Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Good Cause & Welcome Break from the 'Grind'

Quite too often, the stretch of school year from Spring Break to the end - in the case this year 10 weeks - can be much too long. I affectionately refer to this period, from time to time, as the grind. This is not due to the fact that we are at school and working. On the contrary, time usually flies with a steady stream of full weeks and plenty to do...those are my favorite stretches of time. What can make this stretch tough is two weeks splintered by state testing (Mid-April), an increase in meetings - staff, team, annual IEP, year wrap-ups, next year preps, etc. - throughout these weeks, and a subtle yet powerful pull of students 'checking out' as the end approaches and the mercury rises. It's hard to blame the students too much; we all did it, it's part of being a kid and certainly a human being. You look forward to the end of school years, to summers with friends, to being done with homework. Another contributing factor is state testing. Once they are done, many students feel their 'work is done' for the year, and instilling the philosophy of being a lifelong learner can be a challenge.

Because of all this, breaks in the action are always welcome. Tomorrow brings a great change - our community service learning day. A chance to get outside, get our hands dirty, do some physical work and help a great cause in the process. Every fall, our entire 6th grade group (roughly 315 kids) goes to Camp Friendship @ Camp Edenwood in a neighboring suburb. Students spend the day goal-setting and using teamwork to conquer obstacle courses, low-ropes courses, and finally high-ropes courses and rock-climbing walls. Last spring, we started giving back, going for a day to help clean up camp, plant gardens, clear buckthorn, clean up the beach, paint cabins, and anything else that needs to be done around the camp. Why? The money saved by the organization, Friendship Ventures, can be used to provide scholarships for kids to attend summer camp there for people with physical and developmental handicaps. Additionally, it makes the camp a better place for these kids to be.

No matter how the weather turns out to be, it will be a great day of service learning. Our students will get a chance to see the world through someone else's eyes and help the community around them. For all of us, it will be a great break from the 'grind,' helping us all re-charge our batteries, sharpen our focus, and appreciate all we have in our lives.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Once in a blue moon; once upon a time...

Apparently I'm not doing such wonderful job at updating blog with thoughts, reflections, and reactions to what's going on in my classroom and school. Such is life I guess - spring break, standardized testing (taking up 2 weeks in April), preparing for the end of the school year/finals, warmer weather, etc. - not to mention every non-professional factor that can take up time in the day.

That said, there's been plenty worth writing about, and I hope to get to a lot of it here in the near future. Reflections on the state tests, the (un)glory that is spring time middle-schooler B.O., curricular updates, and many other particulars of the job.

Because it's so fresh in my consciousness, I need to express some thoughts about what transpired in my classroom yesterday. I was out of the building, and my students were left with an incredibly experienced, knowledgable, hard-working, and admittedly 'old-school' substitute teacher. This sub was left with explicit, typed lesson plans and knew exactly what I wanted all of my students to accomplish throughout the day. For the most part, things went exactly as they should have, except for one class. Now, I know that students treating a substitute differently than their "real" teacher is a time-honored tradition. I'm not that old; I remember how plenty of students would always try and get away with more (behavior) or less (work) while a sub was in charge. For the most part, I realize my students will probably do the same, and as long as they are not rude to the sub and get done what's expected, I'm fine with that.

Yesterday, however, was different for one class. Not only did some students try the usual antics associated with any substitute day, more than a few kids openly challenged this person's authority and their "right" to give them work to do. Amazingly, for how many times I've told my students that subs do exactly what I instruct them to do, they still don't realize this is the fact. Essentially, my students disrespected and disregarded this person because, basically, they "don't like her." This only serves as the latest example of a powerful and pervasive we are entitled mentality of so many modern students. Really - the sub is supposed to let you sleep & not do anything? Really - the adult is supposed to be over-the-top nice and let you slough off before you treat that person with the basic human decency they deserve?

I always tell my students that yes, it can be difficult to adjust to different teaching styles. Additionally, I want my students to learn independent thought and to not blindly follow people, rules, and policies they know to be wrong. However, I feel as though we're not headed for a good place - collectively - when 11- and 12-year-olds demand that every assignment/task/challenge asked of them be rationalized/explained/validated.

What happened to simply being respectful of those put in a position to help you? Further, what about a common human understanding and decency? As I tell my students - they better hope they all own their own company one day - odds are at some point they'll work for and answer to someone they don't like...what happens then?