January 29, 2006

The trouble with television?

I teach courses in multimedia. These courses include digital video productions that are seen on the closed circuit television system at the high school where I work. I also once worked for KNBC in Los Angeles. I enjoy watching television, probably an hour and sometimes two a night. So I generally support television as entertainment. However, as I sit here reflecting on the unacceptably poor quality of first semester projects that I have just completed grading, and after I have already commiserated with a close friend and fellow teacher, I am wondering what is at the root of the problems we teachers all face with our students. My answer: television.

Before I continue, I don’t plan on pigeonholing television as the actual root. The actual root is much deeper. But television serves up a great example of a delivery system that is poisoning our culture. Not all television is poisoning all of our culture. But most of the images children see daily on the small screen neither promote a healthy lifestyle nor the importance of education. Instead kids get images of moronic parents and teachers who are buffoons at best. Entertaining? Sure. Especially to adults who can watch objectively. But to kids? Kids who don’t have the mature filters of experience watch this programming for multiple hours a day pointing and laughing at the idiot adults and are then expected to come to school and treat their teachers with respect. Right. Then go home to their hard-working parents and are expected to appreciate all that their parents’ sacrifice for their children’s well being. Kids don’t get it. Unlike years ago when instead of plopping kids down in front of the tube they were given household chores, or taken on trips to the laundry, and sometimes even included in “bring your kid to work day.” Instead of learning the value and sacrifice and hard work, kids learn about what products are best for cleaning carpets.

I don’t fault television producers and programmers completely. Their jobs are to sell soap. In order to sell soap they must draw an audience to watch the soap commercials offered by the advertisers who actually pay the bills for television production. I support the capitalistic approach to economics so I support the idea of commercial television. Most television producers and programmers do their jobs very well. They sell soap for the advertisers. The advertisers are in the business of selling soap so the programs they pay for are designed to attract viewers who might potentially buy their soap (hence soap operas). Soap sellers are not concerned with content, moral, or character education (evidence soap operas). So television producers and programmers are not concerned with moral or character education in the programming they offer. This would be ok if it stayed in the realm of mid-afternoon-before-kids-get-home TV. But the same mentality is applied to the 24/7 kids programming on cable. Kids are a huge, I repeat HUGE market for advertisers. From breakfast cereal to video games, kids spend their parent’s money. Kids watch TV (some watch a lot of TV) so in the world of advertising they are fair game for using the TV to sell products. Like soap sales, breakfast cereal and video game companies are not selling content, moral, and character education. They are selling products. So the images seen in the programming they pay for reflect an effort to sell their products, not make better people. That’s our (the teachers) job.

What we see on TV is a symptom of a bigger cultural problem. The problem is what our culture values, or doesn’t value in general. The second part of my conversation with my colleague concerned the lack of stigma attached to failure. Some kids don’t care if they fail and there is no reason for them to care. Nothing happens. If they fail they move right along to the next course, to the next grade, and almost all the way out of high school. In California we may not like the CAHSEE, but at least now there is some sort of hard obstacle to overcome if a student wants a diploma. Failing kids today is a big no-no in schools all over the country. If a student doesn’t fail they’re not left behind. If we pass them, they will move on. But just because the students aren’t left behind doesn’t mean they have actually learned anything. I’ve taught long enough to see that the students I currently teach are the least prepared of any I have had before. I’m sure my predecessors who taught these same kids would agree with me. This is a problem that has been going on for a long time without being resolved. Now what do we do? How about less TV?

