Monday, January 30, 2012

My daughter sent me the article What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents by Ron Clark, an article that missed my radar when it came out last September. Clark's honest, straightforward thoughts about the relationship between parents and teachers struck a chord with me. It seems too often, teachers are put on the defense by parents who assume the worst about us and the decisions we make.
Granted, there are 'bad' teachers and teachers who are out to get kids, but those cases are rare. Most teachers are doing the best they can to think on the fly, to teach a classroom full of students, to make school the best experience possible for every child.
In many years of teaching, most of my interactions with parents have been positve. However, those aren't the ones I remember. The handful of meetings where I was attacked by parents are the ones which keep me awake at night. I remember the one mom & dad were upset because *I* actually dared to look over their son's shoulder as he completed math problems, as tell him which ones were incorrect, and show him the right way to do them. Another mom sent me a seething email accusing me of calling her son lazy in front of the entire class. (In actuality, I had made blanket comment to the entire class that some of them had gotten lazy lately, as we started a new marking period. I pointed out that missing assignments make for lower grades, because math is sequential, building on itself. I encouraged them, as a group, to get off to a fresh, good start with the new marking period.) However, son had gone home and told me I singled him out and embarassed him. Instead of asking, mom's email was irate, accusatory, rude, berating. When I emailed her back with 'my story' I heard nothing back for days, weeks... then finally, about a month later, she emailed me with an apology, telling me her son had come clean with what really happened.
Thankfully, these type of meetings are rare. Usually parents are supportive, reasonable and want to be a partner in their child's education.
Another part of the article that caught my eye was the comments about teaching giving high grades to avoid dealing with the fallout of low, accurately earned grades. I've actually had teachers tell me they make sure everyone passes their class so they don't have to deal with angry parents. Too many times, I see teachers 'give' points to artificially inflate grades. Points for a parent signature, points for bringing in supplies, points for donations to a can drive, points for just doing something, not for the quality of the assignment, but the just doing it. Grades need to be an indication of something real, something accomplished, something 'learned', not just points to fluff the gradebook. A parent once commented to me how smart her daughter's class was. Her reasoning? 4 of them earned a 4.0 to be class valedictorian. hmmm.... OK. If those 4.0's were actually indicative of a viable curriculum, consistent grades that reflected student achievement, but unfortunately, too often, 4.0 students don't demonstrate mastery when it comes to the ACT or other measures of school success. They go to college, flounder in remedial classes, learning skills they should have learned in high school.
So back to the article... what would I like to tell parents? I don't do my job for the money. I don't do it for the prestige. I do it because I want to help your child be successful in becoming a productive member of our society. What can you do to help? Be supportive. Encourage them to be their best self, every day. Expect them to be their best self, every day. Never accept 'good enough' when you know they are capable of more. Work with me to find ways to help them be successful. Work with me to expect appropriate behaviors and work habits. Together, we CAN do this. But only.... together.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Semester One... done, finished, grades closed out.... progress reports printed and handed out... report cards come out next week.


It's been a rocky half a year, no doubt. The bad days have outweighed the good, at least two to one.

Is it getting better? I don't know! Somedays, I think YES, maybe, just maybe, I am making progress, if not with all of them, at least some. Other days, I think NO WAY. I check my retirement possibilities. I consider a job application at McDonald's. I ponder just moving away, far far away.

Some of the problems are politics. Others are the kids. I've never felt so overwhelmed, so inadequate, so like I cannot get a handle on what needs to be done to help them be successful. I've never struggled so to manage classroom 'control', maintain a safe and productive place for kids to learn.

But once in a while, once in a great while.... the little moments make it all worthwhile. One young man today.... and he's a frequent office flier.... far from a model student. This guy announces at the end of his second hour in a row in my resource room, "I don't know what it is Mrs. George, but after two hours in here, I just feel relaxed, like school's gonna be OK." and even better, than that.. and I will admit, THAT was amazing.... another kiddo, one who butts heads with me CONSTANTLY about everything - yes, EVERYTHING - to the point if I said the sun was shining, he would point out the one lone cloud in the sky.... he piped in, and said, "Yeah, don't you wish we could be in here ALL DAY?"

