Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I'm Angry at the System We've Created

My first class was rough this morning.

Groans. Chatting. Complaints. Mean words. Arguing. Rudeness. Blurting. Actual tears.

In addition to all of this, 95% of them decided they didn't have to do the work. They never asked if it was for a grade or if they had to turn it in, because most of the time it is NOT for a grade and they DON'T have to turn it in. Most days they are more intrinsically motivated than they were today. Even the "nice" table in the back decided they'd rather READ than listen to directions.

I ended the period asking them to continue the day by being KIND. I also told them I'd evaluate my own actions and see where I can improve so we can all make tomorrow better. We'd have a fresh start.
From "They're Made Out of Meat" Movie

I came home, and I created a worksheet for this class for tomorrow.


Double-sided, no less.


Because I want them to pay attention.
Because I want to save my sanity.
Because I recognize that they are extrinsically motivated.
Because I grew up in the system and I'm going to use it to my advantage.
Because I'm not perfect.
Because I'm angry.
     I'm angry at what this system has done to our students.

I've been reflecting on our actions in this class all day.

What did they do? What did I do? How did I react? How did they react?

I probably won't go through with it.

This worksheet has the stink of "punishment" instead of an opportunity for learning.

I might make a class set of copies. I might let students know that if they are NOT participating, I will then ask them to complete it. And yet this, my friends, stinks of a threat.

What I'll do for SURE:

1. Greet this class with smiles, like always.
2. Stay calm during class.
3. I'm going to ask students to reflect. After we do our weekly class reflection (plus / delta), I'm going to ask the evaluator (student who facilitates this discussion) to add one more column on the board. We'll have the usual: "What we did well" (plus), and "What we want to change" (delta). Then we'll add "What Mrs. Kirr can do to help us change." I will explain I only want serious answers. I will then stand outside the room. When the bell rings, I'll wish them a wonderful (long) weekend & take a photo of the board so I can look at it over the weekend and reflect once more.

I probably won't give out the darn worksheet. I want to be able to prove to myself - at least - that students WILL work in order to learn. I need to do a better job at giving them the reason behind the work we're doing.

We need to turn the ship around. We need to get more and more teachers on board so the system changes and kids stay intrinsically motivated throughout their school years.

I know it was "just a bad morning."
I just don't want it to happen again.
I'll do my best to keep trying to turn the system around - without using more worksheets or grades.


  1. I applaud your honest depiction of frustrations that EVERY educator has felt throughout teaching! You are awesome! I love how you stayed positive and didn't allow yourself to sink into that level of ICK that was so tempting! Do you know that a problem is really only the birthplace of a solution? Without problems, we wouldn't ever have the opportunities for solutions! Becoming solution-oriented is the key. That's what you did. By only allowing yourself a small amount of time to be bogged down by the problem, and by turning in the direction of the solution, you began your path toward better days ahead! I applaud your brilliance, Joy Kirr! :)

  2. Joy. I've been there. More often than I care to think about. But your solution: Smile. Greet. Reflect. is the start of the answer.

    I know your class is open and engaging-- student-centered. And still with the requirements we still must do. Kids today know they can "google" anything; they like to create and do their own things. They don't see the relevance of school --- as you say, the system. And we're failing them if we don't change that focus. I know you're ahead of that transformation -- so I know your kids will bounce right back as you reflect and work together on building their learning environment.

    Thanks for sharing. I feel better already about my day!

  3. Yeah. I understand you clearly. Even those days when I was a student I didn't like the relationships teacher vs student. I think every teacher has to try to create his own atmosphere in class and his own system. Unfortunately it's not easy to do as we all are in a global system that is not so easy to leave.