Youth State

17 August 2008

The Horatio Alger Association has released its report on the State of Our Nation's Youth. Findings were summarized in a recent Education Week article (reg. req'd):
  • The proportion of students reporting that pressure to get good grades creates a problem for them increased from 62 percent in 2001 to 79 percent this year.
  • Over that same period, the percentage of those reporting grade pressure who classified it as “major” has risen 19 percentage points, to 45 percent.
  • In the latest report, 21 percent of students said they spent more than 10 hours a week on homework, up 9 percentage points from 2005.
  • The latest survey found that the proportion of high schoolers feeling hopeful and optimistic about the country has fallen 22 percentage points since 2003—from 75 percent that year to 53 percent in 2008.
  • Eighty-eight percent of the 1,006 public and private school 9th to 12th graders, ages 13 to 19, who were surveyed in April described themselves as confident, and 66 percent said they were optimistic about their own futures. Peter D. Hart, the president of the Washington-based polling company Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey, said in a statement: “What emerges from the research results is a portrait of a generation who believe in themselves and their abilities, despite anxieties about the country.”
  • Despite intensive efforts to improve public schooling in recent years, the grade point average high schoolers assigned their schools this year—2.7—is the same as it was in 2001.
  • As for their own grades, the proportion of students reporting that they got mostly B’s or better on their latest report cards has fluctuated—from 61 percent in 2001 to 70 percent in 2004 to 67 percent this year.
  • In this year’s report, 70 percent of respondents said they were headed to bachelor’s-level institutions—down 6 percentage points from 2005. Over that same time span, the proportion of students reporting plans to attend a community or technical college after high school rose 5 percentage points, to 23 percent.
  • Surveyed teenagers reported spending more than 13 hours online per week communicating with friends and entertaining themselves, compared with not quite five hours per week online for homework.
  • On a list of possible improvements to their schools, students (38%) say more up-to-date technology would have the biggest impact.
  • Students (34%) believe science and technology classes are the most important to take when it comes to succeeding in the global economy.
  • Two-thirds (64%) of teenagers report spending time each week playing or practicing a sport for an average of 10.3 hours per week.
The snapshots here are interesting, if difficult to summarize into a cohesive picture. I find it interesting how grades are used as measures within the surveys---can we really relate average GPA to school quality? I also think that the statement about "more up-to-date technology would have the biggest impact" is telling about how today's youth want to learn. Ed research says that teacher quality is the greatest factor for student achievement. Students might not agree. They may be more interested in using various resources to teach themselves, with teachers as facilitators. Social networks are integral for them, but these are the very first things we take away when kids walk through the school doors.

What, if anything, do we do with this information? Is it important that building hope and optimism be a focus---while deemphasizing grades? Should we change the goal of "college readiness" for every child to something broader...something that represents the variety of post-secondary options? How do we take these pieces and make a more personal experience for students in our classrooms?

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Kid Stuff

12 August 2008

One of the projects I've been working on this past week is cleaning and reorganizing things I have in storage. I used to be much more of a packrat, but in the last five years, I've realized what a burden "stuff" can be. I am okay with holding onto things that have sentimental value...or things which might become keepsakes...but once I year, I like to look in at least some of the boxes and see if I really want to keep them, or if it's time to let go.

In one of the boxes this morning were some reminders of former students. I scanned my two favourites. Here is the first:


This was from a chemistry class I taught 8 or so years ago. There was a task where students had to put a nail in some copper sulfate solution and then determine the moles of iron leftover at the end of the reaction. Students designed the whole set-up, and there was any number of beakers. Labeling was very important, because every setup was unique. Most students just wrote their name and the class period. But Tim? A delightfully quirky young man---the kind of kid who is bright, but just floating through high school. He's the one you look at and know that as soon as he figures out what his passion in life is, he's going to be freakin' brilliant. Tim used a piece of masking tape to label his beaker as if it was wearing a name tag: "Hi, my name is Tim." It was just so unusual (I never saw another like this in the past 17 years) that I had to keep it after the lab was done.

And then, there was Sarah---a 15-year old who was completely obsessed with Harrison Ford. This, too, was nearly a decade ago. Harrison Ford information ended up nearly everywhere. She had a special stick figure with a whip that she drew next to her name. He had a starring role in a pop-up book about worms that she made (complete with googly eyes). In spite of the teasing by her peers, she was unwavering in her devotion. Here is a sticky note that was turned in with one of her assignments:


I hear from Sarah about once a year. I haven't asked her if she is still such a fan. I should send her a note today and find out what she thought of the most recent Indiana Jones adventure.

I don't have very many pieces like these---reminders of the delightful playfulness and imagination of teens and the fun I had watching them grow up. I threw out a lot of other things today, but not these. I still need to hang on this kid stuff.

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Mushrooms

11 July 2008

You know the old joke about being given The Mushroom Treatment, right: kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of shit? I sometimes wonder if kids aren't subjected to that more than we realize. While I understand that there are some topics that might not be considered age-appropriate or school-appropriate, there is also a regular assumption that kids can't be burdened (enlightened?) with things which do affect them.

For example, plenty of my students are frustrated by the internet filters at school, but no one has ever talked to them about the ins and outs of these decisions.

I asked them to tell me the kinds of sites/programs to which they didn't have access at school. I wrote them on the board, grouping them into two categories (which I didn't label until later): those things that would be required under the Childhood Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and those which were just a district choice.

The things that fell into the CIPA category included pornography, gambling, illegal drug use, making oneself an easy target for child predators. All of these are pretty fuzzy, mind you. In fact, we talked some about "pornography." Now, before you start getting all nervous, I didn't ask for any details. What we did talk a bit about was that "porn" is hard to label. There are diagrams of naked people, sex organs, etc. in their biology book---does that qualify? Why is that any different from a photograph of a nude person? They hadn't thought about this much before; however, because gambling, porn, and other things are not available to them (or shouldn't be) until they are 18, they don't mind the blocked access at school. I'm sure some of them figure that they can just look at those things at home. Kids do have their own range of what they think is and isn't "school appropriate." We also talked a bit about the magic age of 18. Most of my students were turning 16: the magical age for getting a driver's license. I promised them that no one was going to sprinkle them with some sort of fairy dust at the moment between their last day of being 17 and their first day of being 18...dust which would confer all manner of wisdom. There's no special part of the brain which unlocks when Poof! You're 18! But as a society, we have to draw lines somewhere and this is the spot we've agreed to. Other countries or cultures do different things based on their own interpretations of the word "adult." Anyway, this part is okay with them.

