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Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Another Sunday… Continued

I slept on my dilemma:  to have students share laptops, or to have students write on paper.  I decided to let the classes share.  It worked out well.  The students were able to help one another create their blogs.  Of course, they have to finish the work for homework, and I gave them two days to complete the assignment.

Interestingly, I had students complete a survey that asked them if they would be completing the blog at home or the public library.  Out of 150 students, only three have said they would need the public library.  Our students have the resources at home that we cannot provide at school.  This is good news!  As for the three without computers or Internet access, I can work with them at school.  I can find one computer during their lunch period or study hall.

I wondered if blogging would work, but I already had one student ask if she could write more posts than the required ones!  Since I am trying to avoid sarcasm, I refrained from saying, “No!  There will be no extra writing and no fun!”

Another teacher is trying the same blogging site and we are collaborating on what is working and what needs improvement.  I will keep you posted on what we learn.  If you have any experiences, ideas, or questions, I would love to hear from you.  Thanks!

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Another Sunday; Another Change in Plans

Students of Saint Mary's Hall

Students of Saint Mary’s Hall (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

I always begin lesson planning on Thursday, so I can stay focused on my goals.  I have been planning to try Kidblog.org to have my students use the tools of the 21st century to analyze and write about literature.  The blog also allows them to respond to other student’s opinions also; however, they cannot merely say, “I concur.”  I expect students to support their opinions with facts from the reading selection.  It’s Sunday and I am ready to go…

Except I checked the English department’s laptops and we are down to 21.  Five of my six classes have more than 21 students.  I am left with the dilemma: how do I have students create a blog when they don’t have a computer?

I think I will go back to the 20th century and have them write on notebook paper, then share their analysis with a partner who will write a response.  I can cover the same standards in the curriculum.  I have reserved the good computer lab for the first open day, Jan. 6, so I can introduce the blog then.  But, it is late.  Perhaps I will have a different idea in the morning.

 

 

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Achieving Goals: Face Forward

It is getting closer to the start of the year, and my To Do list for school and home keeps growing like the weeds in my flowerbeds.  (There’s another thing to add to the list.)

As I prepare for the opening week, I keep thinking of what our surf instructor in Costa Rica kept telling me:  “When you stand up, face forward and look where you are going, not at your feet or where you have been!”  IMG_0825

It seems like good advice for students.   Keep your eyes forward!

Freshmen can be intimidated by mature upperclassmen, and I am not referring to bullying.  I remember a time before a class period was going to begin.  A group of boys were talking and joking while I was grading papers at my desk.   Suddenly, the room became silent.  I looked up at the boys wondering what happened when I heard, “Hi Mr. W.”  Walking into my room was McKenzie, a senior.  We exchanged pleasantries, she handed me some paperwork and she left.  I don’t think the boys moved.  They just stared in that awkward stalker-like manner.  The boys were certainly intimidated by her.  I am willing to bet that they had trouble keeping their eyes forward and refocusing their thoughts during class.   Luckily, they are teenage boys and forget most things within twenty-four hours.  Focus would happen the next day…maybe.

There are other ways students can forget to face forward or focus on their goals.IMG_0809

I have seen students come to class discussing what “he” said or “she” said and this gossip overtakes their learning.  (However, perhaps they are preparing for a new reality serious similar to the “Housewives of —“ and they will be wealthier than myself.)

I have had students argue with me that they did not need to pass English 9 to graduate.  I brought in other authority figures.  All but one student at least believed the guidance counselor.  This stubborn know-it-all spent his summer retaking the class.  Since I have been married, I have learned that some people are more stubborn than others.

I have learned that during certain times of the year students really struggle with facing forward; for instance, during the NCAA basketball tournament.  Many a student is looking at the past records and statistics to fill out a bracket.  Schoolwork loses its luster as game after game is on TV.

