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Planting Seeds: Morning Minutes, May 11, 2016

Last night we had our quarterly teacher panel at CHS for my college students. It is the twelfth one I have held for my kiddos, who always indicate on the course evaluation forms that it is the highlight of their experience with me. Hard to believe that this spring marks my fourth straight year at EWU with twelve consecutive quarters under my belt. In that time I have had the opportunity to work with roughly 600 students who are just entering the education program, and while I am not a full-fledged university professor, I do bring to the table twenty-years teaching experience, and for the course I teach, Secondary Classroom Management, there is value in the fact that I am in the classroom. I am in the trenches if you will. And it is from there that I share my perspective in hopes that from my vast experience and limited wisdom that my students can find themselves.

Of course, my view is one. And I tell my kids over and over that I am never sharing THE answer or way, I am merely sharing a way. What’s cool about the teacher panel is that my students get to hear multiple perspectives as they sit with teachers, whose experiences range from one to thirty-plus years, for an hour of questions and answers, an hour where I fade into the background and watch and listen. For me, too, it is the highlight of the quarter. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to put my hardworking, talented, wise colleagues in front of my students. It is possible they learn more in one hour with them than they learn from me all quarter.

Teacher-panel night also marks another milestone event in the quarter: the discussion on grading practices. I suspect some may wonder how this fits within the realm of classroom management, and I would answer that classroom management is really about classroom culture and one’s grading practices significantly impact the culture in the classroom, and they certainly impact our interface with parents outside the classroom. In a grade-centered environment, one might even suggest that grading practices are at the core of everything–even classroom management.

Last night, this is how the conversation began. I asked the kids to consider and discuss their reactions to the following scenarios.

  1. While grading papers at home, you discover a paper with no name.
  2. A student turns in an assignment a week late.
  3. During parent-teacher conferences, a  parent indicates that she doesn’t think your grading practices are fair.

My students deliver what I anticipate, a mixed bag of responses, ranging from flexibility to rigidity and all points in between. I then ask them to share in their small groups what an “A” will communicate in their class. Again the answers vary, spanning the spectrum from effort to attitude to achievement and so on. And it is at this point that we pause and consider how we have arrived at a place with so many different perspectives and proposed practices. Of course, the answer is always “grading practices stem from each individual teacher.” And then I drop the bomb.

I tell them that no one–NO ONE–will teach them or tell them how to grade, and they, too, will most likely do as every teacher has always done: grade as they were graded. And at this point, sufficiently settled on my soapbox, I tell them they do not have to buy into doing what’s always been done for the simple fact that it’s always been done.  I refer back to the three scenarios above as an example of the type of choices that they alone will make in their own classrooms and that those choices will most certainly affect the culture in their classrooms. It’s more disheartening than surprising how many of my kids think they have to adopt a punitive paradigm for late work, no-names, etc. Many of them believe that “a lesson has to be taught,” and for many they settle on the punishment path. And I don’t think it’s because they really believe kids should be punished; rather, I think it’s familiar; it’s what was done to them. And they still believe in their innocence that somewhere exists the definitive guide to the grading-practice galaxy that their own teachers heeded and followed. And it is here that I damage their innocence, and tell them that no such thing exists, that it’s the biggest, best-kept dirty little secret in public education.

For some this seems liberating but for others it is terrifying, and it should be both. For with our incredible autonomy comes incredible responsibility, a terrible power that we wield that could ruin kids’ lives if we are not careful. And while that may be a bit of melodramatic over-exaggeration, we do have  the power to make or break our kids. And I want my students to understand this power. They will leave me in a month. And they will move along finding their ways, choosing their own paths, creating their own classroom universes. And regardless of where they end up ultimately–for it really is their choice–I hope that the seed I tried to plant last night helps them grow above the canopy of the status quo and they find the sun–for themselves, for their kids.

Happy Wednesday, all. Huge shout out and thank you to my teacher-panel peeps last night. Thank you Jenna Tamura, Shannon Root, Shasta Ruddock, Marin Hatcher, Jay Martin, Jacob Troyer, and Ray Picicci. So proud to call you colleagues and friends.


3 Replies to “Planting Seeds: Morning Minutes, May 11, 2016”

  • I love being a part of the teacher panel. I’ve been doing this for the past four years. Yes, I’ve been there all 12 times. And each time I find myself contemplating what the one/best piece of advice I wish I would have known when I was in their shoes. I know, that in many ways, I’m not the same teacher I was my first, second, or even third year. That’s not a bad thing. Over the years I’ve grown, learning from my mistakes and reflecting, and become a better teacher…the teacher I am today. I love sharing with these kids and answering their questions every quarter. It’s a highlight for me too.

  • I am so glad that you had this opportunity to reach out to prospective teachers at this time in their studies. The seed was planted last night in the class, hopefully they will see that this seed was started with the intention of bringing
    great change to the level of education they are seeking for their future students. Some insight to what may become one of the biggest challenge in education.

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