Tuesday, January 13, 2009
It always seems like things in education wax and wane; my parents always comment, "Oh, we did that like 10 year ago! And this guy is calling it something new?" From the best teaching practices to teaching character education, it is apparent that ideas are recycled in this field and re-packaged in some bright and shiny new label.
An article I came across today is about how parents feel that their children are being assigned too much homework. Remember how when we were kids, homework was expected every night? It was as if homework was just part of education - it's like peanut butter to jelly.
Let me set this straight: I do not disagree with homework. But I do disagree with assigning homework for the sake of having kids do work that is not relevant to the current topic of study (i.e. busy work). I am all for homework that allows kids to practice concepts or to research topics more in depth. I am not one of those teachers who assigns much homework, and it's for a couple of reasons:
1. Most of the time, I doubt many of my parents would understand what we are currently studying. So if a kid is struggling with the homework, who can he go to for support? Ok, so if that's not a good enough reason, I have a handful of kids who live in single-parent homes with parents that work night jobs - so NO ONE is home to get them to even do their homework, let alone help them.
2. I only assign homework if it is meaningful. Memorizing vocab words is not an efficient way for my students to learn science. I will assign homework if it is to practice a concept (example: punnett squares or calculating physics problems) or to research a topic for a class discussion (example: to collect data on global warming to discuss IF it is actually happening and what can we do about it).
3. These kids are in my class, right now. They are not yet in high school. Period. I don't care if they are expected to read 100 pages of textbook a night while in high school. I am not going to do something purely because some crummy high school teacher ONLY assigns textbook reading and worksheets (as opposed to actually teaching the kids or conducting hands-on activities). Why should I deprive your student of a memorable experience simply because a few high school teachers are lazy?
Note - I know that there are these same type of teachers regardless of grade level everywhere. I am only using high school as an example because that is the argument I receive from parents being a middle school teacher.
4. Kids are kids and they need time to be kids. I feel like more than ever, students are expected to not only be a 4.0 student, but they also need to be a starter on the basketball team and first chair in the school orchestra. Kids need time to play with their friends, to enjoy their life, because they are going to grow up fast enough. I want kids to enjoy their childhood, not resent it.
5. Extra homework does not mean challenging a student. Please refer to #2.
The reason I am writing about this topic is because I can distinctly remember a conversation I had with a parent at open-house. She was upset that I do not use the textbook enough and that I do not assign homework enough. I think I was professional (as least I hope so), but I just had enough of parents riding me about how I needed to "challenge" their kids with more homework. I responded to her pressing query with, "I don't think it is my job to prepare your child for bad teachers."
So if you are interested in reading this article that I am referring to, please click HERE.
Monday, January 12, 2009
So today was a professional day. Translation: no kids = time to grade papers, sit through important meetings, enter grades and plan out some new "stuff". I love professional days, I really do! I enjoy coming to school in jeans and an old t-shirt, getting right to work, with my iPod blaring hits from the 80's or just some David Gray (depends on the mood). I get SO much done!
Well, today was a very good professional day, but not because I was able to get a whole accomplished in my barren and quiet classroom.
Ron Clark informed me that I "smell absolutely wonderful."
Ok, so let me back up for a minute. Our community foundation was able to get Ron Clark to come and speak to our district at one of the local high schools. There are no words to describe how full of energy this guy is - dynamic, animated and powerful do not even scratch the surface of how much enthusiasm this man exudes. He's more like... nuclear.... or just atomic.
So on top of being energetic, he is also absolutely passionate about his profession and about his students. The stories he recounts from his early teaching years are so heartfelt and real. You can truly see why this guy is so darn good - he cares deeply about his job. His recipe for success does not entail any fancy schmancy theories or the latest and greatest teaching and learning philosophy. And even though he has written a book (The Essential 55) on rules all kids need to learn in the classroom in order to be successful in life, you don't absolutely need to purchase his book in order to get the message. He doesn't have any secrets that are revealed when you open the book - it's really just common sense. Care about kids and do whatever it is you can to help them succeed.
