Archive for May, 2008

In education’s corner of the Intertubes, there’s a lot of ranting and raving about parents not being involved in their students’ schooling. Parents aren’t involved. Parents aren’t supportive. Parents are non-responsive. Parents are angry at the suggestion that their little angel could be a disruptive beast who never turns in work.

I have yet to meet one of these parents. That I haven’t met them either proves or disproves that they exist, depending on how you look at it, I suppose. Yet although I’m sure that there’s some truth in saying that there some parents are too busy holding three jobs to care about what happens with their little truant, by-and-large the parents I’ve even tried to contact are extremely supportive.

Case in point: Just yesterday, I met with the parents of Ceasar Nothisrealname, one of my failing sophomores. Though I can say he legitimately bright enough that he should be in AP classes — that is, I don’t tell his parents that because they want to hear it — he’s loud, talkative and will interrupt lectures and discussion with bombastic non sequiturs.

Ceasar would have close to a C if he made up his test and quiz. He just hasn’t. He has rarely turned in other assignments on time.

Confused if not frustrated or angry, his parents called Ceasar’s counselor yesterday, arranging to meet me after class for a same-day appointment. My master teacher would have been there had he known about it, but he had called in for a sub — me — that day.

Any trepidation I felt about talking to parents and fielding their questions evaporated in the first 30 seconds. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, they, whether they knew it or not, revealed Ceasar’s motivations, favored learning style, attitude and outlook. That he wants to play sports. That he learns well by listening to lecture, rather than taking notes. That he has only ever failed one class, and because of a questionable teacher.

Good to know.

When I start finally start teaching and getting paid for it, I plan on making parent contact within the first two months. Reasonable parents are always an asset, and are always leverage.

Here’s to my hope that I haven’t just been lucking out.

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Our semester’s almost over, and my sophomores have one major project left. About a third of my classes are failing, and about a fifth of each class has such a low F that, even if they get full credit on the final project, it’s impossible for them to pass.

Granted, most of those irredeemable Fs rarely, if ever, show up, but there are more than a few who show up every day. They just don’t turn anything in.

Some of them are quite bright, and, given how many of the assignments are credit/no-credit, should have the highest marks in the class. Throughout the entire semester, they don’t do any of the work, whether their in-class work or the rare homework assignment I’ve assigned.

Clearly, they weren’t motivated enough, even to come in at any time during my turn-in-make-up-assignments-at-lunch week. Nobody showed up after school when I offered time to help them out.

At least one world history student stopped showing up last month. Since then, truancy caught him once and forced him to come to class. I took the opportunity to ask him why he stopped coming to class. Exasperatedly, he said:

I already have an F. I’m already going to have to re-take this class. Why should I show up?

I checked his grade after class, and he was well within the passing range; he still had a shot. I would have told him this if I had seen him since.

So many have resigned to their fate already. Is there anything more I can do but resign along with them?

Memorial Day was my day of work. I didn’t get much work done.

However much I racked my brains, I had tried and failed to brainstorm good multiple-choice questions. However long I stared at Microsoft Word, satisfactory test items just didn’t come. Then, an idea.

Inspired by a faint memory of one of my high school teachers, I decided to let my seniors write their own test questions for this semester’s pass-the-class-in-order-to-graduate cumulative final. Having students write hypothetical questions about course content is an excellent review activity — that’s the main impetus behind a local iteration of Cornell Notes, at least.

I gave them a short primer on effective test questions — make the question a complete sentence, have all the answers about the same length, no silly answers — and a list of a few topics I’d like questions written about. I warned that only the very best questions would make the cut.

At the very least, it was an excellent way to gauge which students needed help understanding the content, and who was doing just fine. I could then intercede on their behalf and give them a little nudge in the right direction.

There was a range of questions, including fact-recall:

22. What are the names of three major Federalists?
a. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson.
b. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry.
c. John Jay, James Madison, George Washington.
d. James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton.

There were some questions with a little bit of higher thinking:

5. In which system of government do states have more power than a national government?
a. Unitary.
b. Confederacy.
c. Federal.
d. Communist.

I rewrote most of the rest to make them a little bit more challenging, or edited them for style errors.

Of course, I had a few questions that certainly didn’t make the cut.

xii. What are names of the two houses of Congress?
a. Executive, judicial.
b. Legislative, Supreme Court.
c. Judicial, executive.
d. White House, Pentagon.

In case you don’t know American government, this doesn’t even include the correct answers. Considering who giggled as I read that question, it’s safe to say that this was a joke, but just to be sure, I walked that whole section of the class through the names of each house in our bicameral duplex of a legislature.

Just plain silly made an appearance, also.

vi. Why am I so sexy?
a. My style.
b. My looks.
c. My hair.
d. The way I talk.

Seniors. Sheesh.

The student who wrote this question made sure to ask me the next day what I thought of it. I hesitated a bit, and then told him, jokingly.

I’m not going to put it on the test. It had a false premise.

After two minutes with a dictionary, he laughed out loud.