Monday, September 16, 2019

What Your Kids Need to Know Before They Move Out

As a recent “empty-nester” I could have used something like the list I am sharing with you as my wife and I prepared to send both of our kids out the door to adulthood!  A lot has been said about our generation of parenting, quite a bit of it negative in terms of making our kids too dependent on us.  To a large extent, I agree with the criticism and have worked hard as a dad to prepare my kids to take care of themselves.  Some of it has taken hold, but some has not.  Tim Elmore, in his blog Growing Leaders, shares a list of 14 skills he believes we must instill in our children to prepare them to become independent, self-sufficient adults.  You may want to create a checklist from this and let it guide you over the course of the next few years.  I know that as I looked it over I still have some work to do!

14 Skills Your Kids Should Have Before Moving Out

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thoughts About the Gymnasium Uberlingen Exchange — Part II

Shortly after I arrived and spent a couple of days in Uberlingen, I sent an email back to my administrator colleagues at NFV entitled Universal Truths!  We had gone on one of our outings, and I had just spent a good chunk of the morning at Gymnasium Uberlingen, with an opportunity to observe students and teachers, and to talk to my principal colleague, Hans Weber.  I also had a chance to talk with a teacher that we will get to know much better in the future, Ute Kramer, as she will travel on the next exchange to NFV.  In that small snapshot of time, I made some determinations, perhaps a little too soon or without adequate evidence!

First,  female students at Gymnasium Uberlingen dress very much like girls in our school, with shorts shorter than a conservative old foggy with a young daughter like me are comfortable with.  They do not have a dress code, but there were some observations made by a couple of their teachers that would indicate that many push the boundaries of what is acceptable in a school setting.  The boys, on the other hand, dressed a lot different than our’s.  First of all, sports are not nearly as large of a part of their culture as ours, and thus that kind of apparel influence was for the most part nonexistent.  No long baggy shorts, and not nearly the number of t-shirts.  They wore shorts and jeans, most of them other than blue denim, that were a lot more form fitting.  The point is that you could not tell the difference between American and German teenage females, but you most definitely could between the boys.

Kids do not do homework!  Teachers from the gymnasium expressed deep frustration that a high percentage of their current students do not do homework.  We see a lot of the same, to the extent that researchers have dug in trying to figure out why, and others in the field have spent a great deal of time determining what is valuable homework and what is not.  I was particularly surprised to hear this from gymnasium teachers because of their tiered educational system.  Those kids attending their school will take some very intensive exams at the conclusion of their final year of high school that will determine whether or not they will get into college, and then what college.  Talk about high stakes!  Perhaps it is indicative of this generation of young people that they haven’t internalized the concept of putting in the time to learn before you are assessed.  There are differences in motivation between our students and theirs due to the difference in school systems, but none the less students are choosing not to do homework.

Teachers from Uberlingen and our district claim that students are coming to school less prepared, and that parents are not as supportive of the school’s handling of student issues as in the past.  The same has been said in our nation’s schools as well.  In fact, schools have gone to great lengths to teach and provide services that are traditionally the responsibility of the family.  We have some great parents in our community, and I am sure that there are in Uberlingen as well, but like a lot of things, a “loud minority” often grabs the attention and focus of others.  Problems tend to receive more attention than things that are going well.  However, teachers in both places complain about giving up instruction time in their content area to teach things that should have been taught at home by parents.  

Something that was a bit of a surprise was that teachers do not feel appreciated, which is the same in our schools.  It has been well chronicled how teachers in our country face incredible challenges in the face of overwhelming criticism from a variety of different sources, and changes made by politicians.  A number of studies have determined that teacher morale is at an all-time low.  What I heard from teachers over there is primarily connected to changes in the school system made by the government.  The educational program is a lot more centralized in terms of curriculum that must be taught and assessments that have to be given.  Gymnasiums are the highest level schools for students in the country and designed to prepare students to go on to a university.  In recent years the government has relaxed admission standards and basically have taken the position that if parents want a child to go to a gymnasium, then they can, regardless of the child's academic level.  That is a drastic change, and means that there are kids in their schools that do not have the skills to succeed, and teachers are being asked to do more to see that they do.  It is a dramatic shift in expectations for teachers, and many are having a great deal of difficulty making the adjustment. 

Gaming online is a main competitor for student’s time outside of school, just as it is with some of our young people, as well as time spent on social media.  It seemed like as soon as we walked into a place that had free WiFi, out came all of the phones!  Fortnight is every bit as popular among German teens as it is with our’s.  One thing I did not see were phones in hand when students were moving through the halls at school, but at the same time, they were not carrying laptops either.  Keep in mind, however, that in their schools students stay in the same room and the teachers travel, thus the devices may have been left in the room.  Teachers expressed a similar frustration that students come to school tired in the mornings after late nights of gaming.

Over the years as I have traveled across our country, visiting schools and talking to educators, I have developed the belief that kids are kids, regardless of where they come from and live.  Now, having experienced a little bit of another country up close, this belief is further confirmed.  In this “smaller world” referenced in a previous article, technology has removed a lot of the unknowns.  More of the American way of life has seeped into the daily life of the areas we visited.  Technology has also caused change, and regardless of who you are or where you are, change is difficult.  Some of the challenges are the same for educators, both here and in Germany.  The more we communicate and work together, perhaps we can find positive ways to deal with them.