Without a doubt, all of us parents and teachers have struggled with facing forward in high school.  Imagine if we could go back in time.   I am positive I would think high school would be pretty easy.  I thought I had a lot of responsibility, like study, do some chores, and go to swim practice.  Oh, and I HAD to complain about doing the chores!

Today, I still do homework, do some chores, and drive my kids to practices.  Plus, a few other things that go along with marriage, children, pets, etc.

IMG_0858This school year I want to remember to face forward.  I want to be less sarcastic.

What will you face forward for?

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It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

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More Rebels!

I had another rebel in class the other day.

 

Students were to be writing the rough draft of an essay in class.  I have found that making them write in class reduces plagiarism.  Most kids copy or download  an essay from some website like FreeEssays.com .  It’s not that hard to catch them because I can Google the essay too.  I don’t like to be a “Gotcha” teacher though.  I would prefer to use class time to help them through the writing process.

 

I was walking through the classroom and checking with students on their progress.  I peered over Katerina’s shoulder, looked at her paper, and blinked three times.  I thought I was having trouble with my eyes again.  I was having trouble reading her essay.   Then I realized, she was writing in Macedonian!  I started laughing, which of course disrupted class for a minute.  What a rebel!

 

Map showing the distribution of the Macedonian...

Map showing the distribution of the Macedonian language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Of course, Katrina has been an excellent writer all year.  Plus, she always does her work.  She turned in a great essay, in English, and I am pretty sure she did not pull it off a web site.  (I talked with her mom.)

 

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Educating Rebels

What happens when a student does not want to do the work?  I wish I knew one answer!  Instead, I, like every other teacher, try to find the solution to the enigma with each particular student.

Students come to school carrying book-bags and personal baggage. They come from troubled homes, like Pony Boy and the other greasers in S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.   They come from homes where illness strikes, like the children of Randy Paush, who gave The Last Lecture on September 18, 2007.  They come from homes with single parents; however, not all are like Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. They come from everywhere.

Cover of "To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Ann...

Cover via Amazon

The truth is that we all have baggage.   However, some students’ baggage consumes their thoughts.   It prevents them from doing work at home and school.  It preoccupies their minds when they are supposed to be writing or reading.  These distractions may have been happening for years, and now the student is struggling because she reads below grade level.

Every teacher faces these students.  We try to make a connection.  We try to find ways to encourage, teach, and show we care.  I am struggling more this year, and I cannot put my finger on a solution that will work everyday.

I have three girls, good friends from the same neighborhood, and who moved into our community a few years ago.  They use to live in an urban environment that to be called rough would be an understatement.

Each day, right before the tardy bell rings, they saunter into class complaining about something or someone.  I believe that they are creating their own drama, but I know they are not getting a lot of parental support.  Their grades reflect this.

I spent the first few weeks encouraging them to complete assignments, and point out the positives in their writing.  Nonetheless, I still got negative feedback in the form of sighs, rolled eyes, and “Tsk!”  I could not allow the rude behavior, so I gave them detentions.

This worked to stop the behavior in class, but it seemed to cause two of the girls to stop doing assignments.  It seemed they wanted to punish me by failing.  I never understand this line of thinking.  If I disliked my English teacher, I would write a five-page essay when he asks for a three pages.  I would make him read a little more every time, so he has to spend more time grading.

Now, I face the dilemma of spending a great amount of time and energy on two rebellious students while ignoring 26 students who are trying their best to learn.  How can I reel in the rebels and challenge everyone to push strive for success?

What I have done that seems to be working for now…

  • When the girls enter, I whisper to them about what we are doing today and remind them about my expectations, even though it is written on the board.
  • I have them seated away from each other.
  • If they are not working, I give them a nonverbal reminder by walking up to their desk and motioning for them to be reading or writing.
  • I do not engage in a conversation; I walk away.  I have found if I stay near  the student, she will become stubborn and try to show me who is boss.
  • If she does not get started working after I leave, I walk to my desk and fill out the paperwork for a detention.  Then, I look up to see if she is working yet.  If she is, I don’t deliver the detention.  I save it in case she gets off task later.

