The American system of education is under attack. Our test scores don't measure up against other countries. We are ranked 50-whatever in math and science skills compared to the rest of the world. We seem to have fewer and fewer of the top minds. Our global reputation as a country is about as low as it has ever been. Our future itself seems to be in jeopardy.
So how did we get to this point?
I think the biggest reason that we have slipped as a nation is what I call "The Wussification of America." We are raising our kids to be weak, dependent, wusses. Part of the problem is parents, part of it is our education system, and part may even be the government. Sometimes going against what is popular is the most wise direction to take, however.
Everyone seems to agree that changes need to be made when it comes to education. The problem is that the popular changes seem to be going in the direction of making things easier and more comfortable for students, rather than tougher. This is a problem.
There are many examples of this trend. I am going to discuss some of these examples in a few of my upcoming blogs. This brings me to my topic for today:
IT IS BECOMING IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL
The "don't let anybody fail" camp believes that letting students fail hurts their self esteem. Failing a test, a class, or an entire grade will shatter their opinions of themselves and reduce them to blubbering blobs of goo. So the movement is to eliminate the possibility of failure for students so that they don't have to deal with it. Well that solves that problem! But what happens to these students when they inevitably fail at something as adults?
In the old days, you could fail a grade in school (even without your parents consent). There were tests that you had to pass, and a certain amount of work that you had to do in order to pass on to the next grade. This system seems to be becoming extinct in American education.
The problem that schools face is that statistics like graduation and passing rates have become increasingly significant parts of evaluations of schools and school districts. So now money and reputation are riding on these figures. So schools have a choice to make--Either make it easier to graduate and help their numbers, or make it tougher (or as tough) to graduate and risk lower rates. This is not a pleasant choice to have to deal with.
A new report from the Department of Education shows that high school graduation rates are at their highest level since 1974. This would be great news if the requirements for graduation hadn't changed. However, the pressure of graduation rates on schools has pushed them to consider making it easier to graduate to save their numbers. There is no other way to describe this situation other than "cooking the books." So lets not go celebrating these high graduation rates just yet.
What are the consequences of this trend? The consequences of making it nearly impossible to fail is that the value of a diploma has diminished. It used to mean something to pass a grade, a class, or a test. Now, it seems like it means that you just showed up. Congratulations. You have great transportation skills. Let's invite the family over to celebrate. If passing is practically guaranteed before you even show up, then what is the motivation to excel?
What is the answer? The answer is for people in power in education to remember what the purpose of education is supposed to be--to help and prepare students. Making failure an option is the only way to do this. Students need to learn that there are consequences for their actions, both good and bad. What they do not need to learn is that they will be bailed every time that things don't go well. The sooner that leaders in education take a stand for what is best for students and risk going against what is popular, the sooner education in America will turn around.
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I have often wondered if I should have been an elementary school teacher instead of a high school teacher. Elementary school teachers are loved by their students, they get hugs on a regular basis, and they get homemade cookies from their students' parents. Then again, elementary school teachers also get practically no breaks and they have to help people go to the bathroom. I guess there are pluses and minuses to everything.
When it comes to handling discipline, some things are the same for elementary school teachers compared to those teaching other grades, and some things are different. Here are some thoughts about discipline for those who teach younger children:
*Know how you will handle behavior problems ahead of time. No matter what age you are teaching, trying to react to behavior problems on the spot is a good way to stress out and burn out.
*Have real consequences for misbehavior. The sooner kids learn that there are consequences for their actions, both good and bad, the better.
*Be calm when enforcing discipline. Let your consequences speak for themselves. There is no need for consequences plus anger or intimidation.
*Don't try to guilt trip your students. Never say things like "You really hurt my feelings when you act that way" or "You are really stressing me out." Try to avoid bringing your emotions into your discipline process.
*Give rewards for good behavior, but not too many. This is one major difference for elementary school teachers compared to those who teach other grades. Older kids should not be rewarded for doing things they should be doing anyway. Younger kids need a little more positive reinforcement.