Since we can’t change the kids we have to teach, and we can’t change the standards, and no one can be left behind, then maybe we need to start taking a long hard look at the curriculum. Perhaps it is time that we narrow the scope of what we teach. Sometimes knowing a lot about a few things is better than knowing a little about many things. If a majority of the students cannot absorb all the content in the course scope and sequence, then instead of trying to keep an absurd schedule to teach them everything, maybe we should slow down the pace and not move on until they actually get it. There is no sense in leaving a kid to fail because of a testing schedule. Perhaps it’s time to change our definition of success. Not dumb it down, but adjust for our audience. Like a television producer, we need to know who it is we are trying to reach and then give them what they want, or in this case, need. Imagine what the classroom would be like if the students actually learned and retained what they were taught at each grade level? For teachers it’s not about selling soap, breakfast cereal or video games; our mission is to teach the appropriate content, moral, and character education that will improve the lives of the students in our classrooms. I think I saw that somewhere on TV.

January 26, 2006

What is there to smile about?

A post from another blogger: “If you smile too much or too soon, you are done. DONE, I tell you! It's like I read or heard once somewhere: It's easier to start out strict and ease up on students than it is to start easy and then turn around and attempt to be a good disciplinarian.” I agree with the second part. Once the ship is lost, not even the largest bucket brigade imaginable can bail it out. However I disagree with the smiling part. So…

What is there to smile about?

Effective classroom management has nothing to do with how much or how soon a teacher smiles, even a substitute teacher. Managing a classroom effectively is all about using well prepared assignments that engage the students and keep them focused, on-task, and most importantly, LEARNING. An engaged and active group of students working towards a tangible, attainable (and dare I say) fun goal is much easier to manage than a “bored hoard.” One of the reasons substitutes have such a hard time (and I subbed for two and half years before my first contract) is because of the lack of preparation for the sub by the regular classroom teacher, and the abysmally weak lesson plans left behind that often include showing a dreadfully boring video tape. What’s a sub to do? Of course, part of the reason this condition exists is because so many in the sub pool are so under-qualified for the classroom. Honestly, where do the find some of these people? But not all subs are inadequate and in my opinion substitute teaching is a far better teacher-prep program than most of the so-called teacher-prep programs I’ve been around (but that’s not many.) And to those substitute teachers who may be reading this now, you have my deepest respect and sympathy. Jumping into a hungry pool of sharks, covered in blood, and smelling of fish is not for the faint of heart. So smile at your students when you show up for work tomorrow no matter what the regular teacher leaves for the lesson plan.

Discipline is a dish best served with sides of structure and consistency. Well-designed assignments that clearly map out step-by-step instructions that students can follow do far more to deter inappropriate and annoying behavior than will multiple detentions, time-outs, and referrals. Hard and fast due dates inhibit student procrastination and encourage dedication and follow-through. Always have something due by the end of the period, and a major quiz, test, or benchmark project due at the end of each week. That way, students never have time to goof-off. Of course, this kind of schedule requires a level of preparation, experience, and expertise on the part of the teacher that newer teachers often lack. Not because of a lack of smarts, but because of a lack of time spent teaching. It’s just one of those things. Over time a teacher learns the value of consistency. Some find a repeated daily schedule dry and unexciting. However, kids (even though they would never admit it) do better on a routine. Everyday we line up outside the door and wait for the bell to ring (Ok, not in high school). Everyday we have an assignment waiting on the whiteboard that can be started as soon as the students sit down. Expectations are clear and understood by all. Rules are posted and consistently enforced. Basic teacher stuff that works far better than a teacher’s frown or scowl. Smile, and the students smile with you.

Unfortunately, a teacher who always smiles will quickly lose the useful effect on their pupils of a happy face. There are times when a teacher must show another side. Kids really can be like sharks smelling fresh blood when they sense and grab a hold of a perceived weakness in a teacher. One slip-up, and the troubles begin. It happened to me today in class. A student asked for a deadline extension on an assignment. I gave it to him, and was then mauled by an angry, threshing pack or man-eaters. My error, and I paid for it, dearly. Sometimes a teacher must use their emotional side to make an impression or drive home an important point. I heard a story about a retired colleague who once used a starter pistol in class. He would fire a blank towards the ceiling every few seconds to make his point and demand the attention of his students. (Of course, this was a long time ago. I don’t think such a teaching practice would be recommended or accepted in the current climate. Nor would I ever advocate such an approach.) I don’t believe it’s ever acceptable to lose control, but there is nothing wrong with showing your students emotions beyond your happy smiling face.

