table’.  Meet your new group partners.  You boys will be more comfortable seated with others like you.  Talk all you want.”
I have just broken a cardinal rule of The District and The Office.  I am NEVER to label a student as “trouble”, or describe her or him in any other derogatory way.

I'm Such a Bad Girl

The boys are amazed.  “You mean, we can talk all we want?  You’re just gonna ignore us?”  “That’s right,” I answer, “but try to keep the volume down for the rest of us who want to learn.”
You have never seen such happy boys.  They have been coming to school for five years with no intention of trying to learn, but never was their behavior endorsed (except by the lack of response by their parents and The Office, of course). What a treat!  They proceed to indulge in their favorite activities, described earlier.
I have a theory.   Only time will tell if I am right.
After three days, I notice that the amount and volume of talk from The Trouble Table has dropped off slightly.  A couple of the boys look a little tired—one might almost say “frazzled.”  I even notice some quick glances at the occasionally-industrious other students.
I walk back to the table and lean in.   In a quiet voice, I say:
“Boys, I suspect by now that one or two of you might be getting a little tired of sitting in this group.   I am here to offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity.   Today, and only today, you may opt to leave this group and join the rest of us in trying to learn.   If you do make that choice, it is with the understanding that you are going to try your best to change your behavior and effort.  I will try my best to teach you and make you feel proud of yourself.   What do you say?”
I wait.  And wait.  At last, Argie looks down shyly and says “I’d like to try.”  Enrique stares at him and then adds “Me, too.”  I am so PROUD of them!  With a big smile, I welcome them to the class:
“Class—Argie and Enrique have decided to be students!”
Everyone knows exactly what I mean, and the class bursts into applause.

Dang, My Fifth-Graders Sure Were Held Back a Lot of Times!

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Browbeating Innocent Ponies


Brendan is once again trying to learn his times tables.

A Happy Boy Who Is Not a Result of Our School System

After intense daily tutoring, he can easily outscore his peers on a times table test, getting 35 out of 40.  Yet, the moment the level of tutoring is reduced even slightly, his score drops to 2 or 3 out of 40.   Brendan’s retention of facts is almost non-existent.

Teachers have been trying to teach Brendan to retain even a few of his times tables since the beginning of third grade, and he has not yet learned any for keeps.  Brendan is now in the fifth grade.

What is that child really learning, other than the hard and often-repeated lesson that he is stupid?

This is institutionalized cruelty.

The District tells me I am to teach the full grade-level curriculum to Brendan, adjusting the style of the lessons to suit his learning difficulties.

Tell me, why are we trying to teach and teach and teach again the chemical formula for glucose to students such as Brendan?  More cruelty.  Why aren’t we offering him the life skills and vocational training he needs so desperately?  What is Brendan’s use of teaching resources relative to other students with more apt memories?   Wouldn’t both Brendan and the educational system profit by us doing something for him, rather than to him?


Marilyn still doesn’t know the days of the week, in English or Spanish, her native language.

The Girl Marilyn Will Never Be, Thanks To Us

Teachers have been trying to teach them to her now for five years, using all sorts of strategies.  None have paid off.

Marilyn thinks she’s dumb—and she’s right.   However, she is also very sweet and very graceful, and extremely beautiful.  If ever there was a girl born to be a gymnast, a dancer, or model, it’s Marilyn.  It’s too bad for Marilyn that she has been locked into a cruel prison for five years—one that has repeatedly reinforced how dumb she is.

I try very hard all year to raise her self-confidence.  I fail.

Why on earth are we trying and trying to teach Marilyn the same old academic things she has failed at for years?   How can any administrator or teacher have the audacity to say that we’re doing this for Marilyn’s good?

OK Boss We Be Doin What You Say

“Yassuh, We’s Be Grindin’ Up Dem Chilluns Jes’ the Way You Done Tole’ Us, Suh!”

Okay,  a couple of you more smug teachers are thinking “She just didn’t know how to teach to those kids”.  Yeah.  Fine.  You-all just go on thinking that.  Although you are a little bit right in that, in my first year, I was the dumb one, obeying my massahs and trying to teach the mandated curriculum. By year two, I wised up and stopped beating my demoralized ponies. I taught whatever each could learn and succeed at.

NOTE: Don’t like the use of the terms dumb and stupid? Let’s go with functionally retarded. (Oh–we don’t say “retarded” any more? Tough.) Because, hon, if your disability is that you have the memory of a long-term alcoholic, you are, for all academic pursuits, more than mildly retarded.

Boy Walking Away Along Trees-Or Brendan Leaving

Brendan, Leaving

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He Who Will Teach: The Assistant

Oh, my gosh!
Paper Plate In Not-Thirds

Which Fair Share of a Pie On This Plate Would YOU Like?

In a rush, in the middle of a lesson, I tossed some paper plates to my teaching assistant and asked him to mark a few into fractions. That picture shows how he divided one into thirds.
Well, I had said “They don’t have to be perfect.” You should have seen the OTHER plates.
Oh boy. So this is the teaching assistant the other teachers gave the new kid.
And Val is in training to become a teacher? He admits that he didn’t pay any attention during his own elementary school days. He’s a young local man, so he’s a product of the same school machine as my students. The one that cheerily promotes on to each higher grade level every non-trying, non-learning, non-student, just like the chair-warmer Val used to be.
The only happy lining to this grim cloud is that Val is intelligent and ambitious and wants to do right by these kids. He says that I inspire him, the sweet sap. Stumbling teacher though I am, it is true that I can still teach Val a thing or two.
Or three.

Three Equal, Fair Shares of a Pie.

The clever pie photo comes courtesy of Serious Eats, and its recipe can be found at this node on that site, from way back in November, ’09.
However, I first found a reference to the pie on Not Martha, a site which deserves a visit for its title alone.
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