Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Parenting Arms Race

As I have had opportunity to meet with school administrators from across the nation over the past fifteen years I have become much more in tune with issues related to education where there is a significant difference between various regions of our country.  I have had a chance to get into a lot of different schools and see students from many of our fifty states.  One of my takeaways is that for the most part, kids are kids.  There really isn’t much difference between those kids who attend a school from a wealthy suburb near San Diego to those from an inner-city school in Philadelphia.  They may have a little different fashion sense from one place to another, but other than that, you could pick a young lady up from Celebration High School near Orlando and put her into Centennial High School in Nebraska and you would have a hard time picking her out.  This may be a little bit of a simplification because there are in fact some regional differences, but not as much as some people may think.  This said, I am still very happy being in the Midwest where it seems that our perspective has a little more balance.  Yes, there are folks out there on the extreme in every community, but overall, I believe that the Midwest is the best place to raise a family.  That is why I have included this article from the Washington Post.  I have bumped into a few of these kinds of folks even here in Iowa, yet I am glad I do not work in a school where the perspective mirrors this.  However, while the “status seeking on steroids” you will read about is at times mind-blowing, there is a degree of it in our own community, certainly not on this level, but it is here.  The bottom line is that we want to do what is best for our kids, and we need to have a perspective that is reasonable and in their best interest.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

What Students Need To Hear

I have never been afraid of stealing a good idea, or borrowing something that someone else does very well, and do it myself.  It is said that very little of what we do in education is an original idea.  As a classroom teacher and principal I have taken a lot of things that other people do and put them in place.  If there is something good that works we would be foolish not to do it ourselves!  This holds true for things that I have read, as is evident by sharing some of the blog articles from Tim Elmore.  I am going to do that again by sharing some thoughts that from Chase Mielke.  Mielke is a teacher that writes a blog entitled AffectiveLiving at, and I am going to reference a few thoughts from his story What Students Really Need to Hear.
The first thing that teachers must let students know that they care about them, and in some instances may care more about a student than he/she cares about him/herself.  Teachers need to communicate with their students that it isn’t the grades or the scores, rather they care about you as a person.  There’s an old saying about the relationship between students and teachers: They (students) don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Teachers need to be free to be honest with students and let them know that they worry about them when they go home at night, and lose sleep because they know that something is going on in your life that is giving you a great deal of concern.
More important, because they care, teachers must be able to tell their students the truth about school.  It isn’t about math or English or other academic classes.  It isn’t about getting good grades or being involved in activities.  All of these things are very important, but they are just part of the big picture and part of the purpose of school.  The primary purpose of school is to learn how to deal with the harshness of life when times get tough.  It is to prepare young people to confront the challenges that lie ahead.  Learning how to become resilient and deal with setbacks.  Working with people that can be obnoxious or mean.  Learning to deal with problems like a locker combination that doesn’t work, gossip, conflict between two activities, or the same deadline for more than one assignment.  That’s the purpose of school.
What teachers want to tell their students is that many of them are failing this most important part of school.  They may be passing classes, but they are not learning how to deal with the difficult challenges that Mielke calls the main event: adversity.  Teachers tell students that high school will not be the most difficult time of their life.  It gets a lot tougher!  Yet many students do not heed the advice, and in fact many are setting themselves up to fail.  Many students are quitting, and yet they do not even know they are doing it.  Some quit by wasting a complete day.  They do not complete a problem in their math class or write a sentence for their social studies homework.  For some reason they don’t believe it matters and they do not step up and accept the challenge of completing their work.
Other students quit by skipping classes, or finding ways to leave class.  These students are throwing away a fundamental gift they have been given in this country: a free education!  They choose to pursue their own pleasures rather than take advantage of an opportunity that will pay dividends in their future.  Quitting takes many forms, like taking the easy road rather than the one with challenges.  The same can be said for those students who choose not to work harder when they are down in a class.  They quit because they are not willing to get their act together and sacrifice when things look difficult, or perhaps impossible.  In some instances it comes down to making hard choices, and finding hope, courage and fortitude to get the job done.
Students need to be told that being rude and disrespectful to adults is another form of quitting, whether it be a teacher in the hallway asking you to hustle to class, or an associate in study hall telling you to take your seat or quiet down.  Students who do this take a hard line and view respectful behavior as bowing to authority.  What they are lacking is the ability to problem solve in a mature manner and to use good judgment rather than be ruled by emotion.  The teenage brain is not fully developed, especially that part that uses reason and logic.  That is why students need to work to develop this skill.
While some teachers talk to students about effort and putting in the time, most the time they avoid being blunt.  To be blunt, what they really need to say to a teenager is that every time you take the easy way out, you are building a habit of quitting.  Like any habit, it is tough to stop quitting once you start, and like others, it will destroy your future.  You see, we live in a society that values winners and does not care one bit for quitters.  Quitters are going to end up alone and depressed if they don’t figure out how to man or woman up to deal with adversity and hardship.  Compared to other eras in our nation’s history, as well as to life in other parts of the world, American teens live an easy life, even those who have it tough by our standards. 

What I would really like to hear teachers say when they meet with a student that isn’t turning in work or challenging their authority is the same as Miekle: “As long as you are in my life I am not going to let quitting be easy for you.  I am going to challenge you, confront you, push you, and coach you.  You can whine.  You can throw a tantrum.  You can shout and swear and stop and cry.  And the next day, guess what?  I will be there waiting – smiling and patient – to give you a fresh start.  Why?  Because you are worth it!  Do yourself a favor!  Step up.  No more excuses.  No more justifications.  No blaming.  No quitting.  Just pick your head up.  Rip the cords out of your ears.  Grab the frickin’ pencil and let’s do this!”