I have nearly given up on changing the girls’ negative attitudes.  However, every few days, one of them contributes to the class discussion or does well on a writing assignment we completed in class.  Then, I am reminded that they have developed their negativity over years, and I may not be able to change it during the 225 minutes a week I see them.

Do you have any other ideas?

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Parent Teacher Conferences (with or without the police)

Many parents try to take an active role in their child’s elementary education.  At the young age, there are three types of parents who attend conferences.  There is the I-want-to-hear-how-wonderful-my-kid-is parent.  These are the perfect parents who want the teacher to pat them on the back and say, “You have a great kid.  I wish I could be such a great parent, too.”  Then, there is the I-guess-I-should-go-to-conferences parent.  He or she is not sure what to do, but doesn’t want to be looked down by others for not attending. Lastly, there is the I-was-called-by-the-teacher-to-attend parent.  This parent feels like he or she has been called to a tax audit.  They have that feeling that there is a problem with junior.

Once a child reaches high school, only about 10% of the parents attend parent teacher conferences.  Some parents feel that it is time for the child to be adult like and take ownership of their education.  Some young adults are responsible and do not need mom or dad talking to every teacher.  Some parents have given up because they always hear the same thing.  Some kids do not remind their parents when conferences are.  Some parents only visit a few teachers.  Having taught and coached summer swimming in the area for so many years, many parents know me and do not feel the need to come in to get to know me.  They know my expectations.  They know my school and private email addresses.  They know my cell phone and home phone number.   Still, parents do attend conferences.  These parents can be classified into two categories: the ones who want to hear how wonderful their child is and the ones who were called by the teacher to discuss a problem.

The first year of teaching brings out many parents to learn about the new guy, especially if one is at a small high school.  I started my career at a high school with 350 students.  Many of the students’ parents attended the school.  Everyone knew everyone in the town, which was a foreign concept for me.  My hometown had a population of 60,000, and I graduated from The Ohio State University, with an enrollment of about 60,000 back then.

One of my first conferences taught me that the apple does not fall far from the tree.  I was planning on letting the mom know that her daughter had been tardy to class enough times to get two detentions.  Well, mom was late.  As a twenty-three-year old neophyte teacher, I was not going to admonish mom.  Instead, I gave her the facts and the consequences of being tardy.  We agreed that sometimes being late is not a big deal.  Other times, like paying taxes, going to work, or menstruating, being late can be a big deal.

Another conference during that first year showed me how we act when we are nervous.  Julie was a quiet student, barely speaking a word in class.  She barely did her work, too, so her mom and I were concerned about her grade and lack of effort.  Julie’s nervousness came out when she sat on a desk instead of a chair.  She tried to dominate the conversation and tell mom what life was about.  Mom and I worked together from the beginning.  Without saying a word, we showed Julie we were the in charge.  I had her sit in a chair and listen as we went over the poor performance so far.  Then, we asked her what ideas she had for success in the future.  The three of us, a triangle of trust and responsibility, came up with a plan for Julie’s success.  We were all responsible for 33% of her education.  Julie came to the conference hoping to create a rift between her mom and me.  Instead, she met a united front of two people who wanted her to be successful.  Once Julie realized we were working in her best interests, she turned her attitude and work ethic around.  She started to succeed.

Unfortunately, not all conferences went so smoothly.  During my second year of teaching, Ryan’s dad wanted a conference with the math teacher, the principal, and me.  Apparently, Ryan was failing English and math.  Ryan was a very likable kid and did class work all of the time.  He just didn’t do homework or prepare for tests.