In the other category were listed things such as MySpace, Facebook, wikipedia (and all other wikis), e-mail, GoogleApps, Flickr, blogs, twitter/plurk, etc. I asked them what all of these had in common. Ah---social networking possibilities. Now, one could make the argument that Flickr, Photobucket, and other such sites could be blocked due to CIPA. After all, the district has to restrict access to pictures, not written content. However, as long as one can do image searches using Google or Yahoo! or other engines, I'm not so sure what good it does. Meanwhile, most of us have likely had the experience of using a perfectly plain search term and getting back some not appropriate for school suggestions. This happened to me at the end of the year when I was using Flickr to find something for the word "Pride." Most of what I got were pictures from gay pride parades---many of the photos containing painted nudes, having a wonderful time. The pix were great, my search term as innocuous as they come, and the lion's share of the results weren't what I needed for school. Anyway, the fact is that with new social networking tools coming out daily, it seems foolish for any school district to think that they will be able to ban them all. It's going to be like pushing back the ocean with a broom.

We also talked about kids' ideas of what "public" and "private" is. Most of them have a "public" MySpace page. Is it their intention that anyone with internet access read it? Are they truly putting content there for everybody? They were a bit taken aback with this idea. Of course they aren't. "Public" for them means their friends or others who know them and might have an interest in what they post. They feel the information should be considered "private" for all others. This is, of course, part of the issue The District worries about. What they post is public from our perspective...but not theirs. However, instead of talking with kids about this and how to be safe with information, we just tell them to do it at home where we don't have to see or think about what they're doing.

I told them that The District is choosing to block these sites for a couple of reasons. One is the concern that they might read something "obscene." In other words, we can't use wikis because someone somewhere might edit the wiki to include a bad word or lewd comment. The district doesn't operate from a standpoint that if given a choice, people tend to do the right thing. But more importantly, as described in Here Comes Everybody, the reason why wikipedia and similar sites have been so successful is because of the sheer volume of people out there who want them to succeed. Sure, you can go in and create something stupid---but all of your efforts can be erased in seconds...and there are far more people interested in doing that than in damaging things.

The other reason The District wants to eliminate access is a very Big Brother one: they can't control the content. If a student uses MS Word to write a paper and saves it on the school's server, the school can read, delete, or do whatever it likes with the work. They can't do this with GoogleDocs. There, a student's work belongs to the student.

My little mushrooms enjoyed the conversation. I brought them into the light a bit and fed them a nicer diet. The question, of course, is where do they go from here. They can't fight the CIPA stuff---and really, they don't seem to want to. What they do need to do is use the social networking tools to take some action...and I think we'll have to get their parents into the mix. (Is their Right to Freedom of Assembly being impinged? An interesting thought, to be sure.) For now, I'll do what I can to make sure that they aren't being treated as mushrooms. Our kids deserve more respect than that.

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The Kindergarchy

03 July 2008

One of the things I like best about the internet is the diversity of readily available source material. I look at lots of information everyday from blogs to news items to Flickr pools. And while there is an author behind each piece who is trying to make some sense of a particular idea, from my "user" state, I get the fun part of seeing connections between the disparate pieces. And this week, it was an article in Newsweek (US) and the London Times (UK) that had the nice jive. In this case, both are about children and how adults (at least in western cultures) are reacting to them.

Newsweek poses the question Does Having Children Make You Happy? And the answer, which is likely not a surprise to anyone, is No. In fact, one study found that "no group of parents—married, single, step or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children. It's such a counterintuitive finding because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not."
Is it possible that American parents have always been this disillusioned? Anecdotal evidence says no. In pre-industrial America, parents certainly loved their children, but their offspring also served a purpose—to work the farm, contribute to the household. Children were a necessity. Today, we have kids more for emotional reasons, but an increasingly complicated work and social environment has made finding satisfaction far more difficult. A key study by University of Wisconsin-Madison's Sara McLanahan and Julia Adams, conducted some 20 years ago, found that parenthood was perceived as significantly more stressful in the 1970s than in the 1950s; the researchers attribute part of that change to major shifts in employment patterns. The majority of American parents now work outside the home, have less support from extended family and face a deteriorating education and health-care system, so raising children has not only become more complicated—it has become more expensive.
It is not a far stretch to assume that parenting itself has changed, as well as how we view children. We don't look at toddlers now and wonder how soon we can get them out doing chores. But the London Times thinks that we are treating our children too much like Little Emperors. Perhaps children are too much seen and heard these days. Now, there is a "backlash against the all-must-have-prizes culture that has produced children used to getting their own way. As parents, we are encouraged to nurture our children’s sense of 'self,' but are we unwittingly doing them more harm than good?"
It’s a wonder more teachers aren’t driven out of the profession by parents bombarding them with e-mails, phone calls and requests for meetings. “Students told me what they ‘felt’ about a novel,” he recalled. “I tried, ever so gently, to tell them no one cared what they felt. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to – but did not – write, ‘Too much love in the home’.”
Both articles are focused on home and family, but I wonder what the lessons are for schools. There are some examples of schools going overboard on self-esteem concerns (certificates for toddlers who sit still, school plays where everyone gets to be Snow White and no one has to be the witch, nursing schools which offer counseling in case it is stressful for students to come in contact with sick patients), but I have to think that these are few and far between. One hears or reads the odd story in the edusphere which supports this. Those are mostly limited to the rare helicopter parent or the awards assembly where everyone gets something. Kindergarchy tactics do not seem to have deeply infiltrated public schools. At least not yet. I'm not sure that in a standards-based environment that they will. No matter how much praise you give a child, if they can't read or do math, they're not going to graduate from high school...even if it hurts their feelings. Still, I have to think that educators---especially at the elementary level where most examples seem to be---need to be vigilant about what is reasonable for developing children.

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We Did the Mash

03 June 2008


I admit that it doesn't look like much, but you don't know how close we came to not making this scene happen. You see, this event has been planned since February. It is the collision of the two halves of my working life: the sophomores I teach in the morning and the kindergarten teachers and students I work with as part of my afternoon duties. As you know, we've been outlaws over the last week, developing our lesson plans for our young charges. There was a lot of enthusiasm from everyone.

