Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Student Rights and Responsibilities

Each Quarter we, as teachers, are required to review the Code of Conduct with our students and have them sign off that they know and understand it.  Each of the past 3 years I have found this exercise to become more and more comical, since we are given a pre-made PowerPoint presentation to go over.  I do my due diligence and review it, and I answer all student questions about it.  But this year I am simply more aware of things.  I focused on one slide in the presentation that had a good line in it: "as students you have rights and responsibilities".  Before I clicked on the next slide, I pointed that line out to my class and asked them to keep track of how many "rights" I was about to cover.  Of course, I covered none of them.  In fact, not one of them ever came up in the presentation.  It took a few students and some internet searching before finding out what their rights actually were (page 3 - 5).  We had a brief discussion of why this isn't discussed more frequently, then went on to graph linear functions for the day.

Today a student brought up a situation she was having in another class, and she felt there was an injustice.  The details of her claim are irrelevant, but if they are true she most certainly has a right to be upset.  I asked her to pick a fight, using good manners and proper personal confrontation skills (I feel _____ when you ______).  She refused, afraid of how she would be viewed by the teacher, afraid of any negative repercussions.  I asked her what she could possibly imagine could happen as a result, and she couldn't think of anything.  Yet, she was still afraid.

I asked her what the last thing she bought was.  A $5 Starbucks mocha-frappa-something-or-another.  I asked what would she do if she took a sip of that drink and was so overwhelmed my cinnamon that she could drink no more.  Of course, she would return it, ask for another, or ask for her money back.  I asked "all that for a $5 drink?"  She asked what would happen if this teacher ignored her or laughed at her.  I asked what she would ask the young barista if she was ignored.  She said "I'd ask to speak to her manager."  I asked "all that for a $5 drink?"  She started to get my point.

Our students have been so drilled by responsibilities, they forget their rights.  We, as teachers, are told so many times to remind them of their responsibilities, we sometimes forget they have rights.   They have a right to be treated fairly, a right to know how they will be measured, and a right to learn.  We, as teachers, are very preoccupied in fighting for our rights (as well we should), but every now and then (and hopefully more frequently), we should think about our students' rights.  We should ask students to challenge us, to question us, to debate us on how we treat them and work with them.  I offer that every year to my students.  I ask them to fight me if they feel I'm mistreating them.  I ask them to challenge me on how I grade them.  I begged a student 2 weeks ago to bring a test he took to his guidance counselor and claim my grade was unfair (he knows I caught him cheating, but that's not the point).  This will force us to re-evaluate some of the things we do, but that is okay.  It will make us better craftspeople.  If we offer this challenge to our students, that they fight us, they will see something we have known for our entire careers:  it's not us.  We fervently fight for our rights, let's help our students fight for theirs.  We're in it together.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Thought Exercise

Have you ever argued or debated with someone on an issue about which you were extremely passionate?  Have you felt the frustration as if your message was simply not getting across?  Have you felt that no matter what you knew was right, that nothing would change?

This about sums up what I have viewed as my role in the discussion on education.  I have felt passionate and argued about all the issues:
- national policies
- state statutes
- the legislative process
- venture philanthropy
- funding issues
- public vs. private vs. charter
- school board elections
- district leadership
- unions
- teacher evaluations
- high stakes testing
- teaching methods
- student learning
- poverty and hunger

I know I'm right about everything, because there could be no other reason for me to have these debates and arguments.  All my learning on these issues is done, and I still feel like we are going in the wrong direction.  So, I decided to do something a little differently.  I embarked on a mental exercise, and it's something we use in Geometry.  I attempted an Indirect Proof, or a Proof by Contradiction.  I wanted to take an issue, and make the assumption that those with whom I argued were actually correct.  That way, I can finely comb through their thought process and pinpoint the exact places they were wrong.  I had to begin my assumption with accepting that everything I thought was right was actually wrong.

So, I did that.  I'm still doing that.  But I'm encouraging everyone to do the same.  Let's assume that Arne Duncan is the best visionary Secretary of Education we have ever had, that Jeb Bush is correct about statewide policies, and Bill Gates is correct about efficiency, and Michelle Rhee was spot-on about teacher accountability, and Eli Broad is correct about leadership.  I must stop myself from accepting that these are evil people, as that would make me equally evil.  At the same time, let's imagine that I have been wrong, Diane Ravitch has been wrong, Peter Greene has been wrong, Mercedes Schneider has been wrong (although her research abilities are nuts), and Lily Eskelsen Garcia is wrong.  Just use an Indirect Proof for a second.

So, try that out.  Imagine, for a second, that hyper-accountability and data-mining and teacher-blame and childhood anxiety is right and good.  See where that takes you.  Let it blow your mind.

It has blown my mind (which is why I have not written in awhile), and I think it will be the beginning of my next big idea.