During the conference with Ryan’s dad, I was accused of not caring, not teaching, and not doing anything.  It was my fault Ryan was failing.  Is it the dentist’s fault when we get a cavity because we did not brush or floss?  Yet, it was my fault because his son did not do homework or study for tests.  I was told I only worked six hours a day.  Then, I was insulted and yelled at.  I tried to remain calm and professional.  However, I lost control.  I slammed my briefcase on the table, popped it open, and showed him the 90 essays I had to grade.  I told him what a great kid Ryan was, but he needed to get work done outside of class.  I started to get into a stink fight with a skunk.  Then, the chief of police arrived.  I guess a secretary called him in.  Being a small town, and my being young, new, and not a resident, I did not know the little details.  The chief ended the conference and escorted Ryan’s dad home.

A week later, Ryan had a very believable excuse for not having his homework.  He said his mom took a shot at his dad.  I asked, “What?”

Ryan responded, “It’s okay Mr. W.  It was only a .22 and she missed.”  I did not give him a zero for the assignment.  He taught me to focus on student learning in class because I cannot control their lives outside of the school day.  I would make sure not being able to do homework did not cause a student to fail.  Thus, a bad conference taught me how to be a better teacher.  It is part of being a freshman.

Today, our parents have access to the grade book on-line.  They can see grades as quickly as a teacher can enter them.   Parents can email teachers instead of calling them, which has been better for me because I have a computer at my desk, but the phone is down the hall.  I can remember a few years ago when I told my classes that parents were going to have this access to grades and teachers, the kids hated the idea.  If teenagers hate the idea, then it probably is good!

What else have I learned?  Parents may be afraid of coming to school.  They bring all of their memories that they had with teachers with them.  They are cautious and worried that the teacher will judge them as a bad parent.  Some teachers may do this, but remember, the reason that teachers do their job is because of the kids.  If mom is concerned about Junior, then she is a good parent.   The only “great knowledge” the teacher has is knowing the true purpose of the conference: to find out what everyone needs to do for the child to succeed.  Once we set aside egos, we can concentrate on the real crisis – the child’s struggles.

Therefore, my advice to teachers and parents:

  1. Do not blame the other or accept blame.
  2. Listen to the other and hear their frustrations, without being defensive.  Let him or her vent the frustrations he or she feels.
  3. Remind each other that you are part of the triangle of learning, with the student being the third side.  We all have 33.3% of the responsibility.

Can you think of any other advice for teachers and parents?

Even though I was young and childless, many parents asked me for advice.  Unfortunately, the classes I took to be a teacher did not prepare me for being an expert on raising teenagers, which can be akin to nailing grape jelly to the old oak tree in the back yard.  So, I decided to ask the parents what they have done in the past that worked and didn’t work.  We would brainstorm ideas and develop a working relationship to ensure success.  I also learned a lot from the parents of the successful students.  After all, experience is a great teacher.  I then passed on the ideas to the parents of the struggling kids, telling them other parents have found success this way.

Some of the ideas I learned from parents included:

  1. Establish routine.  Make sure homework is done right after school, or set aside an hour to do homework together.  If there is no homework, then it is reading time.  Discuss the completed homework at dinner with the whole family.
  2. Learn how your child learns best.  Most teachers are visual learners.  We like worksheets, chalkboards, multi-media projectors, etc.  We learn best when we see it.  However, some people are auditory learners.  They learn best by listening.  Audio books or reading notes aloud would help these learners.  And, most of us learn by doing.  Experience is the best teacher.   We learn to ride a bike by doing it; we learn to write by doing it; and we learn to swim by doing it.
  3. Check Junior’s daily planner; does it look up to date?  Or, check assignment posted the teacher’s web site.
  4. Contact the teacher for a weekly progress report.  Email works best today.  And, many school districts have grade books on-line.  Check the grades frequently and if you think your child is not telling the truth, you are probably right.
  5. Set up consequences, both rewards and punishments.  You know what will motivate your child best.  One parent gave money for good grades and fines for bad grades.  Another parent used her daughter’s social life as consequences.  My dad rewarded me with dinner and punished me by making watch TV with the family.

