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If anyone asks you to teach Life Science, say NO.

Not to offend anyone who teaches this subject and enjoys it, but this has been one of the worst decisions of my life. Near the end of last year, the Principal told me that he did not have enough students signed up for my design classes to give me a full day. He asked if there was anything else I could teach. I had passed the CSET in Biology the summer before, so I told him that. So I ended up with two life science classes at the end of each day.

Some days these classes are not horrible. Today was not one of those days.

I haven’t really talked too much here about my bad experiences at the high school. I didn’t want someone I teach or work with to read it and share with others. But it’s been truly awful. And I’m leaving on June 12th.

I feel some days like I work in an insane asylum. Most of my students are respectful, and most of my design students in particular are doing well in class. However, Life Science is for the kids who don’t do homework, and who are not apparently destined to go to college. Few of my science students are passing the class. Most of them, on the other hand, are failing most of their classes.

I am supposed to be shadowing another teacher who has allowed me to copy her curriculum binder and sit in on her class, but that’s about it. I have found her to be very unapproachable when I have questions or want suggestions as to how to deal with this population of students. I once asked her how it is that more of her students are passing than in my classes. She said, “I help them.” That was not especially helpful to me, and most of my students don’t even get started on their work to begin with. Anyway, this is not a rant about her but it just adds to my frustration and bewilderment in dealing with these kids.

It’s not so bad that they choose to fail. I’ve made my peace with that now, in spite of my earlier optimism and persistence. What is true torment is their behavior in class. It only takes two or five or eight kids to conspire to play havoc, and your day is ruined. I am continually surprised by the degree to which these kids show defiance and disrespect to their teachers at this school. I have tried being polite, I have tried being firm but polite, I have tried yelling. I have gone to seminars that coach you how to manage the classroom. Theses technique might work with other kids. I don’t claim to know all the tricks to work with teenagers but I was trying. Every time, I seem to hit a brick wall of lunacy. The kids I’m talking about, the awful ones (I’m not going to hippie this up by calling them “misunderstood” or something), never learned personal responsibility, character, and reasoning. They hate you and ridicule you if you try to teach them these things at this late stage.

Below is a sample of the things students said to me during class time today. These are things even the worst kids wouldn’t have dreamed of saying in front of a teacher 25 years ago when I was in school. I may add more later to get these things off my chest.

• Me: “S****a, sit down.”
Student: “Shut up.”

• A student chants in the back of the room, “She ain’t got no kids…miscarriage” (I had told the class about my miscarriage last semester when we were going over DNA mutations).

• One student to another: “Hey, do you want your guitar?” She then mimes as if to lift it and throw it at me. She says something about “the last day of school,” and based on her previous physical intimidation of me I’d guess she was telling others she means to harm me.

• A number of student simply ignore me when I tell them to remain seated or put away their phones.

Yes, I referred each of these students. But it makes no difference. Calling their parents makes no difference. Detention makes no difference (they don’t show up). A rewards system makes no difference. Giving and revoking privileges makes no difference. Friendliness makes no difference. Dignified assertiveness makes no difference. Yelling like a drill sergeant makes no difference. Every time I address the students I am repeatedly interrupted with some sort of disruption. When the hell can I simply TEACH?

I was doing well in the design classes this year. I used to have a pie-in-the-sky dream that my students would love my classes and make me proud. Many of my design students do. Some don’t. Some cause problems there too, but it’s rare. Most of them seem to enjoy being there.

The successes in the morning fade away. Every day after I’ve dealt with life science, I feel like my students hate me. That nothing makes any sense in this environment. All is craziness and bile.

What kind of job is this where there the people you dedicate yourself to, hate you?

By Dawn Pedersen

Science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.

13 replies on “If anyone asks you to teach Life Science, say NO.”

These are kids who grow up in a socially diseased environment. The people in their world spend their days dreaming up new and interesting ways to hurt each other and steal from each other. That’s all they know.

