Riding the Roller Coaster

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Today I had that tightening in my chest as I stood before my fifth period class.  I was in panic mode.  You might think this was on my mind, “The state test is in less than two weeks and these kids aren’t ready.”  Really, it’s an almost daily concern.  Two days ago, I had at least four students in fifth period who would not have earned the Mystery Student points for the class had their names been on my podium.  On a daily basis, some students still struggle with evaluating a quadratic if the input is negative, even though they have a calculator in their hand!  The pencil supply is low, and now almost no one has paper.  The excitement of the first day of school is GONE.  The list goes on and on.

But what was on my mind was the polar opposite. “These kids know so much.  They have learned so deeply.  They can talk about math.  They can be creative in their solutions.  They know how to use their technology for analysis.  August will be here before I know it and we will have another crop of nascent mathematicians.  UGH.  So.  Much.  Work.  Can I do it?”  Today my fifth period students didn’t even NEED me.  They were working math problems, staying on task, and helping each other.  I was just standing there.

Meanwhile in the hall between classes, two colleagues regaled me with stories of their students who were driving them to the edge.  Tensions are high and fuses are short this time of year in a high school.  I don’t even have the added stress of seniors failing a course required for graduation (state test stress is enough, thank you very much).  I told my colleagues that two days ago were frustrating for me but today was a good day.  Just keep swimming!

How did my fifth period class make such a dramatic shift in such a short time?  Maybe it was because I offered them “double or nothing” for their failure to earn Mystery Student points on Tuesday.  They rose to the occasion on Wednesday and earned back their points.  But today (Thursday) it was as if I didn’t even need to be in the room.  Maybe it wasn’t me at all.  Perhaps they just were all having a good day on the same day.  I’m not naive enough to think it will be this way until the end of the school year.  Currently steeling myself for the next unpredictable day.

Such is the roller coaster ride that is high school teaching, even if you’ve been at it for 27.9 years.

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