Being western Washington, however, Mother Nature was in an uncooperative mood. She was originally supposed to hold off on the rain until the afternoon, but instead exercised her woman's prerogative and got the party started last night. Bitch.

But I digress.

My first period class and I watched the radar loop this morning. We saw that the worst of the storm had passed. But it just. kept. raining. I even wore my good juju earrings today. Although I don't really buy into their magic, the kids had. Several asked me this morning---Did you wear the special earrings? I showed them that I had. The teachers from my afternoon school e-mailed us to mention that perhaps I should have started warming up these pieces of jewelry yesterday, but regardless of the weather, they were still bringing a merry band of 6-year olds to the beach.

I relayed this information to the class. And while they had been thinking of calling the whole thing off by that point, once they heard the small people would be there, they said they had to go, too. After all, the kinders would be counting on them. They had responsibilities to fulfill.

The rain let up to a gentle spit during second period, but it was still precipitating. And at the start of third period, my classes met out front...I grabbed the four umbrellas hiding in my car...and off we went. Rain or no rain. Take that, Mother Nature.

We looked quite bedraggled by the time we made it to the waterfront---but we did make it. A few moments later, a big yellow dawg pulled up and out popped several dozen little learners. We managed to get everyone partnered off, and then it was down to the beach. The picture posted here was taken early on, before students of various ages started wandering hither and yon. Some of my kids mentioned later that the kinders just wouldn't pay attention and how they'd be trying to explain something to the tykes when the wee ones would just start talking about something else. "Gee," I said, "How do you think I feel every day?" :)

In spite of Nature's petulant display, we had a great time. It was a monster mash-up of a day.

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Growing Children, Shrinking Budgets

21 April 2008

At least once a week when I arrive at my afternoon job, I can smell the school lunch from the parking lot. The intense aroma of garlic wafted across as it simmered in spaghetti sauce this past Monday...the seasoned breading on the chicken bits greeted me on Thursday. I have to say that I have had this experience nowhere else. The school lunch actually smells appealing. (I can only imagine how breakfast must be since I am not there in the mornings.) Considering that ~85% of our kids are eligible for free/reduced lunch, it's a good thing that the food can stimulate the senses as well as fill the stomach. No food is actually cooked in our school---the bulk of the work is done elsewhere in the district and then trucked over to us. Warming ovens (or refrigerators) keep the food in a ready state for everyone until serving time. The lunchroom is a buzzing place. Kids know how to enter their number into the keypads, pick up their trays, and get their food. For those of you who haven't been in a school cafeteria as of late, you will notice that milk no longer comes in cartons. It actually comes in bags like the one pictured above. You'll just have to imagine the scene with hungry children stabbing straws into these.

I have been thinking about the importance of our lunchroom because of some recent articles about the federal school lunch program. Susan Levine has a new book out with a historical perspective on the program (full review can be found here):

Nutrition advocates who wanted to see all children, rich and poor, fed nutritious lunches had to settle for “a school lunch program that was designed primarily as an outlet for surplus food.” Though the program would benefit millions of children, it was not especially well designed. In great part, the food that came to lunchrooms consisted of whatever happened to be in surplus at the moment, be it dried beans, beets, or butter. The program was housed in the Department of Agriculture, so farmers’ interests came first, and the Department did little to oversee states’ operation of their lunch programs. Indeed, from their perches on the Senate agriculture committee, Russell and his colleague, Allen Ellender, saw to it that states’ rights were defended from federal intrusion. State and local officials were free to set whatever criteria they pleased for participation in the program.

More fundamentally, and perhaps surprisingly, the program simply was not designed to feed all the children that needed to be fed. Federal appropriations were not pegged to the number of needy children, and states were required to contribute matching funds, which often were raised by charging pupils for lunch. The program provided no aid to old schools that lacked cafeterias. So, many nonwhite, poor, and undernourished students in crumbling schools did without while white, middle-class kids in new buildings were able to purchase meals on the cheap.

Unfortunately, Levine’s narrative concludes without giving the reader a good sense of how well the school lunch program currently operates. We read that in the 1970s, it was turned into an entitlement program and put on permanent appropriation. We also learn that the feds’ underfunding of the program provoked local officials to start contracting out cafeteria operations to private providers, like Sodexho. The feds also get called out for loosening regulations to permit junk food vendors into the schools.

But the reader does not get the sense that the program now works better than it ever did. Which it does. Agricultural interests, though potent, no longer dominate the program. Today, most of the federal support for the program comes in the form of cash, not surplus food. Administrative tweaks have helped to reduce discrimination and create more uniform operations nationwide.


Still, the program is not what it could be. Since Levine wrote a straight history, she did not include any suggestions for improving the program. So, for the sake of provoking discussion, please allow me to suggest a few possible reforms. First, make the National School Lunch Program free to all children. This would wipe out the stigma that deters children from participating in the program, and would also save localities heaps of paperwork. Second, decouple the program from the surplus commodity program entirely. Children should eat food that is good for them, not what farm lobbyists want them to eat. Third, require the federal government to pay the full cost of the meals served and forbid schools from having vending machines and ala carte dining. No parent of any sense allows her kid to choose pizza over broccoli and to graze on junk food each day. Why should schools? Fourth, have the federal government deliver the federal school lunch dollars directly to each child in the form of a meal debit card, good for one school lunch per day. This would cut reams of red tape and goad schools into serving desirable meals that meet current national nutritional standards.


Meanwhile, over at the WaPo, the current economic considerations of the program are raising some concerns about just how much families who pay can actually afford for a school lunch.

Each year Uncle Sam, in an effort to ensure the neediest children get healthy meals, gives schools a little more cash to help feed students. But school officials nationwide say the federal share hasn't kept pace with rising costs. This year, the U.S. Agriculture Department is giving schools $2.47 per lunch to serve free meals to children from the poorest families, up from $2.40 last year, a 3 percent increase. In the same time, milk prices rose about 17 percent and bread nearly 12 percent.

The federal government provides $2.07 per meal for students eligible for a reduced-price lunch and 23 cents a meal for students who pay full price. Schools also receive some foods, including meat, cheese and canned goods, purchased by the federal government.