Being emotional in front of students is more common among athletic coaches. Just watch the adults on the sidelines of any Friday night high school football game. Coaching with emotion is considered passionate. Shouldn’t classroom teachers be passionate as well? Ok, perhaps not that passionate. I’ve had my moments. Before teaching computers I taught drama. It’s somewhat more typical for a drama teacher to be emotional in front of students. For me, my emotions are like a barometer. It’s true now when my advanced students evaluate our weekly “Friday Show” that airs on the close-circuit television network on campus. My students know that if I get choked up and need a moment before being able to discuss the merits of their efforts they have already succeeded in doing a great job. Letting your students know that you care is important. When kids see that their efforts truly matter to their instructor, they will work even harder towards achievement.

So go ahead. Smile. Your success in the classroom is not determined by your facial expressions, but rather by your determination to teach your students as reflected in your preparation for class, your commitment to consistency, and your willingness to be a human being. That’s a lot to smile about.

Please post your comments below.

January 19, 2006

Education Idol?

I do not have a beef against Simon Cowell or American Idol. In fact I am a fan and I find myself agreeing with the Simon Cowell more often that I disagree with his analysis of talent. I just got to thinking, what would the world be like if Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher?

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher education would be a competition to discover THE one best and brightest student. All the other competing students would be "losers." Many would try out, only one would succeed. The one successor would then represent all of the others as the perfect example, or "Idol," of what all students should aspire to be. The Education Idol's success would be measured not by the depth of their character, or their wealth of knowledge, but by the wealth generated in their position on the "Billboard Chart of Popular Intelligence". They would tour the world showing off how clever and charming they had become, and entertaining the masses "Jeopardy" style along with the top ten runner-ups.

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher students would be assessed not with A's or B's but with brutally accurate observations, slicing sarcasm, a devastating wit, and of course, America's vote. Regardless of their classroom performance, America could vote the young scholars on to the next round (school year) if the contestants had built up a strong enough fan base. Quality and substance would be overruled by performance and personality. Our futures would lie not in the hands of the most qualified, but in the hands of those receiving the most votes (wait, isn't that how our government works right now???)

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher then teachers themselves would be idolized as gods of wisdom. They would be asked to appear in Coke commercials, and on talk shows like Oprah as authorities in their content areas. They would be offered millions of dollars to appear for an hour or two biweekly in front of their pupils and deliver 90-second critiques of their homework. Of course, those appearances would be televised for millions to watch and potentially purchase soap products from the advertising helping to keep the economy moving. Teachers would actually be considered useful economic contributors, can you imagine?

If Simon Cowell was a schoolteacher then the rewards of scholastic success would be fame and fortune along with heartache and loss of privacy. The Education Idol would receive instant fame, a speaking contract, and money beyond their wildest dreams. Expensive cars, new mansions, personal assistants, designer clothing, caviar and the rest would suddenly be thrust upon the winner. In return, their family, friends, and neighbors would be cast out, left behind, and replaced by the "Hollywood" crowd. The Idol's personal life including all of their successes and failures would become a matter of public record available for all to see and read about in the pages of the National Enquirer and Entertainment Tonight.

But Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher.

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher education is not a competition. Students are not competing with each other for the top spot on the assignment, in the classroom, or in the school. They are competing with themselves to reach their individual potential. But education is not about comparisons, number 1's, or even coming out on top. Sure, there are outstanding students, valedictorians, and plenty of other excellent efforts that should be recognized. But honoring a "straight A" student does not mean that the other students are less important of unequally successful because they didn't reach a 4.0 GPA.

