The Day I Lost Control of my Class and Quit Teaching

Today I lost control of my class and quit teaching. Well, I lost control of two of my classes. I teach 4 classes on 70 minute blocks. That part is boring and who cares? Today I had three students in my geometry class teach a lesson on the effects of altering dimension on the area of an object. So they talked about the effect of altering the height of a trapezoid, or altering the base and the height of a parallelogram. They did not go into solids. They did have a set of google slides ready that they showed, the class took notes on, and that they provided additional notes and examples on the whiteboard on the side. All three of them were teaching like crazy and they were prepared. In that same class last week, a group of students taught a lesson on finding the area of regular polygons showing simple examples as well as cases where students needed to find the apothem. They dissected the polygons into congruent triangles formed by the central angle, showed how to find the central angle, then showed how to use right triangle trigonometry to find the apothem and hence the area of a triangle and thus the whole figure. It was amazing. Each of these groups taught the entire class. They gave a warm-up, worked various examples, and gave an assignment. I sat in the back and took notes.

In my bilingual Algebra 1 class today, two students got up to teach. They taught a lesson on graphing quadratic functions in standard form. One of the students put in more preparation time than the other. The one who didn’t work as hard got frustrated with the material, as well as the way other students in the class were roasting him. This could be because he is always doing it to them as well. He is a very skilled roaster. The problem today was that he was under pressure. He couldn’t think through the material because he wasn’t as prepared as he should be, and he was trying to teach instead of watch someone else teach. So conversations went sort of like this:

Student: Marco, why are you just standing there con esa cara de wut?

Marco: ¡Qué pedo, güey! I can’t do this, Mr. Thayer can just yell at you and it won’t work when I do it!

Student: But you’re the teacher, teach us!

Marco: Mr. Thayer, they aren’t respecting the teacher!

This continued until he was frustrated and sat down. His partner, who was prepared, kept teaching. He explained how to find the vertex in any quadratic equation written in standard form by using the formula x = -b/2a to find the x-value of the vertex. He showed how to set up an input-output table and how to translate that to a graph. He discussed shortcuts based on the symmetric properties of a parabola, he was on fire and I loved watching him. I took notes on his method of explaining, his pace, and the way the class responded. They were really calm with him and seemed to follow well. Much better than with me. They were rooting for him and it turns out were anticipating it all day. They wanted him to do well and that translated into engagement. He worked through the warm-up and another example where the value of b in the trinomial was negative and then assigned some problems. I was floored.

I didn’t choose the A-students to do these lessons. I asked students who had C’s and D’s in my class. I offered them points toward their grade on their concept scores (I use a version of standard-based grading but you could do something similar with traditional tests). I used their grades as currency and they took it seriously. In the end, the student who taught the Algebra 1 lesson brought his grade up from a C- to a B. He was extremely proud of what he did. He told me how he doesn’t want to be a teacher, he wants to be a software engineer. He thanked me for “giving him the opportunity to teach the class,” took a picture of his work on the whiteboard, and then posted it to snapchat with the caption, “I dropped some knowledge on some kids today.”

I learned that I go way too fast when I am teaching. That I could do a better job of not being so aggravated by my students when they aren’t on task, of allowing more time to struggle through problems. I learned how important it is to not be angry at my students who are blurting crazy things out during a lecture, and instead try to put myself in their shoes. I learned that everyone can learn, that all my students are smart, that I need to find more ways to give them the opportunity to show it.

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