School meal programs across the country are run somewhat like restaurants, relying on federal and state subsidies and profits from meal and snack sales and catering services to buy food and pay workers. Rising labor costs, coupled with the recent push for healthier meals, which has meant serving higher-priced foods such as whole grain breads and fresh vegetables, has squeezed budgets. Soaring food prices make it even harder to break even. "We do not want to serve our students highly refined sugar and flour products, which are more affordable," Parham told the House Education and Labor Committee, "but we are continually being pushed down this path."

Matt has a much better summary of all of this than I could hope to write here. At the moment, I'm just trying to think about what all of this will mean with the youngsters I work with each day. Will it mean smaller servings? Less nutritional food? Fewer students eligible for meals? For some of our kids, the breakfast and lunch served by the school is all they get to eat. We have kids who try to hoard leftovers (although the rule is that no food is allowed to leave the cafeteria) because they're just plain hungry...and it's a long time between Friday's lunch and Monday's breakfast. Is this what a 7-year old brain needs to be focusing on?

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Grilled Cheese and Natural Wonders

17 March 2008


If you've ever been to Carlsbad Caverns, then you know that they are not located next to the town of Carlsbad itself. (In fact, there's another "town"---White's City---which is even closer.) I mention this because when I taught in Carlsbad, I had students who were born and raised there and who had never visited the caverns. I'm not so sure that those kids had ever left the city limits, for that matter. I never quite wrapped my mind around the whole thing. How could a parent know that something like the caverns was less than 30 minutes away and not once in 16 years be bothered to drive their child there? I admit that it isn't one of the prettiest drives you'll ever take, but that isn't the point is it? It's what's inside that counts.


Anyway, one of the things we did at the school was take a few kids up to the caverns on job shadow opportunities with the rangers who worked there. We always gave priority to the kids who had never been to the caverns---especially the lifelong residents of the eponymous city. We'd drive two vanloads of kids up there early in the morning and then while they got to play junior ranger, we teachers had the run of the place. There were times when this was a great opportunity to catch up on grading and planning. Keep in mind that these were the olden days of classroom teaching---before computers simplified a lot of things. You young whippersnapper teachers today don't know what it's like to take your mimeograph stencils to write on so you can make those smelly purple copies the next day.

You had three choices for lunch on those days. Choice A was to brown bag it. The second choice was the underground lunchroom. It's ~750 feet below the surface and quite the novelty. In addition to the box lunches packed in wax paper to stave off the ubiquitous dampness, there are all manner of tchotchkes available for purchase. It is a sight to behold should you ever get the chance. Option C is the ground level diner. I always chose "C." It had tables and afforded a chance to sit next to a sunny window (while the air conditioning kept you comfy). It made grading a lot more pleasant and was a visible spot for kids to find me as they moved through their day. The food was standard griddle fare---simply prepared and presented by tourist-weary waitresses. For lunch, I always had a grilled cheese sandwich, stale potato chips, a couple of pickle chips for garnish, and a watered down coke. I know how unappealing that may sound, but on those days, it tasted like a little bit of heaven.

So, on a day like yesterday when there was sunlight streaming in through my windows and I had plenty of work to keep me company, I felt like eating a grilled cheese sandwich again. As I sat by the window with my high-falutin' laptop and internet connection, I couldn't help but think of all those kids we took to the caverns and naturally wonder where they are now.

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Trendy-garten

06 March 2008

The kindergarten classes have been immersed in some science lessons and I've spent as much time as I can with them this week. I've enjoyed the conversation with the kids, but there has been one aspect I hadn't anticipated: they're distracted by the "accessories" I wear.

I usually keep a nice sharp pencil tucked behind my left ear. It's a habit I've had since my early days of teaching and it's not something I pay much attention to anymore. But the six year olds? They thought the concept was a very cool idea and insisted on trying it themselves. The only problem is that their ears are too small to do this with, so we ended up with pencils sticking in tufts of hair. It was a start.

And then yesterday, I had a sweater chain---you know, the kind of thing that was in style when grandma was a teeny-bopper? The clips that you can use to keep a sweater over shoulders? Well, to the kindergartners, this looked like a cape. Each kid who noticed got saucer eyes. "You could be Superman!" one said. I didn't have the heart to tell them that sweater chains haven't been cool for a few decades.

It's anyone's guess what sort of trend I'll start tomorrow.

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Relax, It's Normal

02 February 2008

An editorial in yesterday's New York Times highlighted the ongoing issue about appropriate school start times for high schools. If you've been a teen, parented a teen, or taught a teen, you may have noticed that early morning is not the best time for them. There are some physiological reasons for this (melatonin production is different, leading to different sleep patterns) and schools which have tried making accommodations for this (i.e. a later start time) are claiming positive results.

I talked about this idea with my students last month. At the time, most of them felt sheepish about admitting to regularly staying up until 12 or 1 a.m. I am sure that they have been scolded by their parents many times---especially when they complained about having to get up and go to school a few hours later. While I doubt that these arguments at home will end anytime in the near future, I did try to make it clear that it's normal for teens to have trouble sleeping during the same hours that would be considered normal for adults. We talked about this period as being one of a lot of final adjustments to their brains. In a few years, activity will settle down.

Kids weren't necessarily sure that the later start time was a good idea---even if it meant sleeping later in the mornings. Many have jobs, activities, or other commitments that would be difficult to adjust. The school could change its times, but that didn't mean the rest of their world would, too. They did agree, however, that it would be nice to have their younger brothers and sisters out of the house at an earlier time of the morning. :)

Teen years can be fraught with enough uncertainties about being "normal" without throwing sleep into the mix. I've worked with 15-year olds for nearly 20 years now---and while each new batch arriving in September is experiencing their first (and only) time being that age, I've seen it a lot. I have developed a pretty good understanding about what falls within the typical range of expression and behavior. I know that I'm not the only one with this knowledge, but the kids tell me that I'm the only teacher who talks to them about it. (I guess my young charges aren't the only ones who lie outside the mean from time to time.) I wonder how many concerns of students might be alleviated if we'd just take more time to chat with them about what to expect when you're expecting to be 16 years old.

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Must one be a Scrooge?

27 December 2007

The article below appeared yesterday via the AP wire in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The next generation to enter the work force may be more likely to cheat and lie than their more senior colleagues, according to a recent survey.

Three-quarters of teenagers believe they are fully prepared to make ethical decisions, yet nearly 40 percent also believe that lying, cheating or violence are necessary to succeed, according to the survey conducted by Junior Achievement Worldwide.

More than half of those teens said their personal desire to succeed is the rationale. There were 23 percent who said violence toward another person is acceptable on some level.

