For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills

Elissa Gootman:

When a student at Seth Low Intermediate School loudly pronounced Corinne Kaufman a “fat lady” during a fire drill one recent day, Mrs. Kaufman, a 45-year-old math teacher, calmly turned around.
“Voluptuous,” she retorted, then proceeded to define the unfamiliar term, cutting off the laughter and offering a memorable vocabulary lesson in the process.
Such are the survival skills Mrs. Kaufman has acquired over 17 years at Seth Low, a large middle school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn: How to snuff out brewing fistfights before the first punch is thrown, how to coax adolescents crippled by low self-esteem into raising their hands, how to turn every curveball, even the biting insult, into a teachable moment.
But not all middle school teachers can do it.

6 thoughts on “For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills”

  1. Check out the math being done by the middle schoolers on the blackboard. Is solving for two unknowns part of Madison’s standard middle school math curriculum?

  2. I e-mailed this article to our middle school principal. I just wanted to know why the teachers were relating teaching to hard liquor, perhaps that’s how they make it through the day! (Please realize I am joking!) This article made me laugh. Middle school kids are so much fun, if you take them less serious. While I would not want to be a middle school student ever again, I get a kick out of my daughters daily dramas. After hearing how evil “Sally” is to my daughter and I point out that last week “Sally” was her best friend, she can’t help but laugh at herself! I love this age group and hard liquor is not involved in my assessment! Great article.

  3. Students solve systems of equations in the Algebra class in the 8th grade in MMSD. They also solve systems in CMP, however, it is not as formal for all students. The standards for 8th grade math ( do not include formal solving of systems, however it comes up.
    A typical problem would involve two companies printing t-shirts for instance. One charges 75 dollars up front and 3 dollars per shirt, the other charges 25 dollars up front and 8 dollars per shirt. Which company should you purchase from? Those are not the exact numbers, but you get the idea. The new version of CMP(cleverly referred to as CMP2) added a new book into the 8th grade curriculum called Shapes of Algebra. This book has an entire section on systems and even breaks it down into the commonly used methods of substitution, elimination and graphical solutions.

  4. Mary, I am glad you find middle schoolers such fun and so doggone amusing. I guess I just can’t (though I enjoy my own 8th grader immensely). Sure, there are the dramas you mention. But there are also suicide attempts, staff concerns about gang actions rumored to be planned, pregnancies, suspensions for pot smoking in the bathroom, and guns at school. I actually think our young teens are telling us — by their actions — to please take them MORE seriously.

  5. Brian,
    Probably it was unintentional, your trying to be brief in your response, but the t-shirt problem is incomplete as stated. One needs to add something to turn it into a well-posed math problem. Such as- Which company should you purchase from if you need 15 shirts? or, For what quantities of shirts is company A a better bargain and for what quantities is company B a better bargain? or even, Your only objective is to get the best bargain. Under what circumstances would you buy from company A? The last one is pretty vague, but acceptable. This, of course, assumes that we are blind to all hidden aspects and doing just the math given what we know. We don’t know anything about the 2 companies labor practices, for example, so we can’t be imagining we will be willing to pay a per shirt premium to the one which pays a living wage.
    I only mention this because it is just this manner of half-posing problems which is such a characteristic and pervasive flaw of CMP and cousins. If the problem is not completely stated and self-contained, a person may start imagining that other things besides what one is actually supposed to be solving have also been omitted. Probably the author forgot to mention the shipping charges, so I’ll make some up and add them in. Maybe too, he neglected to consider how highly susceptible I am to the effects of advertising, so we’d better put in who has a better jingle in their TV ad and give it some weight. And so on.

  6. Your response is a bit contradictory. Your first paragraph tells me that you have very limited experience with the CMP curriculum or else you would know that all the questions you brought up are asked in the curriculum and I was just being brief, yet in your second paragraph you critique it as an expert. I’m confused, which would you consider yourself?

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