What ideas have you learned that I may share?

Parent – teacher conferences are a great way to learn from each other.  I have learned how to be a better teacher and better parent.  I have also learned about hidden talents the students have.  I learned about Lura’s love to play the piano; I learned about Luke’s love to ride horses and rope calves; I learned about Lyndsay’s love of the theatre; and Billy’s dream to attend The Air Force Academy and become a pilot.

Conferences also reminded how hard some kids have had it. I learned about Kelly who lost her mom to cancer three years ago; I learned about David fighting his own battle with cancer; I learned about Zak whose parents were going through a divorce; Chris, who at age fourteen, was a recovering alcoholic, and Carlos, who just found out the man he thought was his father wasn’t because his mom had an affair.

As we start another school year, I look forward to meeting another 150 students and a few of their parents. I look forward to learning about their dreams and I hope to help them through any adversity life throws at them.

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Fins, First Days, and Fearful Flight

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt D...

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The start of high school is a strange yet magical time.  It is similar to arriving at the gates of Disney World.

Both seem so big, crowded, and even a little scary, but not scary enough to prevent you from entering.  It is the kind of trepidation from not knowing what to do first or even wondering if you can do it all.  High school has more people, more class choices, more clubs, and more sports teams than junior high.  It is a time for exploration.

I remember thinking, “What should I do?”  I could go to Fantasyland with creative writing classes and let my imagination fly away with Dumbo.  Or, I could go to Adventureland, trying new sports, and visiting new and even exotic places.  Or, I could go to Tomorrowland learning about new gadgets like computers and letting my learning travel to infinity and beyond!  Or, I could do it all!

I remember getting my schedule in the mail and calling my friends.  We compared schedules and wondered who else would be in our classes.  Then, the first day of school arrived.  The first time setting foot in the high school!  I wandered around looking for my classrooms before the start of first period and trying not to look like a neophyte.

My daughter’s experience was quite different.  While in eighth grade, she was able to walk from the junior high to the high school to get a ride home from me.  Usually she walked through the front door, said hello to the secretary, and walked to my room.  One or two times, she would be captured on film doing cartwheels in the hallway or using the elevator.  Miss Lisa, our head of security, wondered who this young lady was until she saw the two of us together.  That day, Miss Lisa laughed while telling me the story of the mystery gymnast of the hallways.

One rainy day, my daughter found an unlocked door, and she snuck in to avoid melting.  However, a teacher stopped her in the hallway.  My daughter described him as mean and scary.  He stopped her, scowled at her, and asked her, “What are you doing here?”

She paused and nervously answered, “I am here to see my dad.”

“Who is your Dad?” Mr. B barked.

“Mr. W- W – Watros,” she stammered.

Suddenly, the door opened again and in walked an unsuspecting student.  The teacher turned and questioned her as rapidly as a machine gun firing.  My daughter saw her chance.  She ran! Obviously, she was quite comfortable with knowing her way around the building.

When she told me the story, I knew the teacher had to be Mr. B., who is able to growl and glare a grizzly to whimpers.  I also told her running, especially after giving my name, was not the brightest plan of action. Luckily, Mr. B also has a great sense of humor.

The big difference with her first day of high school, though, was freshman orientation.  She had to come school one day in August to pick up her schedule, get her picture taken for the yearbook and I.D., pick up text books, and learn about activities and clubs.  Almost every ninth grader was there.  Smiles, giggles, and lots of loud chatter echoed through the hallways.  Students, little siblings, and parents wondered the hallways trying to find the shortest route to get from first period to second period to third period, etc.  Kids decorated their lockers with personal items of mirrors, magnets, and shelves.  Plus, some kids found the locker was a good place to leave their textbooks until it was time to turn them in.

My daughter found some friends and promptly ditched her little brothers and me.  As I watched her walk away, the Jimmy Buffett song, Fins began to play in my head:

 Can’t you feel ’em circlin’ honey?