The number of teens willing to bend the rules has more than doubled since the survey was conducted in 2003, according to Ainar Aijala, chairman of Junior Achievement Worldwide.

"Kids are seeing evidence of successful politicians, professional athletes, religious leaders, lawyers and business professionals being dishonest -- people they also see as their role models," Aijala said.

The results could be an indication of problems future employers may face.

"I think what this says is that employers will over time need to be more diligent in background checking," Aijala said.

The survey was conducted online with a sample of 725 teens ages 13 to 18.

We don't really get much of an indication about the quality of the sampling or research methods. I'm not one to poo-poo on-line surveys---some of the educational research I've been combing through for my doctoral work suggests that if properly constructed, web surveys are just as valid and reliable and paper ones. The organization (Junior Achievement Worldwide) appears to be legit...so I'll give them a big benefit of a doubt here on their methodology.

What I'm not so sure about is their conclusion that employers may need to be more diligent with background checks. Will this solve a gap in the ethics of potential employees? If nearly one-quarter of potential hires believes that violence toward someone else may be acceptable, how will hiring or not hiring these kids change their beliefs? What do we as educators do knowing that 40% of our students believe that lying and cheating are acceptable ways to "get ahead"?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about character education programs. Some say that it is not the province of the public schools to take this on---it is something which belongs within a family. Others say that since so many children are not being taught general expectations for societal behavior at home that the schools must step up to the plate. Either way, kids are going to be provided with both good and bad role models. Teachers can't stop celebrities or pro athletes from making some very public and very poor choices anymore than we can keep some of our peers from engaging in some questionable practices. While this doesn't absolve us of a responsibility to help educate and prepare students---what more should we be doing?

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The College Grade Game

16 December 2007

I sat in on a staffing this week. The word "staffing" around here refers to a meeting with parents, student, counselor, and all teachers in which the student's progress is dissected in nauseating detail. I find them incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable...and I can only imagine how hard it must be for the kid. "Not only are you a poor student, but all of us are here to show you exactly what you're doing wrong over and over again." I haven't been to one yet where the kid didn't break down in tears. I really hate that. There has to be a better way of approaching these things...but I digress.

I was the last teacher to say my piece at the last meeting. I listened to five other teachers go on about poor skills and how it was just too late to do anything about parts (or all) of the grade. What I didn't hear was any teacher offering any type of support. If these meetings are truly about bringing all of the parties to the table to help the kid be successful, then why are we focusing so much on the past and not on the future? Why are we pointing fingers at the kid and not working together to find a solution? But I digress...again.

Anyway, when it was my turn to talk, I didn't say a word about the kid's grade. What I did say is that what I was hearing was that the kid was spending a lot of time "studying," but was struggling to learn. I said that it's all good and well for us (teachers and parents) to say "You need to do something different." but if that's what we think she should do, shouldn't we offer her some concrete ways to do that? She's a smart kid who didn't have to develop any study skills until now. Is it reasonable to expect that she will automatically know what to do? We have to teach her these things. I like to think that we ended the meeting positively---with some hope. I gave the gal a variety of different note-taking and study strategies the next day. I told her to look through the stack and find 2 or 3 of interest and give them a try. I'll check in with her again and see what's happening.

One of the other things I said at the meeting is that I am okay with her doing alternative assessments for me. I told her that she will have to learn to "play the game" for college and there isn't anything I can do to change that; however, if she can use opportunities with me to find out how she learns best, she can translate things into ways to prepare for her exam-laden college experience. I also told her not to believe any adult that told her that life doesn't have second chances or "do overs." How many people would not be driving if you could only take your driver's test once, for example. College is its own ball game, but the goal for us should be to prepare her for adult life, with or without college.

Two articles of interest in relation to college and grades were published this past week. First of all, the Roanoke Times is reporting that students will choose easier classes over harder ones. Maybe this doesn't read like breaking news, but there are two things of note here. One is the comparison of median grades---and the implication that these "easy" classes might somehow be noted for employers on the transcript. If a teacher at the college level had the same kind of grading as I do---and allows students to reattempt summative assessments or alternative assessments---their median grades may well be higher than teachers with traditional grading practices. Yet, doesn't the learning matter? The second piece of note from that article for me is that in a performance environment, students always choose easy over challenging. Perhaps if college classrooms emphasized mastery over performance, students would take more difficult classes. In article number two, the AP is reporting that all-nighters may not improve grades. I had a few of these---mainly involving finishing papers---in college. They were dreadful. I quickly learned that I would much prefer to get a few hours of sleep and then get up very early and finish working on things. The findings of at least one of the studies cited in the article supports this idea---sleep deprivation is not good for concentration.

Call me crazy, but I think that learning experiences should be meaningful, whatever the age of the student. I hate to think of getting an education as some sort of game with winners and losers based on who can intuitively figure out the rules. I hope that students start to ask for more than that from their time and efforts.

via today's edition of PostSecret

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Biology Gangstas

08 November 2007

Show the picture on the left to any biology teacher worth his/her salt, and it will be quickly identified. "Elodea!" they will exclaim in rapturous delight. It's an aquatic plant, prized for its cell structure and thin leaves. Underneath the microscope, there are lots of big beautiful chloroplasts which are easily visible. There is often evidence of "cytoplasmic streaming," meaning that the skeletal structure inside the cell is circulating the chloroplasts in an effort to maximize exposure for photosynthesis. It's a great plant for many an experiment in biology. The cells readily show reactions to changes in concentration of salts, sugars, and water.

The only problem is that in Washington, it's illegal to sell. That's right, in this state, it's a bit of a contraband organism. It's not native to our area and far too many aquarium hobbyists (and bad bio teachers) have dumped their extra bits and pieces in lakes...where the plant is taking over. It grows rapidly and is squeezing out native species.

But what's a good bio teacher to do when she needs her some Elodea? It's not illegal to possess the plant---just to sell it. She can't go to a pet store or biological supply company to buy some. She's gotta call the godfather who has a free Elodea hook-up for her. That's what.

In talking about an upcoming lab with students, I mentioned the plant and its dubious distinction in our state. Most of them made the unfortunate association with another sort of weed and assumed that this plant is also controlled because it shouldn't be smoked. Um, no. They were completely disappointed by the real deal on this plant and that there are no pharmaceutical effects; however, the mystique has remained. I had told them that I was getting together with my "supplier" soon and we would have some to play with in the lab.