They’re all riding the brakeless bus to the bottom of Reality Hill. All you can do is ask them to fasten their belts.

I actually DO work in an insane asylum. We are given chemical restraints to use when we feel threatened by our clients. You are not. Teachers are not really given any way to punish kids these days, so why should they behave? There’s no incentive, especially for kids who aren’t college bound.

Dawn, I found your website when I started to teach web design and found many of your blogs useful and fun to read. I am so sorry that you have had such a bad experience. I took over for a teacher half way through the year that did not teach anything, and I mean anything! They kids were so bad. They tested me everyday and pushed every button. But after establishing my own rules and having a full school year with the kids I am enjoying teaching.

I am at a good school with great principals and that seems to make all the difference. Not all schools are like the one you are at! But I know what you are saying about high school students! Don’t let this get to you, it doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person or a teacher!

Hi! I got my BFA 20 years ago and finally went back to get my MAT and certification. I love reading your website! But after reading your last info, it goes back to what I have been thinking all the time. I may be spending more time mamaging the students behavior than teaching. Sounds so frustrating! I wish you the best with BlueLobster! Maybe I should stay where I’m at!

Really sorry to hear about all the frustration. I feel like I work at an insane asylum too. However, it’s only a middle school. where the everyday norm is for a kid to cuss and threaten you without any repercussions. Like you, I to have been to numerous “class management” classes and for what? It only works if you have swift concequences and an administration that will follow through. I once had a kid pick up a pair of scissors and tell a kid he was going to cut him. I told a student to get security and the prin. while I tried to calm the student down, NOT ONE student moved! Because the one with the scissors told me “if you do not move you will be the first one to get hurt”. Anyway they were not even going to suspend him. I had to talk to several people and make several complaints so the student would not be allowed to come back.

You are oh so right about calling parents, refering them to councelor or the Prin.is a BIG JOKE!! One parent told me, he is your problem at school not mine and don’t call me anymore. The kids are suffering because they have parents who don’t care. And teaching them it is okay to blame others for their issues,just scrape buy or steal it from someone. It is the common thing for a student to be talking about how they are trying to get prego so they will be able to get welfare and not have to finish school. Seriously, People should have a permit to bring children into this world.

I also have students who are choosing to fail. My only grip is my adm. feel it is my fault! “You are not reaching them”. Well, hell if I could teach and assist the students we might get somewhere! but no, Its constantly manage and reteach. Really wish I had chemical restaint to give them at times. If only they made a shot for intrinsic motivation Or held the students responsible. There’s a thought!

Here’s another one while I am at it. Parents with Students who do not want to go to college,(and there are many) make them go to a training school full time so they will at least learn a trade and be able to try and be resposible citizens. That doesn’t mean they can’t go to college later. They just have to take more classes then, when they want something better and had to taste what living paycheck to paycheck is like.

Thanks!! I think I feel better:)Sorry if I rambled, But I SO feel your PAIN:(

“You are not reaching them” – that makes me want to spit in anger. There is no magic “reaching them” spell we can cast.

Thanks for your feedback!

Hi, i also read you story. because i’m a teacher i do understand you. When u well prepare all the questions and games… but cause i;m libra always try to look to other side. in other hand our work are to difficult. and if you just drop it’s not good. today i try active learning -after interesting work shop with other teacher -and it’s work. I recomending you turn over problem to kids, lets they them self find out and going to look stupid in front of they friends. it really work for two hour of my special class i enjoy how all not so good students try to survive if front of god one.
Do not leave try harder. Oleg

I too found inspiration from your blog and website for teaching my classes. Thank you so much for all you have done for your classes and for your audience of fans!

I have taught many years like the one you are having. Most of the time, I would completely abandon curriculum, find some crazy and weird project that got their attention and then slowly try to rein them back in. It didn’t always work, but I was usually able to get a couple back at least.