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher students are assessed with meaningful indicators that reflect progress and accomplishment without killing their spirits, hopes, and dreams. Even if a student receives a less-than-expect score on an assignment, that score is used as an opportunity to grow and improve, not as a dead-end message of worthlessness delivered through a mean spirited personal attack. Students are promoted to the next level after being properly prepared and evaluated, not because of their social status within the classroom (well that's not as true in education as it should be.) Results, not popularity, open the door to the next opportunity.

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher teachers themselves are not idolized by contemporary society, in fact they're rarely given appropriate respect. The people who hold the most control over the future of the planet are often treated with disregard and dismissed as "less-than" professionals. Instead of being lifted up and celebrated, teachers are often the targets of parental frustration (that should be aimed at their children, or the parents themselves), the political scapegoats for reformers desperately looking for some answer to student under-achievement, or the butt of jokes seen daily all over television and film. Could you imagine if teachers were given their proper respect and place in society? Images of champion teachers whose entire roster of students just passed the CAHSEE would replace professional athletes like Kobe selling shoes on billboards across America!

Because Simon Cowell is not a schoolteacher the rewards of scholastic success do not automatically include fame and fortune, although that does follow for some. Instead of stories of fallen idols being arrested for attempting to purchase heroin filling the news, stories of successful students who begin their educational career without the ability to read, write, or add, and with the help of teachers, in the end graduate with a high school diploma would be the "breaking news!" Student achievement is a reflection of not only the effort of teachers and students, but also the help of family, friends and neighbors who support the students along the way. No, a high school diploma is not as glamorous as winning a singing competition, but it's far more useful, and a much better indicator of future success.

The good news is Simon Cowell is not attempting to take over education and turn it into Education Idol. Neither should the teachers. Our job is to support and raise up all of our students in a supportive environment that can include competition, but success should not be solely based on being first. Assessment of students should be accurate and constructive without judgment and delivered without sarcasm. Teachers should be recognized and honored for their efforts that include painfully long hours invested into the success of other people's children. The rewards of scholastic success should be greater opportunities to prosper in life, not just a chance to become the next Education Idol.

January 13, 2006

2-minute warning?

The end of each semester is always a challenging time. The courses I teach are built sequentially: each assignment builds on the previous one. At the end of each semester the students combine all of their work into a portfolio. The portfolio assignment requires them to use literally everything they have learned since their first day in class. If they miss a day along the way, and don’t make up the work, it is reflected in the portfolio assignment. If the portfolio assignment was a building, then some of the structures would be sound and upright, and many are. However some other portfolio-buildings look more like a bomb has exploded in them leaving huge gaping holes and placing the entire structure on a 15 degree lean. Students with incomplete portfolios often experience an increase in panic as the days remaining decrease, and they realize that their building will not stand. In a desperate effort to rectify the condemned project, and raise it to a safe position, students scramble around to complete their missing work like a football team down on points with only 2 minutes left to play.

The hurry-up offense might work in some football game situations, but it rarely makes a significant difference in the academic life of a student who has fallen behind. Few things make me more crazy than a student who suddenly “wakes up” two weeks before the end of the semester and asks to be tutored in everything they have missed when they have not attended class either physically or mentally. I know, it’s part of the job, but it’s a lousy part of the job, and at times I feel like I am on the defense. Honestly, sometimes I just want to tell the hopelessly behind students “too bad.” But that type of sarcasm is ineffective and inappropriate. Yes, the students are responsible for their learning experience. Student buy-in is critically important to their success. Teachers can’t teach the unwilling. But it’s worth taking the time to help a kid who experiences an epiphany. I have witnessed students with less than a minute to play carry the ball in for a winning touchdown. However, despite our best efforts, it doesn’t always work that way. In cases like that, who is responsible? Do we just “wash our hands” like Pilate? Or do we “stick in there” until the time has elapsed completely?