I couldn't have asked for a better setup for today. In one of my classes, the hand off was made in full view of the students...and they were enthralled. Mind you, it was one of the football coaches who brought it in---this big baggie of green weedy stalks floating around in aquarium water. The kids' eyes got big as they watched the happy delivery. "Look!" I exclaimed, after he left. "We have Elodea for tomorrow's lab!" Personally, I was ecstatic to get some of this delightful teaching tool. For the kids, however, they're sure that they've just been privy to some biology. Gangsta style.

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The Lifeboat

23 October 2007

I understand that my task as a teacher is to get all of my kids to standard---even the ones who have to be dragged there kicking and screaming. For maybe the first year ever, I can honestly say that I can't think of a single kid I see all day who is a reluctant learner. This doesn't mean that they are all Lake Wobegon children (all above average). I have some that are not terribly bright, others who are classic underachievers, and still a few who---on a daily basis---inspire me to want to pinch off their noggins and use them for bowling balls. But the bottom line is that when I talk with these kids one on one about their work, they ask questions and listen to comments. I think they believe that I genuinely care about their success.

That being the case, I have a problem to solve.

I'm tracking data on my kiddos. I can tell you who knows the difference between a manipulated, responding, and controlled variable...who can construct a hypothesis...and who can conclude their way out of a paper sack. But as you imagine, there are sprinklings out of the 120 kiddos who can't do one or more of those items...and there are still more skills to learn. I have an intervention plan in mind for the kids who are just about to make it over the bar: the ones who need 15 minutes of intense work and a bit of practice to cement things.

But I have about 10 kids who appear to be utterly clueless. Is there a lifeboat for them? They want to row with the others, but how do I get the time to give them the significant attention they need to catch up with the rest of us? I don't want to pull them from their other classes. The other biology teachers don't want to help. Do I contract with the kids (and parents) for some after school or weekend work? Do I ask for a sub to manage the bulk of my kids while I shepherd the few lost lambs during a class period? How do I keep these kids from going under?

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The Seedy Underbelly

21 October 2007

Last week was Homecoming Week...an event which causes teachers nationwide to collectively groan. I have to say that it wasn't much of a disruption at this school, but maybe that's because I don't run with the glamourous crowd.

At the assembly on Friday afternoon, I knew none of king/queen candidates. The kids who put on the skits were not part of my classes. Ditto for the multimedia support. I watched with this disconnected sense of things. Who were all of these other kids? Were they really part of the school, too? And if I didn't see my students out in front of their peers---how did they feel about the lack of representation? I knew that I had the kids who don't get attention at that school (and these happen to be the ones I like best), but things seemed a bit ridiculous. It's like we are all part of some other school, happily going about our business while some other more public persona is functioning elsewhere in the building. We are the seedy underbelly.

Personally, I don't mind. I have great kids who are starting to thrive with some attention and support. I'm not missing the pretty people. From a teen perspective, however, I'm not sure if this is true. I worry about my young charges and the need to see positive peer models they can identify with...something to connect them to school, not show them how different they are. How do we do that, I wonder?

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Not Anymore

18 September 2007

I recently heard a snippet of a conversation that I'll never have to have again...and it made me feel good. A student was in a panic over her grade. A low score on a test had decimated her average and the teacher was valiantly trying to reassure her that when there were some more grades in the gradebook, the score wouldn't make such a difference. The student wasn't pacified by this. It was as if she thought by rewording the question or asking something again would yield a different answer---one she wanted to hear.

I have had countless conversations exactly like this during my career. Now I think back and wonder how many kids I crushed with them. Mind you, I was always positive...gave the kids a pep talk...tried to help them understand that there would be other grades. I didn't do such a great job with listening to what kids really wanted: they wanted to make something happen for the grade that day.

I handed back my first summative assessment late last week. Some students didn't perform as well as either they or I hoped; but with my new policy in place, our conversations were very different. My students are no longer powerless to do something about a particular assignment that they struggled on. They can work with me and then do it again. They can ask to show what they know another way. And they realized that by using the median to determine things at the end, an unsatisfactory mark can disappear.

We as teachers like to think that students determine their own destinies in the classroom. And they do---to the extent that they choose whether or not to engage in learning. Until now, however, I don't think my students ever felt that they really were in charge of their destiny when it came to the final grades. I set up the rules, after all. I have this time, too, but believe I have done so in a way that makes things fair for students (and not just "equal"). They have said as much about this and so far, we're all doing just fine. It's a relief not to have those harried conversations about averages anymore.

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One Is the Loneliest Number

07 September 2007

I dropped my grading policy on the kids today. I am surprised at how well things went over.

I started off the discussion by having them talk about the terms fair and equal. I had been concerned about this aspect. Through their talking and my probing, kids seemed able to distinguish between the two. We then looked at my philosophy of grading. I have high school aged students---and they are well aware that they can "buy" things with their grades, like lower car insurance, college admissions, and athletic eligibility.

Then we moved into the specifics. We looked at some examples of using the mean, median, and mode and how these can tell different stories about a grade. (Kids caught on darned quickly how "unfair" an average can be.) We talked about no zeros or other grading penalties for missing or late assignments...and the need to respect everyone's learning needs in creating a grade which truly represents what each student knows. Although we spent some time on the terms formative and summative, I can tell that I'm going to have to reinforce those more.

My informal "check-in" with students following this discussion elicited a lot of positive feedback. For the most part, they seem to get it. They are graded on their learning and that I care more about whether or not they do learn than when they learn (or how many times they don't understand at the beginning). This made me feel good.

What didn't make me feel so good was the question about "How come you're the only teacher who grades like this?" because when I suggested that they open a dialogue with their other teachers, they said "They won't listen to us." I'm not entirely sure how true this is, but considering that sophomores (who are brand new to the school and therefore still figuring out what high school is) were the ones feeling that way, I'm not too surprised. The difficult part is that I'm not sure where to direct them. I can understand why they might feel uncomfortable rocking the grading boat with other teachers. Grades are very much about power in many classrooms. So then what is the appropriate route for their concerns? I can certainly advocate for students at staff meetings from the standpoint that we teachers need to talk about our grading practices---I'm just not sure how to empower the kids to advocate for themselves and help them feel less lonely in their assessment needs.

