Friday, December 17, 2010
But lingering on the side lines, I see the other students, those for whom this 2 week vacation means something different. At their house, there is no Christmas tree, no shiny wrapped gifts, no suitcases packed for vacation. For them, 2 weeks without breakfast and lunch at school means an empty stomach and hunger pangs. There might be a basket delivered with some donated food items, and maybe even some wrapped gifts chosen by people who don't know them, things they appreciate, but not really what they would have wanted or chosen for themselves.
We blame the parents for poor choices. We blame them for wasting their money on booze and smokes. We blame them for having too many kids and milking the welfare system we all work so hard to support.
All that may be true.... but still, these are just kids.... just like any other kids... and Christmas for them is sad, just another day in a life filled with little hope or promise.
Monday, December 13, 2010
- short people, tall people
- artistic types, can't draw a stick figure
- jocks, clutzies
- rich, poor
- musical, can't carry a note in a bucket
- dark skinned, fair skinned
- look good in a bikini, look more like a beached whale
- leaders, followers
- mechanically inclined, can't open the hood of the car
- math savvy, can't make change from a 5 dollar bill at McDonald's
School tends to sort people as well, socially, academically, and athletically; the difference is, with the new Michigan Merit Curriculum, and similar educational 'plans' across the country, schools are now forced to squeeze all students into the same pile.
On the one hand, students all deserve the same opportunities. As adolescents, most students are not prepared to chart their own course for their futures, making sound decisions about their own course of study. Many would choose the path of least resistance, regardless of the future implications. Parents and educators need to be the guiding force for them, helping them carve a path with as many options as possible.
On the other hand, expecting every single student to graduate from high school with a diploma which prepares them for college is unrealistic and unnecessary. There need to options for all students, regardless of their academic abilities, options which prepare them for life beyond high school, with the basic skills they will need to be contributing members of society.
I don't care what we call these 'options' - Plan A and Plan B? Is that any worse than the current options of diploma and Certificate of Attendance? Plan A can be the college prep path, the more challenging classes, much like the current plan for all students. It will delve deeply into topics, including advanced sciences, math classes, literature, history. It will encourage students to think independently, write and respond to a variety of ideas and topics. These future college students will explore advanced math through algebra 2 and beyond. They will analyze historical events and their relevance.
Plan B will be less rigorous for certain, but still, preparing students for life beyond the high school experience. These students would learn to read and write, balance a checkbook, as well as life skills, like parenting, how to get and keep a job, and even perhaps vocational skills. They could learn a trade such as welding, woodworking, computer skills, or auto mechanics. But when they left school with that Plan B diploma, employers would be assured that students had met certain criteria and were indeed literate and competent in those skills.
Now, with the current plan, many students are forced to drop out of school, unable to meet the stringent requirements. They struggle to make it through Algebra 1, much less 3 more years of even more advanced math classes. They either give up completely, opt for a degree from an alternative program, or work for their GED. Whichever option they choose, it still takes them out of the public school, high school diploma pool.
Some argue against sorting students at such an early age, but as a long time middle school teacher, I can promise you that some students have already been 'sorted'. Their peers have sorted them in the classroom, on the basketball court, and at their social events, in and out of school.
If those against sorting are concerned we are limiting the future options of students with this plan, I ask them this: "Aren't we limiting their options even further by refusing to offer them appropriate options for their abilities?" Every time we hit that square peg a little harder and a little harder, trying to shove it through that round hole we are calling the curriculum, we beat that student down a little bit more and a little bit more, reminding them they will never measure up to our predetermined criteria that has been set for them.
If we are concerned some students with potential might choose the lesser challenging option, then let parents have some control over the decision. Let students choose to take the path of least resistance. It won't keep them from being able to go to college someday, it just might make that task a bit more challenging. In esscence, making their early on 'easy' choice come back to haunt them, so to speak.
We need all kinds of people in this world. We need lawyers and doctors, welders and mechanics, teachers and sales clerks, butchers and construction workers, truck drivers and secretaries, computer programmers and fast food cooks. Everyone contributes to our collective society. Everyone has a place. Shouldn't schools acknowledge the differences of students, and work to adequately prepare them for their roles, instead of trying to force them all into the college bound path?
Thursday, December 09, 2010
When detention was an option, it was one I rarely used. I hate the idea of sending a student somewhere else, to someone else, for punishment for something they did in my room. To me, that process takes me out of the punishment part of the offense, and gives the power to someone else. If one of my kids is ‘bad’ enough to serve detention, I want it done in my presence, where I can ensure the misery matches the crime.
That isn’t to say I’ve never sent a student to the office, or assigned detention, but those occasions are rare, and in severe circumstances where all other options have been completely exhausted.
When the job posting for teachers to man the after school detention room was posted, the pay was good and I thought, hmmm… I really want to build my granddaughter an awesome wooden swing set next summer. Here’s a way to easily bank some extra bucks fairly easily.
I split the assignment with another teacher – he does Tuesday afternoons, I take Thursday’s. Today was my first Thursday with ‘customers’. I was supposed to have 4 customers, but one was suspended until next week, another skipped detention, and there I was with two young men, both of whom I had ‘experienced’ in 7th grade a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I was not surprised to see their names on my list. One was there for extensive tardies, the other, for skipping a class.
Once we got the pleasantries out of the way, the boys settled in. I had to keep reminding them to sit up, no sleeping allowed in detention. Finally, they seemed to settle in and I started working on a project on my laptop. My teacher sensor noticed the one young man intently interested in his desk behind his folded coat. I kept working, watching, averting my eyes when he looked up, trying to make sure my suspicions were accurate. Standing, I walked to him, as he tried to nonchalantly hide his cell phone under the jacket. I snagged it, with him sighing, and halfheartedly trying to argue, but knowing there was no use.
The reminders were few, but enough to keep me focused on them more than the work in
front of me.
Finally, the clock ticked louder and louder as four o’clock came closer and closer.
The bell sounded and they left, the one begging his phone back as he left. Both said, “See you next week!” laughing, knowing this would become a regular date between us.
So, now, I am left questioning the purpose and worth of the detention room. These are frequent flyers, even with the program new, just a few weeks in. They were disruptions in middle school, are still disruptions now, and have no apparent plan to change on the horizon.
I wonder if the money paid to the two of us manning the detention room would be better served paying us to mentor these young men, maybe grabbing a burger and fries, and talking about their lives, in and out of school.
Detentions don’t work. They don’t change behaviors. Sending a student to some magical room may make the teacher feel better, at least temporarily, but it doesn’t FIX the problem. Until we find ways to effectively touch these troubled students, find ways to encourage them to change those behaviors and channel their frustrations in more positive ways, we are just throwing money out the window.
The same kids get sent to detention, day after day, year after year. It is pointless. Just one more indicator of the many ineffective educational practices we continue to embrace.
Monday, December 06, 2010
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Update your grades every week. (No excuses or exceptions.)
Notify your respective office when you assign a lunch detention, and
make sure the student is clear about whether or not s/he has lunch detention.
Take roll in the first ten minutes of every class.
If you're going to make an issue out of tardies with a student, be
sure to track them properly and follow the tardy policy that is
posted throughout the school.
Keep your students in class from bell to bell unless it's a bathroom
emergency. If you send a student to the bathroom, give them a pass
and be sure to track how long they're gone. If a student asks over
and over again every day to go to the bathroom, tell him/her no.