The same thing is true for elementary school teachers as it is for teachers of all grades--get a handle on your discipline plan and you can eliminate a lot of stress from your life. The effort and attention you give to it will be well worth it.
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Ever since I started writing about crazy parents, more and more teachers have told me about their own personal encounters with them. Crazy parents are more numerous than most people probably realize. So, if you are a teacher, don't feel bad if you run across a crazy parent. You are not alone. Definitely don't feel like you have to let that (or any) parent boss you around. Here are a few more entertaining crazy parent stories that I have heard from teachers all over the world:
(1) I had a parent walk into my third grade class, and make an announcement to the class that they had permission to beat her daughters @ss if the child ever touched them.
(2) Changing their child's answer on a test when I had to step out of the room. I stepped back in sooner than they had planned and she was caught with an eraser and her child's paper in action.
(3) A mother came to see me absolutely livid about her son receiving a less than a stellar grade on a writing assignment. She explained that she had spent nearly two hours writing it and thought it was perfect.
(4) A mom had a problem with me because when I questioned why her son was absent three days a week every week in 3rd grade she threatened me with a "curse /spell ". Then proceeded to sit on the lawn in front of the school, "chanting a spell " against me.
(5) A parent made my life miserable the rest of the year because I marked her son absent for the days he was absent. She wanted him to have perfect attendance.
(6) Our school had a graduate and her parent on Jerry Springer- the subject "My Mom and I are Strippers."
After reading some of these stories, you may not think that the parents you are dealing with are so crazy after all. If you are a crazy parent yourself, there is still time to get your act together. Don't find yourself on the next list!
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This week I am featuring a guest post by Derek Oldfield, author of the great "Mr. Oldfield's Math Class" blog. Don't worry, Mr. Oldfield talks about much more than just math. This post is called "The Value of Failure." I couldn't have said it better myself. Click on the link at the end to see the entire article at his site.
Let your child fail. That was my initial reaction to a recent message that showed up in my inbox. We live in a “little league” age of celebrating success. In t-ball, every player gets to bat. In little league, every player gets a trophy. I don’t disagree with instructional league rules by any means. However, at what age does failure begin to have value?
I was sitting in a department meeting recently when a district-level administrator asked me if I had analyzed test scores of last year’s students to determine if Khan Academy actually had any effect on those students’ test scores. I replied honestly, and said that I had only checked on a handful of students’ scores. But as I continued to ponder her request, I lost my appetite for looking up any more test results. I realize that no matter what those test results may show, they don’t reveal one of the most important skills being taught in my class. They might reveal which students learned how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem in a real-life situation, but what is not tested is perhaps the most important. Tests of that sort do nothing to promote the value of failure.
Upon reading that recent message from my inbox, I wanted to shout out “let your child fail.” The shouting was not due to frustration, rather to be sure that my voice was heard by many. And when I say fail, I mean fall. Let them fall. How can we learn to get back up if we never fall? Or if someone else always picks us up. Too often today, students are given every possible opportunity NOT to fail. But why? Why are we afraid of failure? Putting students in frustrating and uncomfortable situations is a tricky part of my job. I have to find that zone where students are frustrated enough to seek out a solution THEMSELVES. I hear this a lot, “Well I’ll just get my mom to help me.” There’s nothing wrong with phoning a friend or a mom. My message to parents, though, is to let your child fail. Sometimes teachers put students in a certain situation so they will fail. Because until they fail, they’ll never seek out that solution themselves. Tests don’t measure whether a student has developed the fortitude to seek out a solution himself, or whether they’ve developed persistence in problem solving. Even if a student doesn’t arrive at the correct solution, the journey or the number of attempts is often what is more important. I always try to make sure that I’ve directed my students to places and opportunities where they can develop, create, or find a solution. But I try to stop there. Too often are students lead, directed, and told which solution is correct. We call it “spoon-feeding”. And students know all about this.
To read the complete article go here
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