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Labour Day Levity

03 September 2007

I was sorting through some clippings recently and rediscovered one from the Austin American-Statesman. It's a column by Mike Kelley (I think from 1989) about some misquotes Richard Lederer had collected from students. Below are some of the better ones. My two favourites are at the end.

  • The pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain. The Egyptians built the pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube.
  • David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Finkelsteins, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David's sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.
  • Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock. After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.
  • In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java.
  • There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what their neighbours were doing.
  • Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March murdered him. Dying, he gasped out the words, "Tee hee, Brutus."
  • King Alfred conquered the Dames. Joan of Arc was cannonized by Bernard Shaw. And victims of the bluebonnet plague grew boobs on their necks. Finally, Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense.
  • The government of England was a limited mockery. From the womb of Henry VIII Protestantism was born. He found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee.
  • Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted "Hurrah!"
  • The greatest writer of the futile ages was Chaucer. During this time, people put on morality plays about ghosts, goblins, virgins, and other mythical creatures. Another story was about William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son's head.
  • Johann Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in the attic. Bach died from 1750 to the present.
Have your students shared any insightful comments like these with you? In biology, I often hear about the testicles of an octopus (instead of "tentacles") and how all orgasms have cells (er, organisms).

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They're Everywhere!

18 July 2006

As Mr. Lawrence recently noted, it's difficult not to run into former students in The Real World. I seem to be seeing lots of kiddos who graduated several years ago. I haven't gone many places without being recognized. The hard part is that while I likely haven't changed a whole lot in the last 10 years, they have changed a lot. The little scrawny 15-year old boy is now a 23-year old man. The jawline is different as is the build. I am often grateful for their name tags.

I like to hear their stories and find out the directions their lives have taken. It's one thing to have been involved with them at the beginning of their young adult lives when they felt that the future had amazing promise. And it's quite another to chat with the pizza delivery guy and find out why things haven't quite panned out as intended.

I will miss this aspect of being in the classroom: having a more direct connection with kids...watching them grow up and become peers in the community. On the other hand, maybe working throughout the district will allow me to build relationships with a larger part of our youth. I'm glad they're everywhere.

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Another Way to Get There

01 June 2006

From UPI:

A growing number of U.S. students who have dropped out of high school or failed to graduate are going to college without a high school diploma.

The New York Times reports that about 2 percent of all college students do not have high school diplomas, up from 1.4 percent four years ago. At community colleges, 3 percent of students lack diplomas and at commercial institutions, the figure is 4 percent.

The trend is raising questions about whether students who have failed to complete high school should be eligible for state tuition grants and loans.

In California, where students must have a diploma to qualify, a Democratic legislator has proposed changing the law. In New York, Gov. George Pataki unsuccessfully tried to deny aid to students without diplomas.

This article piques my interest---and I wish there was more to it. Are these students without diplomas home schooled? Are they dropouts with GEDs and good SAT scores? Kids who did well in terms of meeting college entrance requirements, but didn't jump through all of the hoops to get a diploma (like passing a state exam)? If a student meets the college admissions standards, why would you try to deny them funding?

I work with someone who is a high school dropout...and college graduate. High school just wasn't his thing. He has a ton of intellectual curiosity and enjoys learning. When he was ready to move on with a formal education, he found a way to do so---and I admire that. I'm not suggesting that this is the best pathway for everyone, but it seems like we need to have more options out there...not less.

UPDATE: A-ha! The New York Times has more information.

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Flu-ent

23 March 2006

My district seems to be in the grips of la grippe. At least one of our schools is approaching 25% absenteeism among the students. A school I visited yesterday actually had to call 911 in order to get a kid out safely. In one of the junior highs I worked in today, there was a bottle of disinfectant wipes sitting by the office phone so that things could be cleaned in between kids who were calling home.

We've been asked to reinforce good flu hygeine with students tomorrow: cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands often, maintain your personal space around other people, and so on. It's probably a good thing that it will be Friday and kids won't be congregating in large numbers over the weekend. Maybe this will give us a bit of a break.

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Another One Bites the Dust

17 March 2006

I lost another AP kiddo today. She was my best student in some ways. Her work was always very high quality. But her attendance was of the very worst. I think she had only managed to show up for one exam day this entire year.

It's one of those cases where the parent is rather needy and demands a lot of kid in terms of attention. I will miss this little gal, but I hope that she can escape to college next year. She'd probably like to just be able to focus on her studies as opposed to continually being pulled into mom's drama. It might also be nice to be able to attend class more than once a week.

We really only have two more weeks left of content and then we'll wind down and review. It seems a shame for anyone to have to quit now.

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Company Manners

10 February 2006

Why is it that teachers get apologetic when their students behave like...students? Is there some reason why we should expect that a class would act better with a guest teacher or speaker than on a regular day?

I went out to a new-to-me elementary school this afternoon in order to work with a group of fifth graders. They had lots of energy, all focused in a good way. I could never complain about some youthful enthusiasm---especially when it comes to science. But their teacher seemed to be embarrassed from time to time. I tried to reassure her that kids were just fine.

I suppose it all stems from wanting to show off our students at their best. We'd like guests in the classroom to think that we have "raised" our kids right. And we have. Kids are just kids. I'd like to think that visitors understand that company manners don't necessarily mean that kids will be seen and not heard.

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Back(breaking) to School

15 August 2005

I can't help but notice that kids in my classes carry too much stuff. Our school has lockers and students are allowed to access them during passing times, lunch, and before/after school. It isn't as if they need to have everything for the entire school day in one bag. Meanwhile, kids don't wear their packs correctly---that is, over both shoulders---because it doesn't look cool. And don't get me started on the hazards of trying to navigate a classroom with these huge packs all over the floor.

A recent piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer got me thinking about all of these things again. Pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons are starting to see more injuries (such as pinched nerves and asymmetrical back muscles) to students that have been caused by carrying overloaded and incorrectly worn backpacks. The recommendation is that the weight of the pack be no more than 20% of the child's total body weight. Most students jam there's with an average of 25% of their body weight. Other recommendations include choosing a good pack with padded straps that holds the weight close to the body; cinching the straps tightly enough, using a waist strap, and distributing the weight evenly among the pack's pockets; and buying well-constructed packs with padding that protects backs from edges. Even so, many parents are having to buy more than one backpack each year because the containers wear out quickly under the ownership of students.

