Wednesday, April 21, 2010
When does enthusiasm die?
Between seventh and tenth grade, a lot happens to my students. They shoot past me in height. Their voices deepen. They care more about hairstyles and clothes. But the biggest change is not physical. As they transform from kids to young adults, what I notice most is my students' loss of excitement over learning.
When I began teaching, I found my seventh graders to be intolerable. I referred to them as my "little monsters." There was one week I started nearly every class period by breaking up a fight. I still regularly send troublemakers to the office, whether it is for cutting off a strand of a girl classmate's hair or throwing someone's notebook into a puddle. But I've come to understand that what makes the seventh graders monstrous is too much energy. Once I could control that energy, I had a class of (generally) well-behaved students who threw themselves into repeating vocabulary words and reading dialogues like they had been dying all week to do this.
On the other hand, I walk into many of my tenth grade classrooms to bored looks or heads on desks. It's depressing for a teacher to open class with a bright, "Good afternoon!" and only get a wave of grumbles. Contrast that to the seventh graders. I walk in and they are all on their feet by the time I have set down my bag. Their "GOOD MORNING, MS. LEE!" makes my ears vibrate. I love it.
The tenth graders' boredom and reluctance to speak any English continues throughout class. Getting them to participate is like pulling teeth. There are always at least three or four students in each class who dutifully raise their hand to every question I ask. But I cannot seem to get others to volunteer, despite my mantra, "Don't be shy; just try!" It's quite the opposite problem with my seventh graders. All of them want to answer my questions. The class will cry injustice when I accidentally call on a student twice in one class period. ("Teacher," they say to me in Chinese, arm straining to reach the ceiling. "Just give me a chance!"
I don't think this change from wild enthusiasm to an I'd-rather-watch-paint-dry attitude is sudden. Maybe if I taught eighth and ninth grade as well, the difference between seventh and tenth would make more sense to me. But I don't. I only see the before and after. What happens in between is a mystery to me.