Tag Archives: Student

What Do You Remember About Yearbook Day?

Last year, a few days before school ended, Tech received his yearbook. A person involved in several extracurricular activities, he was frustrated when he only appeared in only one photograph – the same individual photograph that we had purchased earlier in the year. This appeared alphabetically amidst a sea of faces.

I tried to soothe my son’s bruised ego by pointing out how tiny the thumbnails were and how difficult it was to see anyone.

He shrugged.

“Anyway, the autographs are the best part!” I flipped through the pages of his book. “Did you get any?”

Tech’s 6th grade year book.

Tech turned to the back of his yearbook where I was surprised to see that kids did not write in sentences as my friends had when we were his age. Instead, they simply penned their names. To be fair, my son collected mainly boys’ signatures last year, so I wondered if maybe it was a gender thing: perhaps 6th grade boys were inclined to communicate their feelings in words less well than girls of the same age.

[For example, someone penned “FAGS,” instead of “HAGS” — an acronym for “Have A Good Summer” — causing one teacher to haul out smiley-face stickers to cover up his unfortunate and oft-repeated abbreviation.]

Later, a friend and I compared notes.  She has daughters, and I was curious to see if 6th grade girls did things differently, but no, I found very much the same kind of thing. Kids just signed their names, sans niceties. I was looking for some kind of: “It was nice meeting you this year”; or “Have a nice summer”; even “Your (sic) a grate (sic) kid.”

Most surprising was that three of my son’s teachers had elected to pre-print their names on Avery stickers. I understand it is tedious to write out one’s name 125 times, but pre-printed stickers? Really? Only the music teacher wrote my son a personal note and took the time to scribble out his signature in his own hand.

So I was interested to see how things would play-out a year later.

This year, on the last day of 7th grade, approximately 3.3 minutes before he had to walk out the house, Tech pulled his backpack over his shoulder and announced, “Oh, we got our yearbooks.”

He was out the door before I had a chance to ask him if he landed in any photographs besides the tiny thumbnail. That night, we flipped through his yearbook together. He was in a few extra pictures but the autographs had changed!

Tech’s 7th grade yearbook.

For the most part, the 7th grade boys are still pretty hapless.

But.

I did see several nice, handwritten notes from teachers recognizing Tech’s hard work this year.

Which was nice.

And I couldn’t help but notice a few more signatures by people with names that certainly sounded feminine.

And some of these notes were composed in actual sentences.

Someone with curly handwriting penned in purple ink:

“I can’t wait to see you when you come home from summer camp. Maybe we can hang out.”

Hmmmmm.

So I know my son has discovered girls, but does he realize that a few girls may have discovered him?

What do you see in your kids’ yearbooks? What do you remember about yearbook day?

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Ghosts Made Me Start This Blog

People often ask me how I come up with my topics.
They ask if I ever suffer from writers’ block.
They ask if I will post naked pictures of myself.
But no one has ever asked me why I decided to start this blog.

Until Erin Margolin came along.

If you’d like to know the rest of the story and how ghosts are involved, follow me to Erin’s place.

And while you are there, check out her words. Girl has range.

wotz da big deal cuz u kno wot i mean

Tomorrow is National Grammar Day in the United States.

I thought I would share some real examples of email communications that I have received over the last 12 months from first year college students.

Please know my intention is not to poke fun at my former students. I respect them and see so much growth during the course of one semester. But I am ashamed of our nation’s education system because I receive communications from students that are peppered with errors like this all of the time. It’s time to pay attention to our children. If we don’t teach our kids to be solid writers, if we don’t give them the skills they need to read and write masterfully, they aren’t going to be competitive in this world which is becoming increasingly reliant on professional international communications.

7 Things That Can Interrupt Solid Grammar

1: Illness

2: Desperation.

3: Pushing SEND too quickly.

4: Contraception.

5: Music.

6: Missing the bus.

7: TMI

Which one is your favorite? Do you think this is funny or sad? Do me a favor, will ya? Show me your grammar skills. Pick one of these messages and fix everything that’s wrong with it. Make it pretty. Please?

