The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

The Bell Curve

Today I was a 4th grade teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign. The last time I was in this class was on October 27. I was looking forward to coming back to this class because I had had such a great time with them. However, my day was not as I had expected.

There were 23 students in the class. seven of them were amazingly awesome all day. They were on task, they were participating, they were just great. They were ideal students. Not because they were quiet, but because they really seemed interesting in learning what was being taught. There were also seven students who were the opposite, three especially so. They were inattentive, disruptive, and rude. The three who were absolute terrors were fighting all day and all got sent to the office (one of them went twice). The rest of the class was spread out, with the bulk being fairly well-behaved but just talkative or occasionally off-task.

It is really easy to get side-tracked by the misbehaving students and have them overshadow the rest of the class. I hate when this happens to me, so I used a copy of the class list to jot down tally marks whenever I had to redirect a student for either talking, not following directions, or talking. I stole this idea from the teacher for whom I subbed on Tuesday, and fully plan on utilising it in every class from now on. Not only does it help me track what is going on in the class, it helps me remember that most of the class is trying to do what is expected. As I was writing up my note to the teacher, it occurred to me that the students’ behaviour could easily be transformed into a simple chart. If I listed the number of students along the x-axis and the quality of behaviour from bad to good along the y-axis, then I have a a definite bell curve developed. It would look something like this:

And, yes, I realise that this is not the most professional-looking chart in the world. I just wanted to put something together to quickly illustrate what I am discussing. The thing is, I am willing to bet that this is a fairly accurate model of classroom behaviour anywhere. You can probably take any group of 20-25 students and put sort them out in this way. I am hesitant to actually do so, though, because I greatly dislike the idea of labeling students as “good” and “bad”–rather, I think of students as having good days and bad days. Today I had several who had a bad day. But they are young children. I have hopes that they will mature and grow out of the poor decisions. At least I’ll have tried, as I know their teacher has tried, as well. At the end of the day, it is comforting to be able to look at my notes and remember that most of the class fell on the side of making good choices. Even when it seems like everyone is going crazy, they aren’t. Such notes help me to focus on what is going well, rather than wasting my energy on what is going poorly. I will continue to use notes like this to see if it helps me improve in my work.


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