Student Notes, part 2

My junior classes are finishing Huckleberry Finn soon, and last week one student showed me something she found in the copy of the book that I’d checked out to her.

There were a series of notes sprinkled throughout–little motivational conversations left by a former student, intended to cheer up whatever random readers might come across it in the future.

It took me a bit, but I now remember the girl who put those notes in there a few years ago. Her plan to spread some joy worked–at least one student has appreciated her efforts.

Here is the note she left at the end of the book. It says, “It’s been an incredible journey and I’m glad I was able to share it with you! I hope my little notes of encouragement helped you finish the book by making the task a little more fun! All I ask in return is that you keep this note and all of the others in place so future readers can have the same experience you did! Have a wonderful rest of your high school career and remember to follow your dreams and make an adventure, like our friend Huck, here did. [heart] Alexis, 2014”

Further proof that I work at the coolest school in the world!

alexis

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Two Nice Student Notes

One class recently finished a unit on Romanticism. After a couple of days on Transcendentalism, I sent them out into our quad to take notes on as much “nature” as they could find there, with directions to imitate the style of Thoreau. The last section of the notes focused on drawing life lessons from these observations, like Thoreau did in Walden.

One girl turned in her notes with this awesome little addendum at the end. Clearly, she got the point. I drew the smiley face.

note1

Another girl turned hers in with this attachment:

note2

Some Funny Student Writing

Last month I taught a lesson on parallelism as a rhetorical writing tool. At the end, I assigned students to come up with some examples of their own, based on templates I gave them. Here are some of my favorites:

  • There should be a woman in tears, running from the past; a man in love, chasing the girl; and a person in agony, awaiting the end.
  • It is not nice to play with dead bodies, to talk with them, or to dance with them.
  • Kermit the frog abuses his fame, ignores his children, and denies his dependence on PCP.
  • There should be a cat in labor, birthing the kittens; a dog in heat, attracting the males; and a centipede in solitude, contemplating the electoral college.
  • Obama created life, destroyed the housing market, and ate my parents.
  • Mr. Huston was a huge fan of showing the “relevant” episodes of The Simpsons, spoiling the Star Wars episodes, and disappointing the sociopaths of fourth period with bad jokes :)

Students as Winners and Losers

I still believe that every student can be a winner.  A winner is someone who shows up every day and works hard, caring about achieving results, even if they don’t often succeed.  You can get Cs and still be a winner.

But too many of you are comfortable being a loser.  Being a loser has nothing to do with talent or even results: it has to do with maturity as evinced by discipline and effort.

Some of you may think it’s rude to label someone as a loser, but I know that honesty can be a higher virtue than immediate kindness.  It’s a sign of a greater caring, a devotion to guiding you to success, even when you don’t care enough to improve.

This truth leads to even more important truths: being a loser is a bad thing.  It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does make you a bad student, and being a bad student isn’t good.  If you have chosen to be a loser, you should feel bad about that.  You should want to change it and be a winner.

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Why I Take Attendance In College

Every semester.  As I go over the syllabus with a new class, there is inevitably the response from a few freshmen, “Why do you take attendance?  That’s for kids— stop treating us like kids.”

The only reason people would have a problem with taking attendance is because they want to ditch class with no penalty.  It’s time to learn that there is no such thing as an action with no consequence.

“But if I can pass the class without being there every day, why should I always come?”

To which I’d explain that that’s not the point.  A critical part of college—perhaps the biggest part, in fact—is inculcating professionalism in students.  Across the board, regardless of major, molding students into professionals may be the number one goal.

And that means attendance.

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How Family Dysfunction Hurts Education

Three examples from my experience as a teacher:

1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school.  His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming.  Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.

2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights.  The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.

3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.

Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point?  I wish.  I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.

Family structure and stability are so crucial to success.  That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research.  Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect.  And kids just keep paying the price for it…

 

Sick Day Origins

Teachers: “It’s 3 A.M. and I’ve thrown up five times.  Maybe I should call in sick?  But the juniors have that big project due today, and I want to be sure I hold them to it.  Besides, a lot of them worked really hard and they want me to see their final product.  And I have two parent conferences I need to be there for.  And if I stay home sick, I’ll just have to go in for a bit anyway, because I’ll have to switch out half the materials for 3rd and 4th period for stuff the sub will be able to use.  And I have three kids coming in for detention today–no way do they get off the hook!  Plus, I’m doing my favorite lesson of the quarter with the sophomores and I don’t want to miss that, or push it back, or have a sub messing that up.  …Oh!  And I wanted to talk to those guys in 1st period about the game yesterday!  *sigh*  I’ll just go in.  It’s too much hassle to take a day off.”

Students:*Achoo!*  Sweet!  I have the sniffles.  I’m gonna take a week off!”

Sick Kids

Something I never would have suspected before becoming a teacher is just how many kids are really sick.  I mean truly, chronically ill.

We all know that tons of kids fake or exaggerate sickness every day so they can stay out of school, but in the majority of classes I’ve ever taught, there has been a student with some physical or emotional condition that kept them out of school so often that it hurt their grades and education.  These are serious conditions that they couldn’t possibly help.

Years ago I had a student who developed an inoperable brain cancer.  The next year I transferred to a new school where I had a student who developed an inoperable brain cancer.  Maybe it was me?  The first girl thrived and graduated.  The other girl traveled and tried various treatments, but we lost track of her.  Her mother fell out of contact with the school and the student ended up being withdrawn for non-attendance.