Lessons From a Tiger Teacher by Deborah Bryan

She doesn't look like a Monster? Does she?

My guest writer today is Deborah Bryan from The Monster in Your Closet. I met Deb when she was Freshly Pressed. She posted this powerful, personal piece, and I thought she was so brave. Then we got to tweeting.

Later, I won a contest she was running and she sent me a book of poetry and an autographed copy of her own book, The Monster’s Daughter. Then we got to emailing and calling.

Deb has an awesome life. Sometimes she’s a mom, and sometimes she dresses up like a zombie. And sometimes she lands guest spots on reality television shows. And that is why I hate her. I mean I adore her, but I’m jealous. I mean, where is my camera crew? 😉

Read Deb’s beautiful piece about her Lesson Learned. Check out her blog, and follow her on Twitter at @deb_bryan.

• • •

Click here to see the schedule!

Lessons From a Tiger Teacher

I spent most of my early life assuming I’d make a mess of my later life. I was poor and headstrong, both of which seemed to be cons that outweighed pros such as intelligence, writing skill and my dastardly ability to flex the second knuckle of each finger.

I went through the motions of school, but I invested myself only minimally. Why on earth would I want to forego reading time to do homework whose long-term benefit I couldn’t really grasp? I’d plow through my assignments at the last moment just to avoid my mom’s not-quiet lectures on the importance of education, but my effort was strictly “just enough.” I didn’t see the point of doing more.

Mrs. Stamm changed that.

At first, I knew her as the personable, quirky teacher of my high school’s Asian Arts class. Her unique perspective on just about everything left me laughing more often than not. Over the first couple of weeks of the course, I came to enjoy classes with her so much that I approached her about taking her Chinese class as well. She was ecstatic about the inquiry, rightly seeing it as a compliment to her teaching. She approved my joining first-year Chinese late in the term.

It was a little disconcerting jumping into Chinese three weeks late, but I caught up pretty quickly. Within a few days, Mrs. Stamm started returning my quizzes with “A+++” scrawled across the top.

After class, I’d ask her questions about what we had just studied. She relished these questions and encouraged me to keep on asking them.

Within a few weeks, she concluded one such Q&A session with the surprising words: “I hope you keep studying Chinese in college!”

I laughed and said, “You mean, if I go to college.”

When I said this, she gave me a look of such complete incredulity I laughed even harder.

When you go to college, Deborah. When you go to college.”

Virtually every day after that, she’d tell me something she loved about college. She’d daydream for me about the adventures I’d have as a college student. At first, I smiled and nodded, allowing myself only briefly to enjoy the fantasy with her.

Thanks to Mrs. Stamm’s persistence, what started out as my humoring her slowly transformed to actually seeing college as the mandatory next step following high school.

It was only right and natural that I should go to college! It seemed impossible that I could ever have thought otherwise.

Sure, my mom had been trying to pound the importance of higher education through my iron-plated skull since before I understood what college was, but the words felt empty to me without the substance of clear experience to support them.

My class schedule was too full to allow me to continue studying Chinese for long. Those months that I did impacted me far more profoundly than I could ever have guessed when I first walked into Mrs. Stamm’s classroom. I learned not only a smattering of Chinese, but also about Mrs. Stamm’s youth in China. I learned about some of her struggles as she made her way to the quieter — but by no means dull — life she lived when I was her student.

It’s been more than half my life ago that Mrs. Stamm taught me at least as much about hope and having faith in myself as she did about China and Chinese.

I don’t remember much Chinese anymore, but I’ll never forget the warmth of Mrs. Stamm’s unwavering belief I could and would be whatever I dreamed for myself.

Who was I to look at the truths she told me and call her a liar?

Who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself?

Are There Alternatives to the College Experience?

Harvard

Image by Patricia Drury via Flickr

Over the last twenty years, societal attitudes have fostered an expectation that all students should go to college.

Currently, 71% of graduating high school students in the United States go directly from high school to college. And while financial aid has made college accessible for nearly everyone, not all students are ready for college (or the college experience).

Right now over 50% of incoming first-year students require some kind of remediation to help retroactively prepare them for college-level work.

