For the second year running, I taught three sections of eighth grade science today. A chance encounter with the science teacher at the soccer field last fall that started as a discussion about the curriculum (my BOE subcommittee) somehow took a detour into my professional background. Once he heard that I am a cancer biologist by training, he asked if I would come and talk to his kids about new types of targeted cancer therapies as an addition to their regular cancer unit. Sure, no problem. Right up my professional alley. Not trivial to tailor that material to the eighth grade level (you get into the nitty gritty pretty quickly no matter how hard you try to stay at 30,000 feet) but apparently it went well last year since he asked me back again this year! Made a few changes to my presentation and brought it and my prop box to school today as requested.
First class period: despite the fact that the presentation was virtually the same as the one that went over well last year, I got almost no response from the kids. No questions and none of the kind of body language that says 'I'm listening.' I might as well have been talking to an empty classroom. Very disheartening. Second class period: the total and complete opposite. Interest, enthusiasm, really outstanding questions, one girl who actually came up to me after class to have a point clarified. Third class period: somewhere in the middle but more like the second class. Fewer kids with questions but still good questions and a couple of kids who were clearly very engaged.
When the last kids walked out, I looked at the teacher (who had to be in the room with me for all three periods because I'm not certified) and just shook my head. I asked him what I got wrong with the first class and right with the second two! He said absolutely nothing, that it is just the personality of the three classes. Then he told me to imagine tailoring my lectures to those three very different groups five days a week while still getting all the material across! Wowza...that's a tall order. Three cheers for him and all his professional brethren.
Thing One happens to have the same guy for seventh grade science this year; I believe he teaches five sections altogether. Thing One's class walked in a few minutes after the third section of eighth graders left. Thing One gave a halfhearted wave when he saw me and then took off for the back of the room with his buddies. In yet another alpha-omega moment, my best friend's daughter (two kids behind him walking in) ran straight up to me and gave me a bear hug. Whiplash, thy name is middle school!