Can’t you feel ’em swimmin’ around?

You got fins to the left, fins to the right,

and you’re the only bait in town.

You got fins to the left, fins to the right,

and you’re the only girl in town.

I got a bad feeling.  I began to realize that my little girl was growing up.  I began to think, “Look at these teenage boys trolling for girlfriends.  Which one will come to my house and see me cleaning my shotgun?  Which one will go a date with her and her little brothers as chaperones?  Which one will I have to “ coincidently” follow around school and sit in on his classes under the pretext I was observing his excellent teachers?“

Then my thoughts changed to “What am I going to do with my boys, now?”  My sons were filled to the top with energy.  It was as if they were ready for Marc Antony to yell, “Cry Havoc, let slip the dogs of war!”  They were ready to run through the halls, play tag or trip a freshman.  However, since most of the students were larger, my oldest son decided to trip the youngest one.   Of course, this lead to a near brawl, so we retreated to my classroom to decorate the walls with posters and hand-made pictures.

Meanwhile, my daughter circled the hallways helping classmates find their way around.  I would look out the door and see her once in a while.  She was leading the way, a far cry from my first day wanderings with a map.  I know it is difficult to erase the picture of a tall, muscular, suave and sophisticated man I have grown into, but try anyway.  The first day of my freshman year I was a tall (6 ft.), skinny (120 lbs.), quiet teen with acne and glasses.   The majority of my students today find it difficult to comprehend that I was a geek.  It is amazing how much we change, and I wonder what changes my daughter will have.

Now, every school year, I relive the first day of high school.  My father gave me some advice: Say, “Do your work.  Do not cause problems.”  Then place a gun on the desk and ask, “Any questions?”  I am not sure but I think there are some rules or even laws against this.

Last year’s class told me to just stare at the kids and not say a word.  Hand out the expectations and an assignment.  Then just stare at them as if I was deciding which one to defenestrate or give a detention to. Although this opening day procedure sounds fun and may be legal, I would start to smile and laugh.  It was the teaching style of my ninth grade teacher, but it is not mine.

I tend to smile and begin by telling students, “Welcome to Latin class!”  Then, I wait for the nervous looks and the double checking of schedules.  I smile and say, “Just kidding.”  I know, it’s kind of mean.  However, it does lead into the story of my first day.

I am curious, how have you changed since your freshman year?

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Filed under Education, Humor

Adapting, Improvising, Overcoming, Or How to Get Around the System

Extra Credit.  When I first began teaching twenty-three years ago, I liked extra credit.  I was the type of high school student who always did my work, but not always to the best of my ability.  A chance to earn a few extra points to get me from a B+ to an A- would be welcomed.  However, after twenty-three years of teaching, I am not fond of extra credit.  Too many students want something easy to replace an assignment not turned in.

My first year of teaching I thought I had a great idea.  Today, I call it an idea.  I had 100 tests for 100 books and plays.  I gave the students the list and let them read independently to earn extra credit.  My mistake was to not put a limit on the number of works that could be read.

Enter Brent.  He was failing.  He disliked writing.  He was smart.  He took tests on all of the plays on my extra credit reading list and aced them.  And, he did not read them.  How?  He rented a videotaped version of a production of each play!  He followed my rules.  He found a way to beat the system!  Sure, I wish he would have written more.  However, Brent used his brain to solve his problem.  I praised him on intelligence to improvise to pass the class.  And, I changed my rules: students would only be allowed to read one novel or play.  (On a side note, no other student ever chose to take a test on a play.  Brent was the only one to figure out PBS records dramas all of the time.)

The past couple of years I have only allowed students to rewrite essays for a new grade or complete short vocabulary / writing assignments during any free time in class for extra credit.

I know I have readers from education and the business worlds, and I am curious to your opinions.  If you can take a minute or two, I would like to hear what you think about extra credit for students.  Thanks.

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Filed under Business, Education, Learning, Lessons from students