So I am wondering: Are we putting too much emphasis on going to college? Is it possible that the pressure and increasing “requirement” that everyone go to college is an unjust expectation? Is it really necessary that everyone have a college degree? To get entry-level work? Or tradesman status? Because it seems like that’s where we are today. People are paying extraordinary amounts of money to attend college, only to find that upon graduation there are very few well-paying jobs.

Should everyone be expected go to college right out of high school? What else could kids who aren’t hard-wired to continue with formal education do rather than menial labor? Or do you believe that college is the only way to a better life?

The Good, the Bad & the Naughty: Guest Post by Paul Waters

Ain't he a cutie?

My guest blogger today is Paul Waters, and he is one of the very first people I met when I landed in the blogosphere. Paul is originally from Belfast, but this guy has slept around! I mean, he’s lived in England, Romania, Wales, the United States, Germany, Poland, South Africa, and both ends of Ireland. 

For his teacher memory, Paul went off-roading. Instead of writing about just one teacher, he wrote about a few: one good, one bad, and one naughty. Half the fun is in figuring out which is who. 

Check out Paul’s fantastic blog HERE. And follow him at Twitter at @VillageIP. He’s quite brilliant.

 • • •

The Good, the Bad and the Naughty

1. Mr. T. taught me in Primary 4, so I was eight or nine years old. That age when you open your mouth and embarrassing things come out. Like the time I absent-mindedly addressed him as Mummy. The shame.

Mr. T. blamed me for losing the blackboard duster. But it wasn’t my fault.

Honest.

This is what happened.

Mr. T had a sweet tooth!

Mr. T. used to prowl the classroom sneaking a peek at everyone’s packed lunch. If he saw a shiny chocolate bar wrapper or some cake, he’d pounce and snaffle it. Does that count as bullying? Abuse? Theft? Or was he simply an early adopter of the notion that schoolchildren should only eat healthy food like fruit and vegetables?

I decided he wasn’t getting his thick fingers on my lunch, so when he came snooping, I closed my lunchbox and ducked away. A chase ensued – much to the amusement of the rest of the class. He was big but lumbering. I was nippy and kept out of reach.

In exasperation, he threw the duster at me. It was a habit of his – a way to get the attention of boys who were nodding off.  But he already had my full attention. I didn’t want to get clobbered by the chalky duster with the hard wooden handle – so I ducked.

The duster flew past me and out the first floor window. Down to where a new lady teacher was being shown round by our gruff headmaster.

He wasn’t pleased to be clonked on the shoulder by a flying wooden duster.

Apparently it was all my fault. For ducking.

• • •

2. Mr G. had a white sports car. It was very unusual and very low slung for Belfast. Very daring, in fact, because with all the ramps around the city (at army and police checkpoints) he risked having the chassis ripped off any time he went for a drive. I imagine he drove gingerly rather than speedily.

Cool car, right?

Mr G. looked a real character – long hair, flared trousers, colourful jacket. He wasn’t podgy like most male teachers either. There was definitely something about him. He was eye-catching. He wore a long Afghan coat. His appearance, and the rumours about him, hinted at after-school involvement in the music scene and clubs.

He was a living embodiment of the alternative possibilities to keeping your head down and choosing the safe route.

• • •

3. Mr. W. was a foreigner, teaching his native language to eager students. It was that all too rare scenario where every pupil paid attention all of the time.

One pupil prided himself on having read more in the language than the rest and considered himself to be a cut above. In fact, he wanted to be a teacher himself. With that aspiration in mind, he was not slow to correct Mr. W. when he felt the need. This led to some interesting exchanges.

Keep in mind that the student in question had never been to a country where the language being taught was spoken. Nor had he previously met a native speaker.

Nevertheless, he didn’t let that stop him from displaying his “superior” knowledge and forcefully disagreeing with Mr. W. at every opportunity.

In recognition of this pupil’s commanding performance, Mr. W decided to “reward” him with a long list of “advanced vocabulary” to learn – colloquial similes.

Naturally, the outstanding student was delighted to be singled out in this way and enthusiastically learned it all – the better to regale the rest of us with his knowledge.

Now, that is just crew-el!