The problem with sticking in there is the degree of stress that it places on us teachers. If we are going to stay in the game, then both pacing, and maintaining mental and physical health is important. I went home every night this week completely exhausted and fatigued. Not good for my family, my teaching, or me. My fatigue was a result of spending 6 periods a day, every day this week, trying to help the recently resurrected catch up so that they could not only pass the class, but also (and more importantly) finally learn the material. Sometimes that’s what it takes to be an effective teacher: a willingness to teach, review, re-teach, remediate, and spoon-feed over and over again, whenever we are asked, for as long as we are asked, until the students “get it.” Teachers unwilling to do so are not serving their students well. Students must be willing to come to the teacher, sure; but sometimes the teacher must be willing to go to the students. Be nice if that was the first thing taught in teacher prep programs.

I learned from my master teacher to tackle the last 6 weeks of class by creating a cumulative assignment that students could work on independently. That way the teacher is freed up to work with those who need extra help. I have found this to be an extremely effective teaching tool. However, I find a greater number of students needing more and more individual help in the last few weeks of the course. Instead of being a time for me to take-a-knee, I find myself kneeling next to students spending the majority of my class time working with those who need extra attention. Clearly they are not getting the help they need during the normal classroom day. Is this a reflection on my teaching style, or a statement about the caliber of some of today’s students? Probably both. I am most frustrated by those who simply throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do it.” These are often the students who get left behind. Of course they can do the work, it’s a question of their personal level of commitment. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter where a student starts, so long as they are committed to success in the end. I’ve seen it happen. Even those with the least preparation can catch up and can succeed. But students do themselves a huge disservice when they wait until the 2-minute warning to figure it out and make that commitment. It’s like the Packers down by 21 with two minutes left trying to win the game. Even the mighty Brett Favre would be hard-pressed to pull a victory out of that one. And yet, kids try it all the time. Ah youth.

Sometimes the result is that kids fail, even in the last 2 minutes. I hate that result. But there is as much if not more of a lesson to be learned by failing then there is by squeezing out a last second field goal for a "D-". Sometimes a “F” drives home the point that school is serious business and requires the full commitment of both students and parents if success if to be reached in the end zone. We teachers are already committed (and as a result, some of us are ready to be committed. After a week like this, I know I am.) Sometimes the winning play can be called, and the team can win in the waning moments of the game. And understand: teaching is a team sport. Like football, the teacher is the quarterback, the students are the players, and learning is the goal achieved by putting in that extra effort and kicking the ball between the uprights with no time left on the clock. “And the crowd goes wild!”

Please post your comments below.

January 06, 2006

Teachers are people too?

After two weeks off, my mind is not on the time I spend in the classroom, but the time I spend out of the classroom. For teachers to be effective, our lives need to be balanced, and our experiences well-rounded. Not well-rounded as in we need to know what it’s like to have been arrested, but well-rounded in that our lives are not completely and wholly about our students and our classrooms. For some teachers it’s natural to take time away from education to educate themselves in their other interests (e.g. writing, tractor operation, and home repair), for other teachers it takes a lot of work to not always work. Know what I mean?

What we do outside of our classrooms, away from education, without students enhances who we are when we are in our classrooms, involved in education, with our students. Having “been there,” and, “done that,” can be as useful a teaching tool as knowing the seven great wonders of the world, or the Pythagoras theorem. Sharing a life experience during a “teachable moment,” can have a greater and more long-lasting impact then an additional nightly reading assignment, or 50 more odd numbered questions. The week before school dismissed for Christmas break I caught five students cheating on an assignment. When they came to class the next afternoon, before enforcing punishment, I shared my own high school experience with cheating, and getting away with it. I cheated on my 10th grade English final. (I know, I know, that should completely disqualify me from education as a profession.) In my own defense, I was given the test answers from a buddy who just happened to be the former mayor’s son. I didn’t understand why we got away with it. The same teacher busted one of our future almost-valedictorians for cheating on a book report. The student picked a Reader’s Digest review at random, transcribed it, and turned it in. When the fraudulent paper was returned, the English teacher noted the Reader’s Digest volume, issue and date along with a giant red “F”. I still don’t know how he figured that one out. But we still got away with cheating on his final. I have carried that guilt around with me for 25 years. It won’t go away. Maybe that’s why he let us “get away with it.” But I digress. I shared my cheating story with the cheaters in my class to reinforce the point that cheating is never ok. I know, because I have “been there.” We’ll see how effective I was when school resumes Monday.

