Monthly Archives: October 2012

Vive la France! Pas de devoirs!*

Last year, my principal invited faculty members to attend an optional meeting where he would review the longer school day options and discuss our new bell schedule.  I decided I’d pop in and found that I was one of three people.  Talk about community involvement, eh?  The principal ran through the bell schedule and while doing so, he and I became engaged in a debate about homework.  Were we debating increasing the rigor level for homework assignments?  Nope.  Were we discussing how too much of homework nowadays is busy work and not work related to critical thinking?  Nope.  Were we discussing how much kids are under-prepared for college because of the lack of rigorous self-preparation in the form of homework?  Nope again.

So, what were we debating?  Simple: he’s against homework and I’m for it.  I can’t even believe in this day and age that there are people who are against homework.  This is what happens when we let C students gain political power…eventually the world goes crazy with the notion that promoting bad habits is actually a good idea.  So, imagine my disbelief when today I was reading an article about France’s president, François Hollande, and his reform ideas, which include getting rid of homework.  Ummm, I’m sorry, what?

I understand that people don’t love homework.  You’re not supposed to love homework.  Homework is work.  Work is not fun.  Work is, however, important.  It teaches us to think about things differently.  It helps us attack problems on our own.  It teaches a work ethic, too.  It allows us to contribute to society.

Homework is practice, too.  It’s a way to make sure you master a subject.  I teach English.  Homework is a way to get kids to read on their own.  It makes it so that we read a book in a few weeks versus a few months.  Homework is a way to extend the classroom learning experience outside of the classroom.

In an era where we tout Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours, you would think we would want our children to have more homework.  Alas, it seems as if we’ve forgotten that the rule of 10,000 hours doesn’t mean let your kids play video games for 10,000 hours and learn for 50-minute periods of time a few times a day.

If the goal is to get kids to walk out with mastery of a subject by the end of the year, and we know that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to be an expert, we should aim for at least, what, 1,000 hours?  I mean, I don’t expect a 10th grader to be an expert on American Literature, I just want him or her to have mastered the main concepts I teach.  So, let’s assume that 1,000 hours is the amount of time I need to make my students “master” a subject at its basic, introductory level (which high school is).  That means that if kids didn’t get homework, if all the instruction and practice they got each day was in my 50-minute class for 181 days, they’d be about 850 hours short of mastering anything.  If I give them 1-2 hours of homework a night in addition to the 50-minutes I teach, I’m at least getting closer to that 1,000 hours.  I may not hit it, but at least I’m not sitting pretty at 150 hours total.

Sure, I’m making certain assumptions here: that kids actually do their homework, that all homework is rigorous and actually prepares students for their future, that students who actually complete their homework interact meaningfully with it, etc.  Still, I think you get that homework plays an important role in a child’s education.  So what happens when we take that out of our children’s educational equation?  Simple.  This happens.

So, be careful watch you wish for, Monsieur le President.  Pas de devoirs = Eventually watering your crops with Gatorade.

* Oui! Je suis sarcastique!

(Photo via Deviant Art)

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The Irony of Our Times

A grad professor of mine always talked about an assignment one of the student teachers he oversaw did with her class.  She was reading The Age of Innocence with her students and asked them to complete the sentence, “We live in an age of ________.”  In other words, she was asking students to come up with one word to define the times in which we live.

I love telling people this story because I usually tell people that the perfect word for our times is “retraction.”  This is because I always think people say what they mean, what they’re really thinking, then when the world (or sometimes just a few) disagree, they retract their statements, apologize, and vow to be less offensive later on down the line.

These days, though, perhaps the word for our times is “contradiction.”  Why?  Because the world we live in is filled with people who shop at Whole Foods and buy Fair Trade products, but who no longer support labor unions.  Because the world we live in has people who would never put their child in a school that had 35 days of testing (in fact many of them would pay exorbitant amounts of money in tuition to avoid it), but they would force that amount of testing on people who have no choice but to public school-educate their children.  Because we have a president who is a Democrat, a traditionally pro-union party, but who seems to be joining his Democrat friends in demanding union money for their campaigns, but leaving unions hanging with silence and lack of support when it comes to the laws that want to rip unions to shreds.

I don’t know how to fix the world or its problems, but I do know that a lack of common sense seems to be plaguing many of those around me.  Perhaps the easiest thing to do to change the age we live in is to simply start using some more common sense and encouraging others to do the same.  Perhaps we could put it in a letter and send it to the President himself!

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Internet=Very Important to Blogging

The lack of posts this week has not been for want of trying.  My internet has been down until late yesterday.  I find that a key aspect to blogging is having internet access.  (It also meant my husband and I couldn’t catch up on a few key shows:Homeland and Dexter.)  I’ll be back with some good stuff I was jotting down after the weekend.  Until then, enjoy the spread of consciousness.

How Do I Manage to Teach?

This year alone, I’ve dealt with the following issues in my school:

– Rampant programming issues, running from way oversized classrooms, double-booked classrooms, kids getting multiple program changes, teachers getting multiple program changes, and a constant stream of new students walking through my door.

– Multiple (and some very important) classes being taught by subs while these programming issues were worked out (they’re finally worked out so that this is not happening anymore, but some of the above issues are still happening).

– A 7-day strike which began 4 days into the school year.

– A new evaluation system that no one can really explain to me very well.

– The use of performance tasks to be included in my evaluation, again, which no one can explain to me very well.  Neither can they answer my questions.  I received no training on how to administer or grade these tasks.  I received a color PDF file via my email telling me how to enter the data into all new software that I’ve neither used before nor had any training on previously.

– Constant interruptions to my instructional time.  In previous years, they built in five minutes to one of my class periods for announcements.  This year, they did not.  This means that every day one of my classes is simply interrupted five minutes early for announcements.

– No set in stone curriculum.  Because we did not have a previous curriculum, we are still creating one, so while, overall, it will be a good year, it’s still getting off to a scary start.

– Thousands of books for our department strewn about the school because the book room was not handled properly in the past.  None are inventoried and I have no idea where things are.  As the Dept. Chair, I’m responsible for distributing these books and have given up multiple preps and time after school trying to get these things all solved.

– Lack of a working projection screen, media cart for my overhead projector (I had to steal one from another teacher while I asked repeatedly for my own), and a LCD projector (again, running back and forth from my classroom to a friend’s to borrow his) even though many of my lessons have called for these resources.

– Limited copy machines (only 2 that I have available, 1 that’s easily accessible) to make copies.  For those of you who don’t know, making copies is a huge part of teaching.  Handouts, tests, etc. are often photocopied.  I try to limit my copies, but I still need easy access to a machine.

– Multiple days when the copiers were broken, out of toner, or there was no paper.

– Loud construction right outside my window that sometimes interrupts my class.

I’m sure there are other problems, but for now, those are the glaringly obvious ones.  How in the world do I manage to even teach in these working conditions?