You may meet this student some day. You’ll know it when you hear him repeat the phrase: “as round as a Spaniard.” Or maybe: “as happy as a cupboard.”

Yes. I’m sorry to say that Mr. W. had wreaked vengeance by creating a completely fake list.

So which is which? Who’s the good one? Who’s the bad one? And who’s the naughty one?

• • •

The good one is Mr T. When he wasn’t throwing dusters, whacking boys with rulers or stealing their lunches, he was inspiring, charismatic and enthusiastic.

The bad one is Mr. G. He cared a lot about cutting a dash, but hardly at all about the children in his class. They stewed and stagnated while he dreamed. Their dreams were put on hold.

Which means the naughty one was Mr. W. He abused his position to mislead a student whose only offence was being seriously annoying and outrageously arrogant. (Okay, two offences then.) On the other hand, the precocious student of English as a foreign language was basing his “expertise” solely on Polish and Russian textbooks. And creating and giving to him the list of fake similes was tremendous fun.

Hee hee.

And I haven’t done it again since I left my teaching post in Poland.

Still laugh about it though.

Which of your teachers were real characters? Did any of them play tricks on you? Throw something at you? Who showed you the good, the bad and the naughty?

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

A Surprise Response

Yesterday I wrote about a student who surprised me by withdrawing himself late in the semester. I am not one to take student disappearances personally, but this one spooked me because he was doing so well. And it is so very late in the semester.

During the course of the day I received a response.

No, it was not from him.

But it was from a former student, someone I have not seen with my own eyes for decades.

This person gave me permission to share.

So I am.

That's a lot of boxes!

When my parents moved from my hometown, I wasn’t able to go home to look through my room, so they threw everything I owned in bags and boxes (mostly just opening the drawers and dumping the stuff in). They said I could look through it later.

That was almost ten years ago.

When I went to visit a few months ago, they told me I should look through everything and either move it or lose it. I spent hours looking through all the papers from preschool through high school. I found drawings I had made, essays I had written, and report cards.

And in the mix, I also found a very sad poem I had written.

And a note from you.

Since I work with teenagers, I worry all the time I will miss the signs — and hope that they feel as comfortable coming to me as I did to you.

It is scary when someone you know commits suicide; it can feel like you missed something.

But I cannot be the only person you have taught to say you have also caught the signs.

As a teen it would not have been easy, or even in my realm of thought, to say thank you.

But it is now.

And so I wanted to write and say thank you for caring, thank you for seeing signs that things were not right and especially thank you for simply taking the time to listen.

I cannot tell you what I might would have done in high school because I really don’t know, but I do know that I am grateful to you for being there.

The campaign says: “It gets better”. Well it does, and I am so grateful to be here to prove that saying true.

Much gratitude to the person who authored this letter.

It meant the world to me.

So much of teaching is about delayed gratification.

We teachers spend our days with these people — some of whom we come to care about — and then we set them free, and cross our fingers that everyone will land on his or her feet.

I’m so happy to know this person has.

@Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

A Letter To The Student Who Withdrew Himself

This picture is an example of subliminal stimu...

Image via Wikipedia

Back before the semester started, I lightheartedly joked that I would never be able to learn my new students’ names because there were so many duplicates on my roster. I quickly figured out who was who. While many of their names were the same, they were all so very unique. And it was good.

Not too long ago, a student who had been doing very well withdrew himself from my class.

I kind of freaked out.

One year, I had a student commit suicide while I taught him. I missed the signals. And I was among the last people he’d talked to before he very intentionally decided to wrap his car around a pole.

Nervous, I called Student Services to let them know I was concerned about this student’s sudden disappearance. A woman assured me someone would contact him.

In the meantime, I sent him an email:

Dear Student X:

I noticed that you have been out a few days, but I assumed you were just sick.

I intended to call you today if you weren’t in class — and then I was poking around for your phone number when I saw that you had withdrawn yourself from class.

Are you okay?

I’m worried about you.

Oddly, that day in the hall, when I saw you expertly rolling a cigarette, licking the paper, and sliding it behind your ear, I wondered if something was going on.