The teacher work schedule of approximately 190 out of 261 potential workdays annoys many other professionals. There’s also the assumed 6-hour workday. Non-educators don’t understand why educators should get so much “time off.” Teachers will argue that most of this “time off” is spent preparing for the “time on” not required by other professions. True, prep time, grading time, field-trip time, in-service time, and professional growth time adds up. But those extra 2 hours every day and 71 days in the year also need to be used for other non-educational educational experiences.

Some teachers like to travel. Travel is an excellent opportunity to gain perspective. Those who have never left the confines of their own town, city, or state miss out on learning what life is like outside of their comfort zone. Living outside one’s comfort zone is important for the teacher to experience and use to relate to students who come from foreign places. Just understanding that the Sun rises and sets in Pakistan the same way it does in Philadelphia is important. Other teachers like to spend time exploring outdoors. Long camping trips, hikes, rock climbing, and even gardening can all be useful when teaching about planet Earth. Understanding the process of nature, death and renewal, stability and change is useful not only in teaching biology, but English, math, and all of the other subjects as well. Some call those with a broad interest and accomplishments in science and the arts “Renaissance men.” Teachers must be “renaissance people.” If you teach Art, you must spend your off time being an artist. You must paint or draw or sculpt regularly. If you teach P.E., you must run, ride, or swim as often as possible. If you teach a foreign language, you must take time to go to places where you can practice. If you don’t “practice what you preach,” you will lose your impact with your students.

I know teachers that spend all of there off time at school preparing to teach. They design wonderful, intricate, complicated lesson plans to “wow” their students. When they are not at school they are at home on the computer conducting research or chatting online about teaching with other teachers. They are completely up to date on all of the most recent teaching techniques and can share with you all of the current data concerning test scores, and demographics, not to mention union issues. Being well prepared is vitally important to successful teaching. But being well prepared also includes taking time for you. Time to rest, time to relax, time to regroup, refocus, and revive. Those non-educators who criticize the teacher schedule fail to understand the stress related to working with kids. My favorites are those little loves that shout out, “I need help.” I respond, “Ask me a question so that I can answer.” Silence. I follow up, “have you read the assignment?” “No.” (Sigh).

One of my favorite books is Stuart B. Palonsky’s 900 Shows a Year. Palonsky writes an excellent account of a year of teaching. Teaching 900 shows a year is one of the most demanding and challenging endeavors one can choose. Spending time away from the classroom relaxing and developing who we are as individuals makes us better and more effective teachers. Sharing our passion and command of the subject matter seasoned with our passion and capacity for living proves to our students that teachers are people too.

Please post your comments below.

January 01, 2006

Why do kids hate school?

Kids hate school because they hate they way they are treated by the people at school. For many students, school is not a positive, useful, or even educational experience. Sometimes it’s other kids, sometimes their teachers, sometimes it’s just they way they see themselves in the context of the school they attend. The problem is not learning. Kids love to learn. They love to feel successful. They soak up knowledge like sponges, when they are equipped to do so. But our students do not come to school equally equipped. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not. Kids can be expert at hiding their disabilities and feelings of inadequacy. So what are teachers to do?

