The First Four Weeks

The first four weeks of school are over.  Some thoughts:

  • As students transition into using new vocabulary words in their own writing, they seem to have an instinct for using unfamiliar words as adjectives.  I find myself reviewing parts of speech much more than I’d like to at the high school level.  Most teens need to be reminded that parts of speech are not interchangeable.  The first word of our first unit is “adulterate,” the verb meaning “to corrupt or make impure.”  Without closer guidance, they’ll just use it like this: “He was a really adulterate guy.”  Of course, if they’re talking about Bill Clinton, I guess I could give them half credit.
  • I usually don’t like open house, the annual night where parents come in to meet their kids’ teachers.  I never know what to do up there, not that it ever makes any difference, anyway.  Life goes on as if it never happened, and I forget everyone I met as soon as I go home.  This year, though, one parent thanked me for assigning  a list of options from which students have to choose for their independent reading this quarter.  “If you hadn’t assigned these,” she said, “the kids would never read them.”  It’s nice enough to get a compliment, but it’s even better when a parent understands the reasoning behind what I do!
  • Yesterday, a college student called me to say that he’d missed the last two weeks of class because his grandmother died.  He offered to bring me a note from his parents.  I told him that was unnecessary. 
  • Every year I notice this: before our morning announcements, kids in an honors class will all stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance together.  Kids in non-honors classes rarely will.  It’s a very stark, and very absolute, difference.  This begs a chicken-or-the-egg question: is a student’s citizenship influenced by their academic performance, or is their academic performance influenced by their citizenship?  Or are both, perhaps, shaped by the same factors in the home environment…
  • I’ve fielded calls from over half a dozen parents of honors kids so far about the work load I assign.  They all say that they are “concerned” about it.  Sometimes that means, “I don’t want my kid to have to do so much work.”  I haven’t seen much of that this year, though.  The tenor of these several conversations has been, “I want my kid to succeed, but he/she just feels overwhelmed so far.  Any advice for how to make this work?”  I appreciate the stress that a new year of hard classes can put on a family.  We talk about options and expectations, and for my part, I hope they stick it out rather than drop to a lower level class where I know they won’t be as well prepared for the future than they would be with me.  Some kids seem to be overdoing their schedule in all areas of their life, others might have simply had too light demands placed on them in the past.  As my own children get older, though, I understand the difficulty of balancing priorities in a growing family that wants its kids to be able to do it all. 
  • As one class finished reading The Scarlet Letterthis week, after the quizzes and literary analysis assignments we did, I had them choose four genres from a variety of creative writing options on a list, to use in a review.  One girl came in this morning and told me that she had written a rap, which she’d memorized.  Naturally, I asked her to perform it for the class.  It was excellent.  We all enjoyed it and, best of all, it showed a very thorough comprehension of the themes of the novel.  Alas, Chillingworth gets no juice, even from the sucka MCs. 
  • Teachers had to fill out failing notices this week: students getting a D or lower in each class get an official document to take home warning parents of possible failure at the end of the quarter.  The form we fill out has us use letter codes for explanations of why students are failing, such as C=poor attendance, or E=missing or incomplete assignments.  I’d like to suggest that we need more options, such as Y=insitutionalized apathy brought on by uncritical consumption of popular media, P=emotional and intellectual dysfunction resulting from a broken, unhealthy home environment, or N=consistently subjugates schoolwork to higher priorities of flirting and abusing chemical substances.  Also, the memo we get directing us to do this always reminds us that we are not allowed to give a failing grade at the end of a quarter unless a failing notice has been sent out at some point first.  As I figure it, the most logical course of action is to send a failing notice to everybody. 
  • A student asked me to write a recommendation letter for colleges and scholarships already this year, and after laboring over a blank screen for a few minutes, I typed, “Kelsey rocks!”  Liking what I saw, I printed it up on school letterhead and signed it.  When she came back, I handed it to her.  She was sufficiently amused.  By that time, though, I had also composed a “real” recommendation for her.  The next time a kid wants a letter, I think I’ll write, “This student hardly ever comes to school drunk any more, and the U.S. Marshall’s office has finally dropped all charges against him.” 
  • Yesterday, three college students contacted me during my weekly office hours at UNLV.  You may not get what an encouraging sign that is.  For three first-year college students to reach out to a professor on their own time, outside of class, this early in the year, is huge.  One of them came in to make up a quiz; another had to miss a class but asked if she could make it up by attending a later session that I also teach.  This is exactly the kind of initiative that teachers LOVE to see in students. 
  • I’ve had three parent conferences so far this year.  The first was for a couple who wanted teachers to be aware that their son has ADHD, and needs official accommodations to succeed.  I use those accommodations anyway–extra time, prefered seating, etc.–because they constitute good teaching.  So far, he’s maintaining a C, despite spending a lot of his class time staring at girls, looking around to find things to laugh at, and pretending to flick spit of his mouth with his tongue.  The second was for a couple who wanted their son to move to an easier English class.  The third was for a mother who was upset that her diabetic daughter is failing, because she has missed more than half the days of each class so far.  I found out yesterday that another student had gone to a counselor, almost crying, wanting to be put in an easier class.  Unfortunately, she’s already in the easiest possible class, outside of special ed.
  • After the shuffling of new/late enrollments, leveling, and flakiness associated with the first four weeks of school, my smallest class has 35 students.  My largest has 44.  My classroom holds 40 desks. 
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