I had a weird feeling.

And then you never came back.

You were doing really well.

Was it the research paper that spooked you?

I wish you had come to talk to me. Or emailed. Or called.

Because you are a very good writer, so I hope you left because you didn’t like my teaching style or something.

Because that I can handle.

But I’d hate to think you dropped the course because you thought you weren’t succeeding when you were.

Or that you are in a dark place not feeling good about yourself.

Can you let me know you are okay?

Sincerely,

RASJ

At week 12, the leaves have fallen off the trees. My class roster is down over 50%. Maybe more. I have lost all my Ashleighs, and I am down to one Ashley. My remaining students don’t seem to notice. Or, if they do, they don’t say anything. But they must see that there are more available seats around them, that there are fewer backpacks over which to trip, that there are fewer heads obstructing their view. They must recognize there is more room to move, more air to breathe. But maybe they don’t.

When I was in college, I don’t think I noticed when people disappeared.

Sometimes I blink back tears. Because I wonder about the disappeared ones. I wonder if they are okay. I wonder if they have landed in soft places where people are helpful and offering hands with palms up. People tell me not to worry so much, that I can’t possibly save them all.

I know that. But I don’t have to like it. Right?

What would you do if someone in your life suddenly dropped out of it? What if Student X were your child, away at college for the first time? What would you want a college professor to do?

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We’re #1… And I Feel Guilty

Newsweek posted its annual “500 Best High Schools” report.** Immediately after the list was published, my local district posted the results in its Fall 2011 Newsletter which indicated that one high school in the district ranked #73 and the other high school came in at #99.

That day, I went to the grocery store. And as I shopped, I ran into folks who were all in a tizzy. Here’s a sampling of what I heard:

How did our school drop from last year? And why is their school better/worse than the other school? And why didn’t our school make the list?

Meanwhile, I kept my head low and kept pushing my cart.

While other people griped, I was content. I mean both high schools in my district made the top 100 list in Newsweek.

Last week, my entire district was just ranked #1 in the State by this report that came out on October 27, 2011.

Awesome, right?

But I’ve been thinking about these lists.

About what they do to us.

How they make us anxious/frustrated/furious/complacent/content.

They get our attention, get us to react, get us to blame, point fingers, worry, obsess, gloat.

And even though I can now wear a t-shirt that proudly proclaims that my child attends the #1 public school district in New York State, there’s something that is making it impossible for me to ride get on my magical unicorn and fly away.

The district deemed “worst” in New York State is also right here in Rochester; The Rochester Public City School District, a District that serves over 32,000 children, came in dead last at #431.

Never has there been such disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

At my nephew’s graduation back in June, the administrators noted that the Class of 2011 was exceptional. Graduating seniors had received astronomical numbers of dollars in academic scholarships. It was surreal. Collectively, their SAT scores were redinkadonk. Sitting in that huge field-house surrounded by well-dressed, well-fed, financially secure families, I felt hopeful. I think everyone did.

In September 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported:

The results from the [2011] college-entrance exam, taken by about 1.6 million students… revealed that only 43% of students posted a score high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed in college, according to the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the exam.

When I read that report, I read its inversion: 57% of students are not prepared for college level work.

And I knew who they were talking about.

On the second day of this semester, I administered a written diagnostic to my Composition-101 class designed to determine if students could write a basic essay on-demand.

Guess what?

I don't like to fail people. But sometimes I have to.

About thirty percent of the class failed the exam.

What’s the big deal?

I’m glad you asked!

In the last four years that I have worked at my local community college, I have learned a lot about the demographic of my students. Most of these students are not as fortunate as the children in my home district.

Many did not graduate high school. Some do not have money for breakfast or lunch and eat out of vending machines. I have had homeless students; one admitted to me that he had been hiding and sleeping in Wal-Mart right before he was caught and arrested. I have students who look down at their shoes when asked to read aloud because they can barely read. I have had students whose mothers are abusive and whose fathers are in prison.

Some students are civilian veterans; folks who have served in the United States military and are now returning to the classroom to try to focus on academics after multiple overseas deployments. Some claim some kind of disability status; and for others, English is not to primary language spoken in the home. Too many come from families whose annual median income fell below the poverty line.