I remember when I informed my assistant principal at a differentiated instruction conference a few year back that our team was going to use the Essential 55 book in class. She was sitting with some other jaded educators who curtly responded with, "Well, isn't that their parents should be doing?!" It was at that moment that I realized not all teachers in this noble profession like kids. I wanted to respond with, "Well, yes, but they aren't. So why should we just sit around and not do anything about it? That's why the kids need us and that's what we are supposed to be doing - TEACHING THEM." But instead, I probably made a raised eyebrows-bug eyed face to display my disgust and shock.
Anyways, after the very animated presentation by Ron Clark, there was a book signing. My husband and I stood in line for over an hour to get his autograph, and the autograph wasn't even for us - it was for my husband's principal. So we HAD to stay in line, you know? I mean, we could have just ditched the event and told the principal to go get an autograph herself, but really, who wants to say that sort of thing to their superior? I'd be fearful of being moved into the classroom that doubled as the custodial closet, with spider webs and water stains on the ceiling, and that pungent smell of smoke mixed with cleaning materials.
One of my fellow science colleagues was in line ahead of me and asked me to be in a picture, so I happily obliged. As I walked up to Ron, I sarcastically asked him if I could jump on his back (this was after my husband and I were joking around with each other saying, "I am going to ask to get a picture of Ron Clark but I am going to say that he has to put me in a headlock." or "Ron Clark, will you do a ganster pose with me?"). After being asked if I could climb up onto his posterior, Ron Clark, very non nonchalantly and matter of factly replied, "Sure." He's was all for it.
First off, I was joking, but I also wanted to see the type of response I would get from him (you know, like how you look under the hood of a car when you are about to buy it - you really have no idea what you're looking at, but it makes you seem THAT much more knowledgeable). I know, I am an idiot for having such a ridiculous request, but that is what I particularly enjoy doing - saying ridiculous crap to see if 1) anyone notices or is even paying attention and 2) to be funny. Thank God for sarcasm.
I, of course, refrained from giving the guy a realignment of his lower spine. So after the quick photo op, I got back in line with my husband. 1 point for Ron.
Now, you might find it amusing that I actually contemplated what it was I wanted to say to him when I met him while I was jogging 8 miles with my husband last night. I thought about asking him a profound question that he wouldn't be able to answer with a simple yes or no, or maybe I should ask him something about his teaching practices or about what he feels is the biggest downfall of the American public education system. I was really trying to come up with something intelligent, something engaging, something significant. So when it was finally my turn, I walked up to Ron and handed him my book. Just as I was about to speak, Ron looked me right in the face and said, "I just have to tell you, that you smell SO good!"
In my finer moments, I might have responded, "Well, I DID shower today." But he caught me off guard - Ron Clark did something that truly doesn't happen very often (my husband can vouch for me on this): I blushed and was speechless.
Yep, the girl who has something to say to just about EVERYTHING didn't know what to say next. The joke was on me.
Point 2 for Ron.
Ok, so besides the fact that my well-muscled husband was standing right behind me, I just smiled and laughed. As my husband and I walked away, I smiled to myself about the entire experience. The presentation was so comforting to me. It gave me hope that there are still people out there who do truly care about kids and do whatever is best for them and want to teach them in a manner that is memorable. I also thought about the ways in which Ron reaches his target audience. You don't have to be Ron Clark or do what Ron does in his classroom (rap and dance with the kids, for instance) to be successful or to make an impression on a child. He's just found a fantastic way that works for him and his students. I also know I can't change what goes on at home for these kids, but that doesn't mean I don't try to make their time here at school worthwhile. For some children, you are their mentors, their heroes and the only mature adult in their lives.
One of the best pieces of advice my father told me before I departed to teach my very own class for the very first time was, "Know that you can't save every child, but that doesn't mean that you don't try." I think about that statement every single day while I am on my way to work, while I am preparing my classroom for the day's activities, while I am walking my kids to lunch and while I am seeing them leave for the day. My father was a phys ed teacher, by the way.
So I leave you with this question: what is it that you DO for YOUR kids that makes your classroom memorable?