Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This summer, thanks to a millage renewal which passed this spring, our antiquated heating system at school is being overhauled, new boiler, new units in the classrooms, and hopefully, a consistent heating system will be in place before winter strikes. Work is progressing slowly but surely.

Last week, however, a rumor started circulating in the community that the start date of school was being pushed back from the Tuesday after Labor Day, our traditional 1st day, to sometime the end of September, even sometime in October.

I wasn't too concerned when I first heard the rumors, knowing I'd heard nothing official from school yet.

But the excitement of the rumor got me to thinking. Is it realistic to think students are excited at the prospect of going back to school? Sure, for some, it is the social aspect of school which sparks their interest and draws them into the anticipation of that first day. The opportunity to see friends they've not seen all summer, new school clothes and supplies, new classes and teachers will lure some of them into the anticipation.

However, for other students, is school really something to look forward to?

If you were a struggling student, one who works consistently below grade level, always overwhelmed by the work, the material itself, the quantity of work, the expectations.... would you be excited to return to those hallowed halls?

If you were returning to school wearing the same worn out hand-me-downs that didn't fit last year, and fit even less this year, knowing your classmates would be showing up with name brand logos splashed across their chests, new sneakers squeaking on their feet, and bookbags full of cool new school stuff while yours hangs empty from a broken strap, would you be excited to meet that new teacher?

If you had spent much of last year sitting in the hall or office, kicked out of class for your misunderstood actions, your unsquelchable enthusiasm, would you be looking forward to more of the same again this year?

If you spent last school year being teased, bullied and tormented, despite the fact you get good grades, wear all the right clothes, and follow the rules, would you be in such a hurry to don those new clothes that first day?

How can we, as educators, make school someplace ALL STUDENTS want to return to?

The solutions seems easy to me:
  • Make schools safe for all learners. Create curriculums that engage and excited all students at all levels. Stop focusing on test prep and turning the page, and find ways to let students be responsible for their own learning paths.

  • Work to provide additional services to our students, counseling, medical, clothing, food, hygiene, whatever it takes to help them fit in. Realize that school is not just about the curriculum, but about creating citizens of our society.

  • Welcome them all with open arms, come they dirty, poor, obnoxious, smart, slow, athletic, clumsy, fat, fit, popular, nerdy.... Make a special spot for each student, each type of child, at our table of learning.
Then.... maybe they will all be disappointed when they hear the starting date of school is pushed back.... maybe they will all be there early, excited on Day One!

1 comment:

Jacquie Leighton said...

I can't say that school is for all kids yet. Many educators rely on the textbook, the worksheets, the unfair grading systems, the one size fits all behavior policies, and it just wears on a kid. I notice the kids who love school love it because as adolescents they have ownership in much of what they read, write about, and create for projects to show what they know. That's key. Ownership. Is was always key for me too. I despised school at times and not because I got into trouble or couldn't make the grade.

My dislike was because I felt like I didn't really matter in the day by day equation. The classes I did love were project based and the teacher really loved and knew a lot about their subject. I was given a chance to think, express myself, and collaborate with them or my peers.

The damn tests did NOTHING to motivate me to want to learn. NOTHING. I read because I chose books I liked. PERIOD. I wrote because I chose the topic. I researched because I wanted to know more about feral children or the shipping days of yore in my town.

If someday we figure out that we learn deeply because we WANT to, going back to school will be a natural step back from summer. Do we need curriculums, assessments, and grades? Yeah. But we need to put kids front center in all we do. Adolescents particularly.

The first weeks of school are surreal for many. It's the beginning of a story but the plot hasn't thickened yet. The conflicts haven't picked up steam yet. For some, they'll do just fine because they have confidence and courage and make it work for them. For others, just like in the bigger realm of society, it's the have's and have not's and an invisible set of hands keeping them down...themselves, a bully, a unplugged teacher, whatever.

God bless the parent, teacher, uncle, grandmother, friend, neighbor who reminds a child they are important, capable, and needed. We try to do that but sometimes it feels contrived. I think kids need daily messages about their worth, their responsibilites, their goals, their needs, etc. I like the idea of reading aloud and sharing these kinds of real life experiences with kids and asking them to write about on blogs. They can remain anon but it's a chance to think about what keeps them sane or insane.

Just saying. thanks for sharing, Cossondra, and thanks for being the soul you are for those children in your nest. I wish we could lead more teachers your way.