Well, we can take the neo-conservative attitude that the kids' problems are the kids' problems and not our problems. Or we can take the liberal position that we need to change the type of human beings the students are. Both approaches feel like no-win situations to me, and here’s why. If teachers consider themselves to be conduits of information only, and that the success or failure of the student is solely the student’s responsibility, then the teacher is not teaching. This is how Dictionary.com defines teaching. Yes, the teacher “imparts knowledge,” but skills are achieved through doing, not listening alone. The fourth definition, “to cause to learn by example or experience,” says that we need to get involved in the learning process with our students. We need to get our hands dirty and our feet wet working with our students. To teach students how to learn, we need to be involved in the learning process ourselves, right along side our students. Some of the best teaching years I’ve experienced have been when I’ve taught new courses where I literally kept “one step ahead” of the pupils. I learned along with them. Sure, those were not years of polished lectures, and perfect assignments, but I was actively involved with my kids, and that made the experience better for them and me. There were no manufactured “ah-ha!” moments, but instead we shared our discoveries. Now I don’t advocate that every teacher teach like this every year, but there is a benefit to both student and teacher when learning happens organically.

However, teaching is a profession, and that means fewer “organic” moments and greater standards, structure, and discipline. True, our students do not come to school perfect people. More true is that teachers are never going to make students perfect people. It’s not within our power, nor is it our responsibility. Really, teachers are just there to teach. Everything else is extra. And today, there are a lot of extras. But that is where NCLB and California’s focus on the Content Standards come in. Used to be that teachers could pretty much do anything they wanted to in their classrooms when the bell rang and the door closed. That’s when teaching was “fun.” Sure, the students may not have scored over 1200 on the SAT, but hey, they had a great time learning about making masks for the Greek dramas. As students achievement, especially in California, fell further and further behind, a renewed emphasis on strict, and focused classroom instruction arose. Whether you like NCLB or the Content Standards, or not, the goals established (higher test scores and greater student achievement) are beginning to be met. But many classroom teachers will tell you that curriculum today is dry, and that “teaching to the test” is not the best way to be an effective educator.

So a happy medium? How does a teacher present dynamic engaging lessons full of authentic learning experiences while striving to raise test scores? Post your great ideas and useful links below and lets find out.

It’s important because we want kids to love, not hate school. I teach elective courses. Core teachers often look at elective courses as meaningless fluff, and some are. But my courses, and those of my colleagues, challenge our students to use and apply all that they are taught in their core classes. In English, students learn to write essays; in electives, they write essays about what they have created. In Algebra they learn to used mathematical equations; in electives they use math to calculate a variety of equations and apply their results. But most importantly, the students have fun while they learn. Perhaps it’s easier to structure an elective course around enjoyable learning. However, I use the Content Standards in all of my lessons, and all students need to be prepared to take the same end-of-course, and standardized tests. I don’t believe that just because the subject matter is dry that the course needs to be boring. School can be fun and effective; as I have already written here: School is suppose to be fun?

Kids who are connected to campus like school better and achieve better success. I believe that a big part of a students’ success at school comes from their overall experience at school. If they hate school, they will not be successful. Students who are less involved tend to enjoy school less, and are less successful students. Those who play sports, an instrument in the school band, participate in a club, or act in the school play tend to love school. They are connected with the campus and other students. They feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. Furthermore, their participation in extracurricular activities requires them to maintain their grades (at our school a 2.0 GPA is the minimum). One of the beefs I have with NCLB and the Content Standards are the lack of recognition for the importance of extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, not all students can participate in everything a school can offer. For some, the only time they can spend on campus is during the school day, moving hourly between our classrooms. So the experience of every student in each one of our classrooms is vitally important. If students think that you don’t care about them personally (and no, caring personally about students is not in the job description) then many of them will not strive to achieve. Already faced with learning disabilities, problems at home, and very few successful scholastic experiences, they will simply shut down and fail. They will hate school. They won’t achieve, they won’t learn, they won’t succeed, and all your time and effort invested in teaching will go without positive constructive results. We can’t do the work for them, we can’t change their lives off-campus, but we can make their experiences in our classrooms positive, useful, and even educational.

Please post your comments below.