A Secret About Classroom Crowding

Everybody knows that classrooms are overcrowded.  Many would be surprised, though, to hear how bad it is: some classes will start this year with upwards of 50 kids in them.  Shocking!

But don’t worry.  It’s not as bad as they say.  Really!

Most of those explosive numbers are in remedial classes.  One of the reasons why kids end up in those lowest-level classes is because of their chronic truancy–many of them won’t bother to show up a good deal of the time.

So in a class of 50, maybe 40-45 will show up on any given day.

And with all the transiency and disciplinary measures that will always accompany lowest-level classes, by the end of the school year that 50-kid roster will be down to about 30.

The 50-student class will exist far more often on paper than in actual seats in a classroom.

Square Fairness Pegs and Round Reality Holes

I know of a student who’s been enrolled in a high school class since January, but who has never showed up to class.  Perhaps he had moved, but had not officially withdrawn, leaving the school to do so after he’d been gone long enough.  This happens all the time. 

Last week, the office asked his teachers to confirm his absences, a step in the withdrawal procedure.  But, then, a couple of days later, there was a homework request in those teachers’ mailboxes for him.  Apparently, he was out of school due to a medical condition, and the teachers were all being asked to provide “homework” to cover January 24-March 16.  Was this a joke?  Sadly, no. 

It’s beyond impossible to give a bunch of worksheets and textbook questions to a student a teacher has never even met to cover two months–just one week shy of being an entire quarter.  If that were even an option, any attendance would be pointless, and every kid could just do their stuff at home and mail it in.  The request was a pretty disturbing insult to the integrity of all classes. 

What kind of parents would expect a school to able to almost literally phone in enough work to cover a quarter of a school year?  If they did think that way, how could they respect an institution that they think is so easy?  And how could a school go along with the farce of such perceptions?  

Continue reading

Some Sad School Stories

There are forty students enrolled in my third hour class.  Thirty showed up today: one had been suspended, nine others were truant. 

For the previous two classes, their homework—as explained at the beginning and end of each class and posted on the board—was to get a copy of a novel from a list I’d given them, and merely to bring it in to class today.  The list included authors such as Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (and, for that matter, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer) among two dozen others, the only other requirement being that the book they choose be at least 250 pages long.  I told them that our school librarian had a copy of the list and could help them find a book.  Obviously, they had a few hundred books to choose from.

Out of the thirty students in class today, only ten had a book.  A few others probably had a book but left it at home.  However, the vast majority of the unprepared twenty clearly hadn’t put forth any effort at all, hadn’t bothered to write down or remember the assignment, and had lost or thrown away my handout list.  They didn’t even care enough to try to do it.  Keep in mind that the assignment was merely to have a copy of the book with them.  That was it. 

And only one-fourth of the kids in that class will get credit for it. 

Is this a remedial class?  Far from it.  Continue reading

Email About A Truant Student

The following is an email I just sent to a parent of a student.  The young man in question was caught leaving school with some friends by another teacher on his prep period.  Sadly, this kind of communication is not especially rare in my work experience: I send emails like this one at least a few times per semester, and could send several times as many more, if more parents even bothered to request “make up work.” 

(This parent must have “appealed” [read: demanded, begged, threatened to sue] the school, so his blatant string of skipped classes have all been “excused.”  This was the second time this week a [nominal] student of mine had such an array of ditched days excused, though the parents of the other boy didn’t have the effrontery to ask for “make up work” for two months of voluntary truancy.)

Mrs. _______, A request for make up work for your son _____ has come to my attention. Since starting to come back to class recently, _____ has shown little engagement in class work, much less motivation to discuss making up what he missed during his absences (on one vocabulary assignment that he did do–writing example sentences to illustrate the meanings of words–the majority of his sentences simply said, “________ is a big word”).

With 14 absences at this point in the semester [in my class alone], and the majority of those within the last few weeks, he has a staggering load of “make up” work to do. Add to that the fact that practically none of that work is just a simple worksheet that can be handed out; most work involves examples, class discussions, and extensive reading. Such work can be made up, but it is difficult and requires a commitment of time in here outside of school hours. Further, he has missed a few quizzes on material that he was not here to review; making those up with any kind of quality will obviously be very difficult.

That being said, he’s welcome to try, and I’m certainly here to help him do so. What he would absolutely need to do is come in with at least ten or fifteen minutes set aside, before or after school, to get started on some of this “make up” work, but that’s just a start. Hopefully he can get some of this work turned in for some credit when we return from Christmas Break.

_____ got a 50.9% first quarter, and currently stands at a 20.4%. A productive thing to do at this point is to start planning for how he will make up the credits he will probably lose this semester, especially since the long block schedule, with its two extra classes per semester, may not be available next year.

_____ has potential and doesn’t seem to have any academic problem in his way, so certainly next semester could be very successful. I wish you both good luck and look forward to seeing him in class regularly, where I’m sure he can do very well.

Clearly, I’m trying to introduce a dose of reality to this situation, without being quite confrontational enough to warrant any ire directed at me.  I don’t need any more grief this close to Christmas.

I think I’ll keep this email as a form letter for future use.  Please tell me that other states aren’t like this.