Saturday, March 17, 2012

My So-Called Remedial Class

I've been teaching a "remedial" Grade 9 class this year. It is actually my first time teaching an actual remedial class! In all the other years of teaching, either I taught heterogeneous classes (sometimes with very weak students mixed in), or I taught classes that were meant to be mainstream or even honors classes within a streamed setting.

I am teaching a "remedial" Grade 9 class. In the beginning, it was very rocky. In between me being a new teacher at the school and the kids being sorted by levels for the first time in their lives, there was a lot of upheaval and a lot of unhappy kids and parents. In the end, I ended up with 10 students (in my smallish classroom). They were very weak and all the boys could not sit still and they refused to speak English in the classroom. (I've dealt with very severe ADHD at my last school, with kids falling out of their seats and 5 ADHD kids in a class of 20, so hyperactivity is not really a problem for me.) And they were rude to me out of anger about the situation, so they made snide German comments to each other daily. They wanted an expressway to a "normal" class and they did not believe me when I said that I would be teaching them normal grade 9 material, but in a different way that allows them to cover more ground in a year in order to catch up. There was a lot of hurt and a lot of anger/resentment, so the class was an uphill battle from the start.

Well, fast forward to now. It's March. I just gave a pretty hard trigonometry test to these same "remedial" class kids. On this test, almost every problem was a word problem, for which they would have to draw their own diagrams before even getting to the solving part. It involved a lot of thinking. --AND THEY DID GREAT!!! Generally speaking, they have been doing good work for me this year, and it's more and more apparent to me that the boys in the class simply needed a different way of teaching that fit their active personalities. Maybe what they had needed was a teacher from the Bronx who would give things to them straight. But, whatever it is, these kids are WORKING, and even a boy who had never bothered to do any math in his entire life up until January, has been trying very hard and got a majority of the questions on the previous trig quiz, correct. Even though they were all multi-stepped!! It took him twice as long as everyone else to do that, obviously, because I think it was the first time in his life that he actually sat down to try to gather his thoughts and to REALLY try every problem on an exam after having worked in class for 2 weeks straight.

I feel so positive about this. One of the boys had gotten perfect scores on two consecutive quizzes, so now there is even a level of healthy competition going on amongst friends.

I am still trying to figure out what the deal is with my girls, however. My boys, I think I've got a handle on. My girls who work consistently, on the other hand, are not always able to show that off on the test. (I was able to promote two girls to the mainstream class at the semester, so obviously this statement does not pertain to all my girls. But, I got another girl in exchange who was moved down from the mainstream class...) So, the work is still cut out for me, but I most definitely look forward to this class more and more, and I am excited that I will get to keep teaching them through next year, now that I have an actual relationship with each of them that I am building on top of. (They have since stopped being rude to me. Well, most of the time anyway. They don't call out, they raise their hands to explain stuff, they listen to each other most of the time... Many of them even do weekly homework, 20 problems of their choice from the textbook!!)

PS. You can see a copy of my said trig test here. Sorry but the font is small -- for two reasons: one is that I am almost out of printing quota for the month. The other is that I created this on a Mac instead of my normal PC, and so I had to send it to myself as a PDF and couldn't modify it afterwards. Doh.

But see? If you look at this test, I don't think you (nor I) would expect half of a "remedial" Grade 9 class to have aced this. It is true: 3 out of 9 kids missed nearly nothing (only rounding errors and such), and 2 more made only very minor calculator-entry errors. That is not bad!


  1. Wow, I can't wait to see you in person again (when will this happen? St. Louis this summer?) so I can hear all about this year -- the nitty gritty details. It sounds beyond emotional but the payoff at the end, your ability to write this post, is so great. xoxo - miss you!

  2. Hi Sam,

    Thanks and I miss you too!!! But, I probably can't come to St. Louis, because I am trying to plan a solo trip to Asia this summer. 4 weeks... Since last summer I spent the whole time doing PD stuff, I feel like I need a summer just all to myself. I'll read up all about St. Louis though!!


  3. This post reminds me of my kids. :) I teach in a NYC public school that has a predominantly hispanic population and Asian population. But being that I teach the slower track I have mainly Hispanics in my class. Looking at their history, most of them came from very rough math backgrounds scoring very low on the 8th grade assessment. Now having been with them for the second year, a lot of them have grown so much mathematically. They can factor and solve quadratics like a pro and they always kill those trig questions on exams. I still cant believe how far they've come. I'm really excited for June to get here. Granted the regents isnt too difficult for students to pass because it's ridiculously curved but I'm excited for many of them to score well and get the chance to get into the notoriously tough Trig course and succeed. Most kids in the slower track are usually not expected to make it that far but I'm banking on some of them getting further than anyone else would have expected. It's such an amazing feeling when you hear from the kids themselves or their parents that they've never been good in math and now their running 90's in the class. And believe me, I don't water down the material for them at all. I would never trade these experiences for anything in the world.

  4. Way to go, Jenn! :) Sounds like you're doing amazing things with them; I'd love to trade notes sometime on teaching strategies, if you have your lessons digitized somewhere.