I didn't know whether to cry, or hug them, or just let them go to lunch as the bell rang.... But here I sit, with a smile and a sigh of relief, that maybe, just maybe, it isn't ALL bad.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I've always been the teacher with candy in a tub, given out generously for positive reinforcement, random "have a piece" tossings, and a treat for everyone just because. I've often kept soft drinks in the fridge to give out for special occasions. I bake cookies and muffins, treat my classes to breakfast, or pizza parties. To me, all that is just one more way to show students I care.

Tuesday, I spent the day in PBIS training learning about the new program we are going to implement at the middle school and high school level. Parts of it appeal to me very much. I like the idea of catching kids doing good and giving them positive reinforcement for it. I need the reminder of saying 5 positives for every negative interaction. I even like the idea of large scale rewards when the group is getting on the ball with doing the right thing.

On the other hand, I am concerned we are creating citizens who will expect to be rewarded simply for doing the right thing. It seems to me, this type of system should be a starting point in changing behaviors, one that naturally weans itself down to where students have gotten the hang of what is expected and are now routinely practicing those habits just because, without the constant need for a token of appreciation.

I fear we are setting ourselves up to teach kids the always want to up the ante with rewards. I recently took the role of 'check-in/check-out' person for a 6th grader who is struggling to be successful. Nice kid, funny kid, likable kid. He just needs a little boost to keep himself on track. Great... the idea is he takes his check-in/check-out sheet to all his classes each day, and if he earns the preset requisite points, I give him a small prize, a candy. I also told him for 5 days of good reports, I would give him a pop. So, what does he do? He asks for a pop each day instead, and McDonald's for lunch when he has a 5 day run.

The other young man I know that is on a similar program with another teacher, counts his points each hour, figuring out when he can start to "be bad" and still get his points.

I just want to make sure our ideas for positive reinforcement are matching our ultimate goal of teaching students to become responsible citizens because that is what they ought to be doing, not because of the piece of candy or the pop or the special prize.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's exam time. The end of semester one. The critical time for high school students to find out did they earn that credit they so desperately need, or will they be reserving a seat in the same class next fall.

It is a point of controversy in our district. Does the exam determine credit? Does the course itself determine credit? Is it some combination thereof? It seems with every change in the wind, the answer changes, leaving staff and students confused and frustrated.

I am torn as to my personal stance. On the one hand, if a student can pass the exam without doing any of the course work, doesn't s/he deserve credit for the class? If your exam truly measures proficiency on preset standards of learning for the class, why wouldn't you give a passing exam grade course credit? On the other hand, are there activities/projects/classroom discussions that lend themselves to proving proficiency as well? If a student opts out of all the 'experiences' in class, can they still prove mastery with one grade? And what about the student who does everything all semester, completes every assignment, completes all the readings, the projects, the papers, but fails that final? Does that student deserve credit? Is 'test anxiety' a viable excuse?

I think we need more accurate ways of proving proficiency than one test, one overwhelming, end all/be all test. Tests have their place, granted, but I think teachers need to find other ways to measure, accurately measure, student achievement. I don't want to create a utopia where everyone passes just because they show up, but I do think we can find more effective ways to show student growth.

Maybe we need to spend more time aligning our assessments we use throughout the semester to our outcome standards, and rely more on the continual process of assessing and remediating, instead of waiting for the chiming of the final semester clock.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The ubiquitous, yet never to be seen.... PENCIL
I've always believe a kid doesn't have a pencil, you give you them one. It doesn't need to be an issue. Make it a non-issue.
Until this year..... I can go through 20 pencils a day without ever blinking. And keep in mind... I only have 12 kids in my room, one hour a day. The rest of the day, I am in co-teaching assignments. Those 12 kids can go through 20 pencils without blinking. Either the pencil sharpener grinds it to nothing, sometimes, through no fault of the student... or the kiddo just keeps grinding away until the pencil disintegrates into oblivion.... Or the kid loses said pencil between #3 and #4 on their homework... Or they break it into a gabillion pieces... Or... I have NO IDEA. I accuse them of eating them at times.
The worst part? We are being told by the powers that be we MUST give them pencils. Well, then. FINE. You better adjust your budget and plan for more pencils because once the word is out pencils are flowing freely, the problem is going to compound. At least now, some are forced to 'look' for their own pencil when teachers insist they are out.
At what point do schools insist on some responsibility on the part of students and parents?
I'm all for helping them be successful. I've loaned/given everything from pencils, to paper, to notebooks, to food, to clothing, etc... over the years. But there must be a limit to the generosity of, or rather the REQUIRED generosity, of schools.