Ms. Boyer’s Lottery
From American Samoa Volunteer Stephanie Boyer
They told me in college that there would be good times and bad times in teaching. They told me that there would be days where you question why you wanted to become a teacher. On those days, your students may tell you that you’re the worst teacher ever, or give you that “What are you talking about” look. They told me there would be days where everything will fall in place and you will understand why you wanted to become a teacher. On those days, the sun seems to be shining a little brighter, there is an evident light switch in your student’s brains, and their smiles radiate understanding and love for their teacher.
Yes, they prepared me for these two feelings. Yes, they warned me. BUT they did not tell me that this could possibly all happen in one day. They did not warn me that one second I’m on top of the world, to be easily brought down by the next period, or even vice versa. Wanna talk about an emotional, cultural, and mental roller coaster? Here let me share with you my favorite, and worse lesson, that just so happen to be the same lesson.
My freshmen had just finished reading “The Most Dangerous Game” which intrigued them and kept them excited.. aka I shot myself in the foot because how can I possibly find another short story to keep them entertained?!
After spending some time on Google I came across the story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. “Perfect,” I thought. “This story involves twists and turns and of course death!”
****Side Note***For those of you who have not read this short story I recommend it. It is about a village that performs a traditional ritual every year where they draw names from a “black box”. The entire time you think these people are going to win money, but you are so very wrong. **
So I presented this story to them. We read it as a class, then I had them read it independently. I had to basically beg these students to read this story. It was like pulling teeth.
“Miss this is too much work!!” (The story was 5 pages long).
After spending two days on the story, complete with comprehension questions, I realized some of my students were just not going to read the ending regardless. So, instead of spoon feeding them the information, I made a sneaky sneaky plan. I told them to be prepared to have a quiz on Friday.
Friday came and my students of course did not study, or you know, even read the story. Before we began the quiz, we reviewed our comprehension questions. Then I gave the quiz to a random student to hand out to the class.
This is where Ms. Boyer begins her “sneaky sneaky plan”:
“Before you start your quiz I would like you to flip your paper over” (Students flip their papers over and notice that some of them have colored dots).
“Those of you that have black dots on the back of your paper, I am sorry but you are not allowed to use the story on your quiz.”
(Enter in the whining and crying).
“Those of you that have a yellow dot on the back of your paper, congratulations, you get an automatic 100% on the quiz. Come hand in your paper.”
(Enter in the protesting about fairness)
“Those of you that have a red dot on the back of your paper, I am so sorry, but you get an automatic 0% on your quiz. Come hand in your paper.”
(Enter in MASS CHAOS!).
I did this in all 4 of my Freshmen class. I had students get up and leave because they were angry in period 3. I had students flip desks and tell me I am the worst teacher ever in period 4. I had students throwing their quizzes and stories on the floor/in the air in period 5. And I had students giving up in period 6.
Even with all their protesting about how unfair it was, I held my ground. I told them, “it’s not my fault, it was (enter in student who passed out the quizzes). All I did was draw the color on the back of the quizzes. He/She was the one that passed out the quizzes.”
Each class had the same reaction. The students that had the advantage of using the stories were typically the ones that were the most upset. The student that received the 100 would gloat and pick on the other students. The student who received a zero would put their head down and not talk to anyone all class.
At this point you might be reading my blog and be like, “Jeeze Ms. B, you’re harsh. You might want to reconsider teaching.” And yes, I agree. Watching my students get upset at me, calling me a bad teacher, it was hard. But the outcome was worth it.
For one, in each one of my classes I had about 3-4 students that would look up through the chaos that was once a classroom, and look at me and smile. Smile a smile that radiates understanding. They would then raise their hand and call me over. “This is just like the lottery Ms. Boyer,” they would say. Then they were able to have a secret little laugh at those students getting upset because they clearly did not read the story.
With about 10 minutes left of class I told them to stop their quiz (for those of them that were still trying). I asked them if they thought was I was doing was fair (enter in the uproar of unhappy protestors). I asked them what made it unfair. A lot of them said it was unfair that I put the dots on the paper. I then explained to them that I didn’t decide who would get the dots, and that (enter name here) was the one that passed out the papers. I asked them if (enter name in here) decided who would get the paper with the dots. They answered no (enter in light bulbs turning on). I explained that it was entirely by chance that someone would have received the colored dots on the back of the paper.
I asked them asked them how this story relates to the lottery… (enter in more brain light bulbs turning on).
At the end of the lesson I was able to explain three things:
1. How what happened in class related to the story, so the students were able to get a deeper understanding of chance and mob mentality.
2. It is important to read the story. Those students who read the story were at advantage because they knew what was going on, AND got to laugh at the students who were overreacting because they were unaware because they did not read the story.
3. That you will never just be GIVEN a grade in my class. That you will always EARN it.
So did it feel good to have students tell me that I’m the worst teacher ever? To have them throw their papers on the floor and not even try? To have them walk out of the classroom out of anger? No. It felt terrible.
But being able to teach my students about a story in an interactive way, and having them understand on a deeper level was totally worth it. And it was very entertaining. I had students giving me evil looks for the rest of the day. I had students also giving me high fives. I had teachers come up to me later in the day and tell me that what happened in my class was all that the students could talk about that day.
The Lottery by Ms. Boyer = a success. 🙂