In my placement at a Middle School in an 8th-grade science classroom, I am struck by the amount of disengagement the teacher, Mrs. Lampe has with the subject material. It seems as though she is merely running through lesson plans to get her class from one assessment to the next. As my role in the classroom is strictly an observer by district policy, I have been able to critique Mrs. Lampe’s approaches to teaching in the two classes I observe. While I see the how the lesson evolves as she teaches it a second time, I also am able to notice her apathy towards the material, and how her students might perceive this lack of interest a pass for themselves to not care about their learning. I am aware that there might be an underlying system to the class that I am not seeing, but as an observer who cannot participate in the class, I can only see the actions of Mrs. Lampe and the reactions of the students, and vice versa.
On the third day I was observing, Mrs. Lampe was teaching her class about inertia and momentum, and while going over a computational problem on the board, she was unsure about the usage of significant figures, and made the comment, “I don’t care if you use significant digits, but it matters to those science people.” I was struck by the aloofness of this statement. It seemed to me as though Mrs. Lampe was distancing herself from the scientific community in general as well as the material the students were learning. It made her seem as though she was too good to care about the problem, but acknowledged the existence of “those science people” as a group who cared about petty things such as significant figures. It raised questions in my mind as to how she could get the class engaged when she herself was not engaged or even pretending to be engaged with the material. I fully acknowledge the fact that I might have been missing some classroom dynamic wherein Mrs. Lampe treats the material as trivial, so as to lessen the pressure of learning, but as an outside observer to the classroom, it seemed very much like Mrs. Lampe was simply brushing aside the entire scientific community because she did not know the answer to her significant digit problem.
In another instance, Mrs. Lampe was presenting a powerpoint presentation to the class about the concept of pressure, and made a similar comment that made me feel as though she was distancing and disengaging herself from the material. She was presenting an example of a type of problem they might have on future homework assignments or assessments, and the problem asked the students to calculate the force exerted over a specified area given the pressure. Mrs. Lampe wrote the wrong formula in her powerpoint but still plugged the variables into the right equation so she ended up with the right answer, and when a student tried to point this out to her, it took her a few minutes to understand what the student was trying to say, but then fixed her error in the powerpoint. This could have partially been because there were many students trying to explain the mistake to Mrs. Lampe at the same time, or even because the explanations were not as clear as they could have been, but, either way, it reflected a lack of caring on the part of Mrs. Lampe. When Mrs. Lampe was talking to me later, she was telling me how “once I finished typing, I just had to move on to the next thing, and I didn’t bother to go back and read over it.” While it is only human to make mistakes, especially those as small as typing the wrong formula, it struck me as almost careless that Mrs. Lampe did not have it in her interest to make sure she was conveying the right information to her students. She assured me that now I had gotten to see the “what happens in real life” in the classroom and not just what was supposed to happen all the time. I am aware of the fact that, as a teacher, she probably has a plethora of responsibilities within and outside of the school, but I am wondering how her distraction from class materials affects her ability to communicate ideas to her students and how this translates to student engagement. Without student engagement, how do students learn? It is clear to me that the students in Mrs. Lampe’s class are full of potential and eager to learn, but there is a sense of dullness in just “going through the motions” of class in order to make it from one test or chapter to the next.
I relate this directly to the Gutstein article about student agency in the math classroom. It seems like there are so many ways to relate science topics, especially in the eighth-grade classroom, to social justice issues or community issues that can engage the students and perhaps even the teacher at a deeper level. I think if Mrs. Lampe could plan activities or lessons that catered to these types of goals, she would get a better response from her students. There could also be many other factors influencing my perception of Mrs. Lampe’s lack of interest in the subject such as my own experiences in science classrooms or math classrooms with teachers who would be corrected more often than they were right, Mrs. Lampe’s other responsibilities in the school, or even the fairly homogenous background of the students attending this primarily white and upper middle class school, but I think there are many ways she can better utilize the potential of her students.