Monday, March 21, 2005

This is a beautiful post about the violence that schools sometimes do to children.

*****

My dad sent me an issue of Educational Leadership which is all about urban schools. The first article describes a study in which they found that there are three groups of teachers in struggling urban schools - those who blame the children for not keeping up their end of the bargain, those who blame the children's families for the same, and those who don't blame anyone but simply do not allow any children to fail - not by lowering standards, but by showing the children they care, by pushing them to keep working until they meet the teacher's standards for good work, by being there again and again and again. They found that the teachers in the third group often achieved remarkable success with their students, and they found two schools that cultivate that attitude among all the adults in the building, and these two schools are far more successful on tests and the like than one would expect based on results from schools serving a similar population.

But the most telling difference was that in these two schools alone, every teacher we talked to (and we interviewed almost all of them) asserted that he or she was responsible for student success. The qualities that made their school different from the others, they attested, derived solely from their desire to act on this belief. Like their highly effective colleagues scattered throughout the two districts, these teachers argued that they could not alter conditions outside school that impinged on student performance, but they could affect the conditions in their classrooms. Using best practices alone was insufficient; effective teaching meant giving students no other choice but success.


This article rings true for me. The most effective teachers around me get on the case of students who are not doing their work. But they don't just fail the student, they make that kid come upstairs at lunch time to redo assignments, they hand back sloppy work and demand that it be returned the next day as it ought to have been done, and so on. They put in a lot of their own time and they demand that the student put in a lot of time until he or she finally does what is expected. I have at times been quite strict about students rewriting work that received a failing grade, and I think that helped some students learn that with hard work, they were completely capable of doing that kind of assignment successfully. Having completed a lab report or the like once, they have an easier time doing it the next time.

*****

Today, a colleague & friend told me and another teacher at my school that she will not be returning next year. She has already told our principal. I will miss her but she needs to move on to other things. It's interesting that this is probably the first time a teacher's departure from my school has been handled entirely professionally. It feels so... reasonable.

*****

The Science Expo is on Thursday. If I got started writing about all the what-ifs circling about in my head right now, I'd write a short novel. This year has been all about letting go of control - I have no idea how the sixth and seventh graders are doing because I'm not their teacher, and I've had so many coverages and whatnot that I haven't done much observation in their classrooms. All I can do is trust that their teachers have it under control.

As for the eighth graders, I have provided a structure of deadlines, feedback, etc. for them to get their projects done over several weeks but not during the school day. They didn't take full advantage of the opportunities I gave them to hand in drafts and get my feedback, and I have struggled with how much of a safety net I should provide now that the Expo is a few days away and a few groups are realizing that they should have worked a lot harder two weeks ago. I'm giving them three days of classtime, which I was planning to give them anyway, but I've put my foot down about other last minute help: they can't come up at lunch, they can't stay after school. I know that sounds antithetical to the notes I wrote above, but they really, really wasted several opportunities to get my help, and they are growing up. It might be time for them to learn that if you cast aside the safety nets first offered to you, you can't count on them being there when you start to fall. If that metaphor makes any sense!

This is what happened (really I'm trying to convince myself to be a hard*ss about this): I collected and read first drafts a few weeks ago. Then I gave those back with extensive comments and even conferenced with each group. I handed out a checklist of the various sections of the project they would need to complete, since the science expo is more complicated than a regular lab report and most groups had not done anything but the basics in their first drafts. This checklist was literally a checklist with little blank boxes for them to check off each part as they worked. I gave them five days with no homework except to write another draft. Then I collected second drafts, and discovered that NO group had completed everything on the checklist! (Nor had anyone asked me for help or anything during the week...). One or two came close, but most had done very little. I read them the riot act and gave them exactly one more day to give me anything they wanted feedback on. Friday was the last day for teacher feedback. And I am going to stick to my guns on this one. What would you do?

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