Teaching in a museum setting is such a different experience than teaching in a school. As a museum educator I have a chance to work off of lesson plans,with no homework or tests, to grade. The students are there to have fun and most of the time they are excited to be out of the class room, even if they don’t always show it. So even on a bad museum day, it does not hold a candle to my first week of teaching.
I had to step into a classroom that was not only physically a mess, but also the adults had lost all control. The teacher I was replacing would bring in a sandwich and a soda, and somewhere around 9 am he would put his paper over his face and fall asleep. It really sounds like something out of a movie, and I had to take over and get them to learn.
I found on my first day this would not be easy when I tried to finish a test they started the week before. Yes, they got a test on some history topic the basketball coach made for them, and got to work through it for about three days. They had their books and notes, and the two page test still took them at least two days to complete. As I was giving them back their tests to finish, I saw some of the girls starting to eat candy, and when asked to get rid of it they said ,“No.” I responded with, “Get rid of it or you don’t get to get to take the test. Her response, “I paid a quarter for this, keep your test,” she turned on her heels and sat back on her desk.
I had a total of three groups of students, one of which I spent three to four periods a day with, the other two I only saw for one each. First I tried the stern approach, trying to take back the classroom. But with no real consequences, that only worked for one class. The other class I had to bribe them into working, offering rewards and doing some bargaining. I would make clean mix cd’s of the current music and let them listen while they worked. I broke up the academics with some games and coloring which worked well with the lowest achieving of my class. The final class was one of the hardest to get a hold of because they were so different from the other two. They did not respond to being stern, and they were not low achieving, so they really just needed rules. They were ready to learn and I was able to hold discussions. Even the toughest of the girls in the class became one of my favorite students.
But that was all the behavior issues, that did not include all the academics. I took a page out of Resonance Man and picked a classic book, and started reading it with them. I knew that Muppets Treasure Island was out on DVD, so I picked the classic also it was one of the only books we had an entire class set for in the school. The person in charge of the book room looked at me like was crazy for picking the book, but I took it anyway. We spent about 2 weeks on the first chapter alone. They had to do all the work in class, unable to take the books home, and we also listened to the book on tape to help move it along. The language was way over their heads but once we got into the book and with the help of watching the Muppets at the end they got through it.
It was rough but rewarding to watch them recognize moments in the movie they read about in the books. It also helped me realize that I was not going to stay in a classroom setting too long.