Try to focus on those morning classes all you can to make it through these next weeks!

So sorry your school is not supportive, but there are schools out there that are. I sure hope you have the opportunity to make a difference in student’s lives again.

Dawn, amen to your post! I am at a “rough” school, teaching art and counting down the days to summer. It makes me so sad, all the time and effort we go through and it is not rewarded. I think that maybe I am not destined to teach, at least not in this capacity. I want to teach those that actually want to be there and learn. Best of luck on all your other endeavors and may they bring you days of joy!

Thanks, Oleg, Jen and Haley. Oleg – I can’t possibly try harder than I have the past 3 years (ask my husband). Instead, I will try elsewhere – at the college level again.

At the risk of being in disagreement with parts of what you and your commenters have said, I have two high schoolers – one at each high school in Natomas.

I have found that just as in all cities, the schools have problems associated with being in an urban location. You have your good and your bad. Too many parents have let the lunatics take over the asylum.

Many of the kids who take Life Sciences are there because of learning deficits – my daughter for example – who is struggles every day to learn what she needs to learn amidst the chaos. But this district is also made up of stable working class and middle class families who find value in what NUSD has offered in the past. I don’t know if I’d paint the district or the people in it in such broad strokes.

This district has provided for the unique needs of each of these two kids (one special ed and one AP-level) and they have enjoyed their experience to date.

I would say that it takes a very special kind of teacher to teach in a city school. Especially in a dysfunctional district. It’s not for the faint of heart. And sometimes you have to look for your rewards in tiny little baby pieces and parts rather than giant heaping helpings of thanks. Because you never know what you may say or do that impacts even one kid in a way that changes their life. You gave it a good go.

Former HS Science teacher outside of Eugene OR
Bright side, the classes are at the end of the day – that way at least they don’t have as much ability to affect your other classes as much. My first year I had great classes sans the last one. I was very grateful it was at the end of the day and by the time I got home had let go of a lot of the frustrations.
It is hard to manage a class when there are lots of culprits and they do small things. Each teacher finds ways to deal with these kinds of issues – no one system will work for all teachers or even the same teacher with different levels of support.
For what it is worth – I found that students who would blow up on some days – dealing with their behavior then and starting fresh with them after worked for many. I found it was not normally anything I did that caused the outburst but I just happened to add the last straw. I might talk to them about it later (days even) when they were less upset and didn’t have an audience to play to. Over the years I still had a couple students that we just could not seem to get along.
There were also the constant thorn type students – these were more irritating and I felt more disruptive in general. They tend to do smaller thngs more often and act in a way to claim they are just inside the line. These were much more difficult to deal with. It helped that I car pooled 50 miles with another teacher for most of the time. This gave us time to chat, vent, share what each of us might know about situations, and brainstorm. This was a life saver for my first few years. We each had a rather full idea of the topics being covered and issues with students as well – one year there were 4 of us in the car pool and it was often like the most useful staff meetings you could imagine (small school so this was over 25% of HS staff). Maybe you could find a teacher there to have some time together with.
I agree that some students choose to fail – and other than keeping them from interfering – check in with them to see if they change their attitude.
My first question on my first test for 9th grade Science (also on most of the others but maybe in different forms) was, What is the nature of Science? With the answer being ‘The combination of observation and creativity’. This was mentioned several several times – explained, discussed. Even mentioned just before I handed out tests – which they could have small notecards and still over 25% would not get it. Even by the end of a year of havng this be on most tests. That was one of my arguments that particular students have choose to fail.
Teaching is hard, it can be very rewarding at times as well. It is true that there will be more frustrating moments than rewarding ones that you know about. Though, having a student come to you years later and thank you for something that you don’t even recall or tell you how you helped them … Especially one of those students that you would not expect it from … Those moments do go a long way.
I wish you luck, and try not to burn any bridges – it might call to you again and they might get better funding which could help some of the issues.

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