It would be nice if schools had enough money to buy double sets of textbooks: one for students to take home and keep there for the year and one classroom set. We do have that at my school for a couple of classes, but this is really too expensive a proposition for every class to have. (In NM, we didn't even have enough money to fund a classroom set to have on hand---much less check out books to individual students.) Perhaps as more texts are issued with a CD-ROM or on-line version in addition to the printed one, costs will be low enough to achieve the "two sets of books." This will definitely be something I will keep in mind as we adopt new curriculum materials this year.

A simpler solution would be to encourage students to use their passing time more wisely, including a stop at their locker more than once or twice a day. We have six minute passing times, with a "warning bell" sounded after five minutes have passed. You can guess what usually happens: kids stand around and clog up the hallway for five minutes and then scramble like cockroaches in the light once they hear the warning bell.

I also need to think about some procedure for backpacks in my classroom. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've tripped (or students have tripped---some even fallen) over the straps and other hazards associated with the backpacks.

In a few weeks, I'll see those kids looking "like beleaguered picnic ants wobbling from the park under hunks of pound cake." I think it's time to talk to them about lightening the load.

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A First for Me

01 February 2005

Yesterday, I made a kid pass out in my class. This is the first time I've had that particular reaction happen because of something I'd done. I told my principal, who said, "Cool! How'd you do that?"

I was reading the first chapter from The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. In my class for sophomores, February is always "Infectious Disease Month." It's a good place in the curriculum to talk microbiology. And the description of Ebola contained in this book always hooks the kids. Usually, I just have kids ask to borrow the book. But yesterday, one young man took things a step further and fainted. Made for quite the dramatic impact.

A couple of years ago, I had another boy faint when a representative of the blood bank was talking about their work. Considering all the things we see in biology (dissections, pictures of genetic diseases or abnormalities, etc.), I find it interesting that the mere description of blood has been powerful enough to knock two boys out cold in the last three years.

I love teaching microbiology, but I am doing less of it this year. Very little of the subject is found in the state standards. I need to focus my time elsewhere. This reflects how science curriculum (in general) is changing. In the past, students (like me) learned a lot about plants and animals. There was very little chemistry involved. But with the advent of DNA, biotechnology, and advances in biochemistry, biology has a molecular focus.

In nearly every high school in America, students take the same sequence of science courses: biology, chemistry, physics. This sequence was suggested in 1893, the same year that the zipper was invented and that the amendment abolishing slavery was ratified. Biology was placed first in the sequence because it needed the least amount of equipment and understanding to teach.

Many districts are reversing the sequence. If a student can understand physical forces, then s/he can more easily grasp atomic models and bonding. And a kid who can master those topics will have a much richer understanding of biology. This will be one idea my district will discuss as we remaster our own scope and sequence.

In the meantime, I'll keep plugging biology with my sophomores. They are always full of surprises. And even if their minds have yet to be exposed to chemistry and physics, they are obviously imaginative enough to enjoy and react to the some of the richness biology affords. I wonder what will happen on Friday when we get to smallpox. :)

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Ghosts of Students Past

31 January 2005

I think sometimes that the public must wonder how teachers don’t notice certain things about students. There are truly some terrible things that happen in homes—and as long as a kid isn’t vocal about it, it will definitely slip beneath our radar. Why is that? Don’t we care about these kids?

Of course we do. But being in a classroom is not as simple as shutting the door and getting to be each student’s mentor and guiding light. I wish it were that simple. Connecting with kids is the rewarding reason we keep coming back to the classroom. But as much as we might try, relationships with every single child are not built with every teacher. At the high school level, I have come to accept this, as I see that nearly all kids find one adult in the building with whom to identify. If I can’t be the best reason for a kid to be in school on a given day, there is someone else here who fulfills that need.

However, I have one kid in my past who has haunted my mind over the last two years. I love to read, both fiction and non-fiction, and I happened to pick up Sickened after reading a review. The author is a Munchausen-by-proxy (MBP) survivor.

According to http://www.mbpexpert.com/ MBP is a "label for a pattern of behavior in which caretakers deliberately exaggerate and/or fabricate and/or induce physical and/or psychological-behavioral-mental health problems in others. This pattern of behavior constitutes a separate kind of maltreatment (abuse/neglect) that manifests as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or a combination. The primary purpose of this behavior is to gain some form of internal gratification, such as attention, for the perpetrator."

In other words, a parent causes a child to be ill in order to gain some attention for themselves. Julie Gregory (the author of Sickened) had a parent who did these things (and continues to do them to foster children, believe it or not). Her memoir is powerful reading.

As I read the book, I was reminded of Lisa J., a student I had 7 or 8 years ago. She was a sophomore in my Honors Biology class; a soft-spoken blonde girl with glasses. She was ill a lot, which in and of itself, is not all that noticeable. I almost always have a student with health issues. But what sticks in my mind is an assignment I gave the class. They could either choose to research a genetic disease, or they could write about their own medical history. Lisa chose to do the latter. When she turned in the assignment, it was three full pages of tiny font, detailing all that had happened to her body since birth. For a 15-year old, she had a formidable health record. I was absolutely stunned to see all the medications she’d had and the hospital stays she’d endured. But instead of raising a red flag in my mind, it induced a great deal of pity. This kid had been through a lot.

I was always very sympathetic when mom would call and ask for homework. Gee, Lisa was out again. The poor thing. Mom was going to take her to Seattle to see a pediatric neurologist. She might have to have an operation. Or perhaps mom was taking her to Mary Bridge in Tacoma for testing. Mom even told me that she herself had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What a tragedy for this family, I thought.

This pattern continued a second year, as I also had Lisa in my chemistry class. The second year, she was absent even more. I don’t believe she even attended our school as a senior.

Perhaps Lisa’s story was completely accurate, but after reading Julie Gregory’s book, I really have to wonder. Was Lisa a MBP kid? Had her mother been creating reasons for Lisa to spend so much time in doctors’ offices and in hospitals? These are the questions which haunt me. What could I have done for this girl, if anything?

I looked once on classmates.com and saw that Lisa was registered. I have thought at times about paying the fee in order to get her e-mail address. I just want to ask and see if she’s all right. I wonder if she might have advice for me. Maybe even absolution. But I haven’t taken that step yet and don’t that I will. For a girl whose been poked and prodded as much as she has been, maybe her adult life has given her a fresh start and no reason to look back. I certainly have to hope so.

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