10/33 of my students in one 11th grade section completed the homework today. I gave them a stern lecture about how the class is not graded on a curve, all work is compulsory, and I had no qualms about failing all of them if they didn't take class seriously. Here is our exchange from the end of class.
ME: So do you all understand tonight's assignment?
CLASS, IN UNISON: Yes, sir!
ME: Do you think you can do it?
CLASS: Yes, sir!
ME: Are you going to do it?
CLASS: No, sir!
ME (exasperated): Are you going to repeat the 11th grade until you're 50 years old?
CLASS: Yes, sir!
ONE BOY: Fifty-one, sir!
Since the midterm and final are supposed to be 80% of their grade, and since I'm told just passing rather than achieving high marks is emphasized by many families, I can understand that my kids are frustrated by the high volume of work I'm giving them. I wouldn't be frustrated if they weren't so funny--a trait that shows me that in general they are very bright. Many of them remind me a good deal of myself in high school--precocious without being offensive, subversive without being directly rebellious. The difference, I think, is that I always understood the consequences of not putting in my best effort in school.
I am teaching the way I was taught: homework every night, constant quizzing to reinforce concepts, major emphasis on in-class discussion and a democratic classroom. I think some of this methodology is just going to prove too foreign. I remain astonished at how my kids were raucous and unable to pay attention during a fun activity like in-class debate, but work diligently and quietly when I give what I find to be a boring grammar lesson. Well, as I told them, I'm happy to teach grammar and syntax all year. They could certainly use the help. As could we all.