Some of the sicknesses that I’ve learned more about because I’ve had students who had to miss a lot of school because of them: Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, social anxiety disorder, vertigo, and mono, which is more common than you think.

Apparently, kids can get pneumonia while living in the desert.  I even had a student go to Hawaii and get pneumonia.

I’ve received plenty of long emails from moms who want to introduce their child’s special medical needs (and rightfully so), though one that stands out is from only two years ago when a mother wrote to warn that her daughter might be woozy that day because she had a major relapse in an ongoing sickness, but demanded against her mother’s wishes that she go to school that day because she didn’t want to fall behind.

I’ve had two deaf students and two in wheelchairs, though never one who was legally blind.  I had my first autistic student this last year–he was very shy in person but communicated via email very well.

Students also get hurt a lot.  Cheerleading must be the most dangerous sport in the world–one year I had three girls who each sustained an injury that required surgery, because of falls in cheer.

I’ve known one girl who was lost a leg in a car accident due to a friend’s reckless driving, and one young man whose off-roading triggered a rare lung disorder that killed him.  I’ve had one student commit suicide.  Once school where I worked had three students die in different incidents in one year.

With all the major medical problems that so many students suffer, frankly, it’s a miracle that our society’s educational endeavors manage to limp along at all.

An Anti-Teacher Witch Hunt

News outlets reported on Thursday that Natalie Munroe, a teacher in Pennsylvania, had been suspended, pending termination, for writing critical comments about her students on her blog. 

According to the articles (such as here and here), she had written that her students were “lazy” and “whiners,” among other things.  My initial thought was to ask if she had directed comments at any certain students, or called them by name.  It appears that she hadn’t.  She did, however, use profanity on the blog; while it is unclear from the reports if it was directed at the students, it probably was, and that would be wrong–abusive language is never appropriate.  She also seems to have made comments about children’s physical appearances, and written things like, “I hate your kid.”  Yes, that’s over the line.

But the headlines, the complaints against her, and the comments on articles I’ve read mostly excoriate her for criticising students in general, not for the inappropriate content itself.  Parents and students at the school are outraged that a teacher could write about frustrations over poor student performance. 

Really?  Have any of the offended parties here bothered to consider what merit the criticisms might have?  Is it really so awful to suggest that maybe, just maybe, some teens actually are lazy whiners? 

Before anyone goes crying “Blasphemy!” and prepares to storm my castle with pitchforks and torches, can you see the irony of the situation?  If the teacher here was saying that her students and their parents are self-absorbed and entitled, how exactly is their response proving her wrong? 

About a year and a half ago, a report was released which studied 30,000 American teens and found that a third of teens are thieves, two thirds are cheaters, and about 80% lie to their parents.  Fully 93%, however, said that they are proud of their good character.  Wow. 

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Pen Demographics

Every class leaves things behind after the bell rings.  Once my charges scoot along on their way, I take stock of the ruin often left of my classroom.  I usually try to have them pick up during the last few minutes, but, nonetheless, a thin layer of detritus often remains lingering, like the cast-off slough of a snake skin.

Among the endless items I could catalogue here–notebooks, textbooks, hats, PE shoes, jackets, notes to each other, random drawings, broken pencils, lunch bags, gym bags, wrist bands, toys, candy, and other accessories–the most interesting are the pens.

Pens, if they have a company’s name and logo on them, can tell you a lot about someone.  How many TV mysteries have been solved because the detective saw a pen in a suspect’s office from the motel where the body was found? 

The pens left in my classroom–even by good classes at a good school–invariably have advertising on them for casinos, social service organizations, and (by far the most often) pharmaceuticals. 

I’ve never seen a pen left in my class that came from a college, a bookstore, or a theater.  Maybe some kids do have those pens but don’t lose them.  Does it say something about people that those with casino pens lose them and those with college pens don’t? 

This might be tied in to a fact that I often remind students of when they tell me that they “forgot” to do their homework: you remember the things you care about.

After all, I have never once had a student exit class and leave behind their cell phone.

If the Real World Worked the Way Students and Parents Think School Should Work

Scene 1

IRS- Tax forms must be submitted by April 15.  No exceptions. 

Citizen A- But I didn’t have time!  I had other things to do. 

IRS – What things got in the way of a priority obligation that comes around ever year?

Citizen A – You know, like dances and field trips and clubs and stuff.

IRS – That’s OK.  Just get it in when you have a chance, please.

Citizen B – I didn’t understand it.  Can I just do it later?

IRS – Did you file for an extension with us first?

Citizen B- No.

IRS – Did you contact us for help ahead of time?

Citizen B – No.

IRS – Sure!  Do whatever you want! 

Citizen C – I have some other excuse.  Can I get out of it, too?

IRS – Of course!  Those firm deadlines aren’t for people with excuses for not getting it done. 

Citizen D- This sucks.  I don’t want to do it either.

IRS – Hey, sure, cool.  No pressure.  Do some of it when you can, or not.  Whatever you want. 

Citizen E- I already did my taxes, but I did them way, way wrong.  Can I still turn them in and get credit?

IRS- Fine by me!  It wouldn’t be fair to make you do them over.

 **********

Scene 2

Boss- Smithson, you’ve been late to work more often than not, you no-call/no-showed twice, your last expense report was copied from Wikipedia, and you keep breaking the company’s policy about no personal calls during work hours.  I’m afraid I have to reduce your salary.

Employee- You can’t do that!  You hate me!  That’s not fair! 

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