Thursday, September 10, 2015

School Gripes

     I've often said that the two most important and underpaid jobs on the planet are pastor and teacher. I've also said that they're two of the most difficult jobs to do well and that I doubt I'd last more than a couple days as a teacher and perhaps a couple months as a pastor, depending, as I don't feel equipped for either. So such practitioners deserve huge amounts of respect for dedicating themselves despite low pay, long hours, and persistent underfunding, all for the intangible benefit of growth of students/parishioners that they may never see.
     Deanne and I have always been very satisfied with all our three kids' public schools and teachers, so it was a huge disappointment to learn of reduced middle school and high school hours and periodic replacement of academic class periods with study hall. For Pene, school hours were reduced from ~8:00 to ~3:00 to ~8:00 to ~2:00 and she now has study hall four days a week. For Braden, hours were cut from ~8:00 to ~2:30 to ~8:00 to ~2:15, and study hall, which meets twice a week, is this year considered optional, thus school days are in essence ~8:00 to ~2:00 for students that choose to skip study hall.
     At Pene's open house, I learned that last academic year, students attended each of six enrolled classes four times a week but that this year such meetings have been cut to three. Teachers emphasized that with this reduction, it's critical that students not fall behind and that they get the most out of each class session because there won't be many opportunities to catch up otherwise, and that the new study hall class is essential to keep on top with the reduced classroom hours and class attendance days.
     The good news is that study hall permits students to get a hall pass and go to whichever teacher they need help from. It's a decent idea in theory, but in practice, I doubt many students that need help use it as designed to improve their grades or understanding—it's expecting an awful lot of students (slackers) to recognize the need to study more, request a hall pass, walk over to the designated teacher, wait in line, ask the teacher for help, sit through explanations, perform additional exercises as necessary, get the pass signed, walk back to study hall, return the pass, and mostly to recognize the need for tutoring and drum up the courage to pursue it in the first place without being told or forced to by a parent or teacher. This is especially true at Braden's high school where study hall is scheduled the last period of the day and is now optional. Will kids voluntarily stay after school dismissal to pursue help? Wasn't this always an option last year before this ill-advised policy change?
     I told Braden that unless he's getting straight A's, he is to always attend and study hall, especially since he's taking a foreign language for the first time, and this from a disciplined teacher with high expectations.
     Pene's school fortunately mandates attendance at study hall, but most of the time she just does homework or reads in it since she always stays on top of her academics. Nonetheless, study hall has effectively reduced her classroom instruction time since there is no teaching in study hall for students like her who don't need additional help. I feel that's short-changing her for being responsible and staying on top of her work.
     I asked one of Pene's teacher, “Whose idea was it to reduce the number of times each class meets per week?”
     He said, “The teachers. After each school year, the faculty discuss how the year's schedule worked and how it might be improved. Last year we ended close to three o-clock and everyone was just dragging by the end of the day—it was just too long. So the idea came up to shorten each day and class meetings per week and make up for it with study hall. We had study hall in the past; for some reason it got dropped.
     This explained a bunch. Last academic year, especially toward the end, Pene's and Braden's classes each had tons of slack days when all they did was watch non-academic movies or only very loosely related Hollywood fare during class time. Some of their classes showed movies in series, too, multiple class sessions in a row.  And sometimes the kids did nothing but attend class parties and watch movies all day long! When I was their age, this never happened.  They even had do-nothing periods, when all they did was “whatever”—as long as they stayed out of trouble. Pene tended to read and Braden tended to put his head down or “do nothing.”
     By the way, Pene's teacher also said that next school year, the schedule will change again due to state legislature mandated increased classroom hours. I hope this doesn't mean more movies, parties, and do-nothing days to give teachers and students a break.

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