So what do these lists tell us?

They tell us what we already know.

That students who come from an environment where parents encourage education will value education. They will come to school with full bellies, having slept in a bed they can call their own. They come with backpacks stuffed with all the required materials and minds that are ready to learn.

Children who grow up with some kind of interference — whether it be emotional, cultural or fiscal — will have to work harder to get where they want to go. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder.

I hate this enormous social disparity.

Pointing out the disparity in reports and newsletters doesn’t seem productive, nor does it seem to result in changes for the people who need them the most.

Here is what I can tell you:

Colleges are spending millions on remedial courses to prepare high school graduates for college-level work.

Businesses are having to invest time and money teaching employees basic skills they did not learn in school.

Well-intentioned (but misguided) initiatives like No Child Left Behind as well as our over-emphasis on standardized testing in the core subjects have sent us in the wrong direction. Instead of teaching students to think across the disciplines, administrators have chosen to “cut the fat” — programs like music and art and drama — which are considered esoteric and unnecessary.

And no matter how much I may I want to, I can’t fix students in 15 weeks: not when 12 years of school has failed them.

** Did you see the Newsweek report?

Go ahead and look at it.

You know you want to.

America’s Best High Schools: The List – Newsweek.

What do you think about these lists? Do they get you worked up? Or do they make you feel helpless?

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The Day Monsieur Said Non

In 11th grade, I needed three stellar recommendations that I could send off with my college applications. I felt confident that I would receive solid letters from two of my former English teachers, but then I was kinda stuck. There was no way I could ask any of my math teachers. I mean, I had enjoyed Geometry, but I wasn’t necessarily good at it; my Algebra teacher had retired two years prior; and I wasn’t on good terms with my homeroom teacher.

Monsieur gives me the finger.

Finally, I decided to ask my French teacher.

I’d been in his class for two years. I was reasonably interested in the material (kinda); I liked him a lot (that should count for something, right?); I did my homework (sometimes); and I tried not to laugh too much. Yes, I decided, Monsieur Stephenson would be the perfect person to write me the outstanding recommendation that I was seeking.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he flat out said no.

“Think about your performance in my class,” he said. “Do you give 100% ? Do you take everything seriously? Do you show me that you want to be here? Do you do anything extra?” He pushed his hair back with the palm of his hand and sat up straight in his chair. “Think about the answers to those questions and then you’ll understand why I can’t write you a letter.”

He did not say he was sorry.

Fast forward 25 years, and here it is, recommendation letter writing season.  Like frantic homing pigeons who have been lost for an awful long time my former students are returning to me, asking me to write all kinds of letters: to get into four-year colleges, to enter the military, to give to potential employers — so I find myself thinking of Monsieur Stephenson a lot.

Mr. Stephenson in the 1980s

When Monsieur refused me that day, he gave me a big dose of reality. It is not enough to simply show up: a person must do more than make a good impression.

Many of my former students think that because they liked me – that because I was kind to them and they passed my class – that they are entitled to strong letters of recommendation.

However, the best letters of recommendation are not just about “passing the course,” but about work ethic and character, growth and potential.

I am strangely grateful to Monsieur Stephenson for refusing to write me that letter, and I see his wisdom in holding up a mirror before me and having me take that proverbial good hard look at myself and the choices I had made that brought me to that day.

I even understand that his mediocre letter could have prevented me from getting into the college of my choice.

Students need to think carefully and be direct in asking any potential letter writer if that person can produce a strong letter of recommendation on their behalf.

If a student cannot find a professor or teacher, they may have to get creative and look to coaches, neighbors, religious leaders, perhaps someone who has witnessed their involvement in community service.

I learned more than just French from Monsieur Stephenson: as teacher now, myself, I have learned how to be selective about whom I consider writing letters of recommendation; after all, they are time-consuming endeavors, unpaid labors of love.

Having said that, I am happy to write one for you – if you deserve it.

Anybody refuse to write you a letter of recommendation? How’d you take it?

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© Renée Schuls-Jacobson 2011. All rights reserved.