In the time since I’ve been hired and teaching in this position, I’ve been able to cobble together a picture of the teacher my students had last year. Originally, I thought that the situation wasn’t pretty, and while I think that is still true, I have softened a little on the last teacher. Ultimately, her problem was really one that boiled down to classroom management; she let classes get too far, based perhaps somewhat on the fact that she hadn’t been as responsible for following through with punishments at her previous teaching positions. As another teacher told me, she wasn’t prepared to deal with “rowdy rural kids.” (And a lot of them are just that.)
And while I think that this teacher’s classroom practices were more than a little strange (her handout on procedures and discipline was bizarre in a lot of ways) and that she may not have been the most prepared teacher with it came to planning (that’s my principal’s opinion), I also have begun to understand that she was not incompetent in terms of pedagogical knowledge. (It goes to show that knowing good pedagogical theory doesn’t do a bit of good if you don’t know how to make the classroom run smoothly enough for it to work in practice.) When I taught my novels students about T-charts, many told me that they had used T-charts with the last teacher but still did not understand them well. I found a folder marked “SQ3R” when cleaning out the classroom, which suggests that she attempted to improve reading skills using this literacy technique.
The most disconcerting of these realizations came during class with one of my rowdier junior sections (one with a high distribution of male students), when they were telling me about all the things they did to the last teacher. (I really feel sorry for her – although some of it was genuinely funny.) And in the middle of talking about stealing signs from the room and hiding another student in the podium, one student says, “Oh, don’t forget about lit circles!” which was met with thunderous laughter from the other (male) students around.
Sigh. Are lit circles ruined for these students (and me) because the last teacher didn’t know how to use them well and/or couldn’t control the situation well enough for them to be effective?
I don’t know. I do know that I’m not going to give up without a fight, understanding that the only students who are likely to make this difficult are my juniors. The sophomores never had the previous teacher, and the seniors are mature enough for it not to be a problem. Maybe this will only be a problem for one class, and I will do what some teachers have to do instinctively for some groups and alter instruction to avoid doing activities that will be problematic (like using small groups, for one example).
I’ll give it a go and see what turns out. That seems to be what I do best anymore.