Sunday, February 24, 2008

Truth: There're No Consequences

A friend of mine recently decided to quit subbing, because of the general lack of discipline and brattiness of the kids (she is in a different state from me, but I think the problem is more general than just our two states). She complained that the kids don't understand the meaning of "consequences" any more. As a sub, I often share her frustration. I have frequently come to the point where I seriously consider quitting subbing, too. Only my continuing fascination with observing children and their classroom environments keeps me going.

But here is my current diatribe about consequences:

Part of the problem is that there really ARE no consequences any more. Physical discipline is out. In our schools (the schools I sub in), you can't keep kids after school, because most of them get to and from school on buses, which run VERY tight schedules. You can keep them in from recess, but often the kids who need to be kept in are the kids who need the physical activity the most. And, for various reasons, many of the kids actually WANT to stay in for recess. You can't give them extra work, as they aren't able to finish the work that they have. You can't assign them classroom jobs, as they find the jobs more interesting than the work that they need to do. It doesn't matter if you change their seats, it just means they have to shout a bit louder to talk to their friends across the room. You can send them to the office, but there is an unwritten rule that you can only send one or at most two kids to the office - and if you do that, they think that it is your fault for not being able to handle the discipline problems. You can call their parents, but the parents often can't keep the kids under control either.

In my day, shaming kids into behaving worked for some, but nowadays, they just think it is funny to be ignorant - and, in terms of school work, being ignorant has its rewards. If they are ignorant enough, they get sent to a tutor, where they get one-on-one attention and if they play ignorant with the tutor, the tutor will usually give them the answers to all of the questions as they work through them.

I have noticed this with direction-giving, too. Kids will pretty much ignore directions given to the whole class. It is to their advantage to do so. After the directions have been given, all they have to do is get this puzzled look on their faces and say they don't understand, and the teacher will explain the whole thing again for them individually. If they still look confused, the teacher will usually give them an answer or two and will sometimes even restructure the assignment so it is a bit easier.

As far as discipline goes, there are a few things left that work: denying them a coveted privilege, such as inviting someone to eat lunch with them, may work. Putting them in an isolated spot to work can help, if there is such a place in the room or in the hall. But the arsenal for subs is pretty limited. Working for a class reward (such as an extra recess) sometimes works. But often, for me, it feels WRONG to reward them for behavior that should be the norm - just to keep them from behavior that is unacceptable.

I don't blame her for quitting.

Monday, February 04, 2008


I subscribe to A Word A Day by Anu Garg and I enjoy the words. But in all honesty, I enjoy the quotes even more. I like how they make me think about something. They are almost like poetry of ideas.

Here is today's quote:

We all have handicaps. The difference is that some of us must reveal ours,
while others must conceal theirs, to be treated with mercy. -Yahia
Lababidi, writer (b. 1973)

This is a quote that could easily appear on one the the GT groups that I belong to. Gifted people, and yes, I must use that "G" word, since it is the professionally accepted term for people who are fast and/or deep learners, are one of the groups that must often REVEAL their handicaps in order to be accepted. I have frequently taken part in conversations where, at some point, someone in the group will say, "You are so smart, I just can't keep up with you!" After such an outburst, the only way to get the conversation going again, or at least the easiest, is to admit that you might know a lot about X (whatever was being discussed), but you are terrible at Y (something equally valued - optimally something the blurter is good at).

People who are good at sports have to do this sometimes, too. "Yes, I am good at basketball, but I just don't get my math homework."

I guess it comforts us to think that, in the greater scheme of things, while some people might be good at X, Y, and Z, they aren't good at A, B, or C - to think that things might be marginally fair or equal, if we look at everything. The problem is, we really know that it isn't true. There are some people who are good at just about everything they try. And some people who truly aren't very good at anything.

But we can ignore reality, as long as people are willing to play the social game of pretend.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Does 90% Equal an A? Or 93%? Who Knows?

There has been a recent discussion on GT-Families about grading scales - in different parts of the country different percentages are used to determine what constitutes an A, a B, etc. But my feeling is that unless there is a standard reference of curriculum and test, percentage is a completely undetermined measure. It is like saying that I can eat half of a pizza. Unless you know how big the pizza is, that tells you very little.

(from post to GT-Families)

Why I Think the Actual Percentage Behind the Grades Means Nothing
by Laura Walsh

Test 1 on Cinderella
1. How many stepsisters did Cinderella have?
2. Was Cinderella's stepmother kind to her?
3. In the movie version, what animals helped Cinderella (name two)? (2 points)
4. Did Cinderella get to go to the ball?
5. Did Cinderella leave the ball on time?
6. What were Cinderella's shoes made out of?
7. Which girls were supposed to try on the glass slipper?
8. What happened when the glass slipper broke?
9. What happened at the end of the story?

Test 2 on Cinderella
1. What rank did Cinderella's father have in the realm?
2. Explain the derivation of Cinderella's nickname and the meaning of the original name.
3. What is the sociological significance of the stepmother in fairy tales?
4. How does the absence of the original mother effect the fairy tale?
5. Compare the stepmother and the stepsisters to people in other fairy tales?
6. What is the significance of the fairy godmother?
7. Why are Cinderella's slippers made of glass, when shoes are normally never made of this material?
8. Why is it psychologically important to the story that the prince be kind and handsome? How would the story change if the prince were fat or ugly? (two points)
9. Compare the Disney version of Cinderella to a Cinderella story from another country in the world.

Town Meeting on Education

(from post to GT-Talk):

There was a town meeting on education here yesterday, where around 150 people came together to discuss their concerns about education and to suggest action plans for progress. All in all, it was a very positive meeting, with a lot of people who are passionate about improving education for children and adults.

Even so, it was a bit discouraging to me. There was a lot of interest in helping kids who are struggling, early childhood education, vocational education, violence prevention, parent and community involvement, communication about resources, institutional racism. But there was little interest in teaching foreign languages in the elementary school (our group was only 5 people), gifted education (again only 5), and matching curriculum to students (only 2).

The one concern that is always of interest to me was one group that ended up discussing raising expectations. The thing that interests me is the apparent conflict between the discussions about all of the kids who are struggling and need extra support and the people who keep saying that our expectations are not high enough and we need higher standards. People never seem to make what is to me the obvious conclusion: the expectations need to be tailored to the abilities and current levels of the students. Some students need much higher expectations, some students need much more support to achieve the current level of expectations.

And, as an aside: I am a bit blind-sided by the fairly large group that was discussing institutional racism. My perception has been that this is one of the LEAST prejudiced of the communities and school districts I have lived or worked in. While I understand that Native Alaskan children aren't doing as well in the schools as they should be, I see significant efforts on the part of the school district to deal with that problem.

Presidential Candidate Quiz

Here is how I rate on the quiz (only I have no idea who Chris Dodd is):

94% Chris Dodd
94% Barack Obama
92% John Edwards
92% Hillary Clinton
85% Joe Biden
84% Bill Richardson
81% Mike Gravel
81% Dennis Kucinich
42% Rudy Giuliani
30% John McCain
28% Tom Tancredo
24% Mitt Romney
23% Mike Huckabee
15% Ron Paul
12% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz