Saturday, May 17, 2008

Like a Dog Returning to His Own Vomit..

(Does anyone else remember that line from the movie “The Sure Thing”?)

Well, it looks like my last post generated some feelings, and I think it’s only fair to address them openly rather than letting them hide in the nether regions of the comments. In particular, one response is from David Rice, an English teacher at MCHS.

It’s ironic that Mr. Rice would take the post personally, although I can see how it would offend him, since I did not name names and thereby exclude him in my post. Of all the teachers at MCHS, he is one of maybe five teachers whom every student and parent adores. If all the teachers there taught to his standard of excellence, MCHS would be a world class school, and I don’t say that lightly. He is always enthusiastic, energized, upbeat, engaged, open-minded, and a joy to have leading the classroom. His projects are relevant, challenging, and advance the cause of learning, as well as the understanding of his topic. He uses every minute of the extended block period for instruction and reinforcement, and I’m not alone in my opinion that if he were head of his department, it would change for the better by an order of magnitude.

Also, for the record, I didn’t make these things up myself. I have little classroom experience at MCHS because, obviously, I graduated yonks ago. I have, however, done classroom observations and listened to over 6 years of complaints and worries from my children at the end of each school day. I have, over the years, called teachers, guidance counselors, the THREE principals we’ve had during that time, attended School Board meetings, met with all of the above, emailed and snail mailed them, too, about my concerns, ad nauseum.

And, one day, I had had enough. So, I wrote down a summary of things, largely tongue-in-cheek, reflecting my kids’ complaints about their high school experiences. I don’t pretend these complaints are completely reflective of other children’s experiences there, and I do not speak for other parents either. However, I did ask all three of my kids to read this list before I posted it. I asked for their input, any changes or additions, and got a round table consensus from them about each item. I also incorporated some things that I have discussed with other parents and other students and former students, but cleared it through my kids.

Bunny said she wished some of the things weren’t true, but they are. Spot (formerly Spawn) gave a rueful laugh and said they were all true and some were worse than I had stated. Doodle nodded his head, agreeing with the others, and added a couple of his recent experiences to the pool.

There will always be exceptions, especially to anything written in a sarcastic or humorous manner, to posts that vent and to posts that laud on a non-specific basis. That being said, I am leaving my original snark in standard type, Mr. Rice’s commentary is in italics, and my responses are in bold.

Title: 20 Things My Kids Have Learned at MCHS
(and 20 Things the Teachers Have Learned About Me and My Kids)

1. If enough of your classmates whine about a test, project, paper, or assignment deadline, the teacher will change it.
(And your kids learned how to whine at home, as is demonstrated by your whining in this post.)
It’s my blog. I could post pictures of shaved goats wearing tutus and clown shoes and label them “Entertainment PhDs” if I wanted.

2. If enough kids whine about how hard a project is, the teacher will make it easier.
(See #1)
Your projects are great. You have never required “gilded spaghetti” projects that waste children’s time. I wish that were the norm.

3. If a lot of the kids act like they really enjoy group work, the teacher will let you all do more, including coloring and skits. There’s always some nerd in the group who wants to learn and does a good job, so everyone gets a good grade!
(And was your kid the one who chose to rely on others’ work? If so, what does that say about what he/she learned at home? If not, then he/she learned that people who work can excel, regardless of what their co-workers do. Still a valuable lesson in life. Moreover, maybe one your kids group mates learned something from your kid? Wouldn’t that be a tragedy if kids actually learned from each other, as well as the teacher?)
Homework is a good thing for everyone. Please see:
Aargh, Student Teachers 11/13/06 – Social Studies department quirks
Five Things for Student Teachers 11/17/06 - self-explanatory vent of things I wish student teachers had assimilated before entering the classroom. There are undoubtedly points for/of disagreement.

4. A five-page paper, double-spaced, is the most anyone will ever expect of you in life. Plus, you get to whine about it!
(In which case it is clear your child did not meet the expectations/requirements of either junior or senior English. Hmmm, not meeting expectations. The fault of the teacher or of the student who CHOSE not to meet them?)
All three of my children have consistently been on the honor roll EVERY year in high school. Not all teachers adhere to the requirements for your department, sadly. Even more depressing is the fact that the school year has ended before the papers were graded and handed back. Twice, to my specific knowledge.

5. No matter if the course title is AP or honors, if the teacher is bad, everyone gets a good grade, whether they learn or do anything or not.
(Gee, everyone who qualifies for an honors class gets a good grade? Your kid obviously did not take Honors English I or II! Mr. Rice and Mr. Kein are notorious for the number of students moved out---followed by a great deal of parental whining about how unfair we are because we actually expect kids to meet our expectations or transfer to a different level.)
Please note that I said “if the teacher is bad” as a condition. Neither of you are bad teachers. There are bad teachers, some are in your department. Two of my three children have had honors classes with both of you and done well but got moved to other designations later, at my behest, because I did not want them taking classes with bad teachers and misleading labels.

While this counted against them in the GPA race, I don’t play that game. They have outstanding skills because I made skills a priority, since those last, as opposed to letting them succumb to GPA games, which leave students lacking in skills, but long on impressive-sounding transcripts. I am not making this up. Parents of “honor” students talk. My kids have outscored all but a couple of cohorts per year (on the ACT) in their “honors” circles because I do know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about.

6. If you’re in sports, you get excused from a lot of assignments.
(If your child learned to generalize, they learned it at home. A generalization such as this would be an “F” on an assignment in my English class. Give me a specific EXAMPLE---or go to work for a political campaign for either party.)
Your first statement is specious. Generalization is not limited to my blog and is considered a skill in the category of social language pragmatics. I refuse to name bad teachers who have given up rigor for pacification because they deserve their anonymity, too. Instead, I talk to them and the administration, which I have done and will continue to do. See also Spawn's Small Town 12/05/06 - latter half are his experiences re the HS.

7. If your teacher is a coach, there’s a lot of free time in class and very few assignments.
(And if a student athlete is ineligible, the FIRST call a teacher gets is from Mom or Dad----whining about how we’re penalizing their son/daughter and removing the ONLY reason they come to school anyway.)
Not my fault. I’m the one who stands alone in front of the school board, the principal, and the classroom teacher arguing for greater rigor and higher expectations when necessary. Please see:
The Talk 4/2/07 about high standards, intrinsic rewards, and the quest for personal excellence,
The Letter I Didn't Send 5/29/07 morally questionable selling of academic indulgences,
Plans for Life 4/23/07 – prepping for the ACT and my opinions about high school studies and the early years of college

8. Homework? What’s homework? We do that in class instead of getting a full 90 minutes (block schedule) of instruction or learning activities.
(See #6)
See 6 and 7, as well as:
Notes I Have Sent 5/3/06 humorous notes I’ve sent to elementary, middle and high schools. I think you will find the last one particularly relevant.

9. Ninety minutes of silent reading while the teacher is on the computer is considered a good use of our time at school.
(See #6)
See 6 and 7

10. We guess you can learn a lot from movies. We sure see plenty of them, including the same ones year after year or stuff we’ve seen at home already.
(See #6. Gee, this is getting boring! Do you already work for a Presidential campaign, or are you just a talented amateur at this?)
(Snort) See 6 and 7. Then go talk to the librarians about how many movies they plug into the system over the course of a semester. I have. It might open your eyes to what your cohorts are doing. Doodle saw 5 movies in his first term of English, none of which were relevant to the course, nor were they reviewed, nor were the students tested on them, nor were they discussed in class. Bunny saw three in her senior English class, only one of which was relevant; the rest were time fillers. In a different English class, they saw two, also not discussed, reviewed, or accompanied by assessments of knowledge.

You have no idea how sad it makes me to know that my charges, even phrased tongue-in-cheek, are true.

Last Sock in the Nerd Hamper 3/5/07 – a humorous take on validated giftedness
Nerdliness Further 2/13/07 – living with gifted children, and memories

11. If you’re involved in enough activities and can’t keep up in class, get your parents to complain and the teachers will lower their expectations!
(Are you talking about YOUR kids? If not, how can you be sure that the information you have is accurate? I’m sure that every time your kids tell you, “But ALL the kids are doing it!” you accept that and give in, right? Then why do you assume that their version of what happens in my class is accurate?)
If it were YOUR class, I would not have this complaint. Sadly, you remain a statistical outlier on the scale of teacher excellence, along with a few other teachers. I have no problem with you defending your own conduct, but I would advise you to be careful of generalizing the other teachers’ classroom conduct and expectations, just as you have cautioned me on my generalizations.
Really, do you have any idea of how demoralizing such behavior on the part of teachers can be to the student ?
I urge you to read some of my other posts before assuming you know the basis for my snarky remarks.

12. If you get a tough teacher who makes you learn and work, you will remember them fondly forever, and, regardless of the class, it will be what you wish for in every other class you ever take.
(Just like every worker remembers his/her good bosses fondly. Again, a lesson in life. Another one, though, is that not every student is inspired/motivated by the same teachers. For every student who thinks Teacher “A” is the worst teacher ever, there’s a student who thinks that Teacher “A” made school bearable/interesting/exciting. Again, is YOUR child’s opinion of a teacher the only one that matters?)
Nope. I never said so. I am answerable for what I say, not for what you think.

13. Never complain about not having enough work, hard enough work, or expectations being low because then the teachers will give you a lower grade to “prove” you wrong.
(See #6. And then ask yourself if you actually brought your concerns to the TEACHER and or the PRINCIPAL with specific examples that someone could actually address? Probably not. It’s a lot easier to blog!)
And, it’s a lot easier to pretend you know who I am, who my children are, what I support, and what my expectations are, rather than reading my previous posts… Which are pretty clearly categorized.

14. If you have to read a book for a class, it will be depressing. If you already don’t read for pleasure, this will help make sure you never do.
(Gee, nobody ever learns anything from books like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or ROMEO AND JULIET. They’re so depressing. Hey, let’s read CHICKEN SOUP books, instead! They’re inspirational, require no thought, and teach everyone that mediocre writing can become a best seller. And then we’ll all pretend that the folks on AMERICAN IDOL are just as good as Yo-Yo Ma or Frank Sinatra or Maria Callas or the other great artists of the 20th C.)
Well, that’s certainly a leap without any basis. And, let me lob this one back, that must mean that there are NO books worth reading, or genre worth exploring, which do not involve graphically depicted violent death, racism, suicide, or mental illness, and those which fail on the “depressing” scale are therefore are intrinsically unworthy of being analyzed for literary merit.

15. If you are smart and non-conformist, someone will call your parents to discuss your “problems.”
(Hmmm. Non-conformist. Is that the student who refuses to follow the classroom assignment to keep a binder with his/her papers in neat order, to aid in studying/reviewing because that’s not her style? Or is that the student who wears the t-shirt with the inappropriate message? Or the one whose smell is so bad that every student in the class BEGS you to talk to the nurse? Again, a bit of specificity on how your darling is a “non-conformist” might help!)
You might recognize one of the references in the following:

My Kids Aren't From Stepford 4/29/06 -actual calls I’ve gotten from schools, and my responses. In reality, I did say these things, but followed them up with more situationally and socially correct remarks as well.
Or here:
Notes I Have Sent 5/3/06 humorous notes I’ve sent to elementary, middle and high schools

16. If you hate school – go anyway! Make sure to take classes with coach-teachers to keep your GPA high. They’ll give you a diploma just to get rid of you!
(Again, a non-specific charge with no support. Hope you don’t have a job which actually requires you to back up your opinions. Or do you work for Dick Cheney, in which case neither logic nor support is required.)
ROFLMAO! (wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, and then…t-i-c again…) Oh, so poorly fletched an arrow poses risks to birds a-wing! Take a look at MCHS’s school report cards, which indicate, quite objectively, that the majority of students graduating fall BELOW the PSAE benchmarks across the board, and the ACT scores which show students averaging below college readiness benchmarks in all areas excluding reading.

17. If you want to know if you’re prepared for college, refer to your ACT score, not your high school transcript. That’s what colleges do.
(And is that OUR fault?! Or is this sarcasm? As with all the other inane generalities, your failure to actually give a concrete example makes it impossible to respond. Of course, that’s the point of this diatribe, isn’t it? After all, it’s SO much easier to sling mud in large quantities rather than accept the fact that your son/daughter may have thrown away innumerable opportunities to excel, to participate in the myriad extra-curriculars this school offers, or to take the BEST of our EVERY class, regardless of whether he/she like the teacher.)
No, it’s systemic and nationwide, but it is also local and therefore relevant. See above for objective references. Also refer to The Talk .

18. If you want to know what college work is like, ask a parent or a college student. Don’t count on your teachers or classes to help prepare you for it.
(It’s amazing what an incredible percentage of students we have failing out of college, isn’t it? Oh, wait. We don’t. Well, in that case it’s amazing what an amazing percentage of students we have who have learned EVERYTHING they know in the first 2 weeks of college! Gee, your darling is a genius, just like you told everyone when they were 2 and knew all their colors, even “Fuschia”!)
Not sure where you’re getting your data, which appears to be largely subjective. I think you should instead, for anecdotal purposes, poll the graduating students and find out what percentage are going to have to take remedial courses when they start college. And see the above references. Nationwide, 40% of incoming college students require remediation (Journal of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed.), and over the last 10-15 years, colleges have had to institute competency tests in order to place students in appropriate math and English courses, which is a sad, sad statement on the ability of high schools nationwide to prepare kids for college. There is no shortage of information available, if you choose to seek it out.

The Mind of Spawn 8/23/06 about dealing with gifted children and their thirst for knowledge,
Phrase Migration 1/10/07 – last third, school encounters
Holding Forth 8/28/06 – teaching language skills from the get-go

19. Friends are great. Sometimes they’re the only reason to show up.
(Friends and family are the only reasons ANY of us survive in this world. How is that a problem? Rather, that is what keeps all of us going through good times and bad. It’s called life.)
See: The Talk

20. The lunches still suck, but there are fewer pizzaburgers and less mystery meat.
(And how many times during your sweetheart’s junior/senior year did he/she choose to partake of the haute cuisine at Mickey D’s, Burger King, Dave’s Dawgs, etc.? You want your kid to eat healthy food, stay on task, and reach his/her maximum potential? Take away the car and the video game, put the computer in the FAMILY ROOM where you can monitor what he/she is doing on it, and give him/her a curfew. Then while he/she is working on homework, fix a FAMILY MEAL and require the WHOLE FAMILY to eat together.)
Well, that response certainly went off at an obscure angle, but I’ll be happy to answer your deflection. Not very damned often, since I make them pay for that (and gas, and the insurance if their grades drop below a B average) out of their own pockets. I restrict the use of automobiles, and I remain final arbiter in whether or not they get to use the computer, the internet, and videogames. In addition, all of those privileges are earned privileges, not rights, and they are expected to do household chores on a regular schedule and a consistent basis in order to earn them, in addition to doing their schoolwork. We are also famous amongst my children's friends for routinely having family dinners, some of which my children cook from scratch themselves, because I consider that a necessary skill and have spent many years (and gamely eaten many odd things) teaching it to them.

And, now, it’s my turn to have my say…

You have held forth a great deal about my assumptions and how erroneous they are, but I think you have failed to address the beam in your own eye. You did not read my prior posts to see what sort of a parent I am; you made assumptions that I am the worst sort, the kind that throws obstacles and fictional objections in your way. I am not.

I am data driven, with a background in the hard sciences, financial analysis, and special education law. I am a tireless researcher with outstanding credentials in a wide variety of fields. And, I am a parent who invariably supports and applauds teachers with high standards, high expectations, and the grit to continue in the face of public and systemic pressure to lighten up, dumb down, or phone it in.

None of the “charges” I’ve made are based on slapdash, haphazard assumptions. Not all of them are the results of statistical data, either. They are what they are – some are based on objective measurements, some on widespread, nationally applicable criticisms and observations, and others are a result of combined anecdotal input from a variety of sources, not by any means limited to my own family, and including other parents of honor students, the students themselves, past students in the same category, web searches and blog analysis from students and the hardships they encounter when they go off to college after graduating from MCHS, and newspaper or other journal articles, locally, regionally and nationally. I have no problem dismissing things that are clearly personal whines, nor do I have a problem in recognizing patterns and similarities, nor am I unable to choose whether or not I consider them relevant and worthy of further investigation.

I have also made sure to gather data directly from MCHS, the school report cards, requests to administrative personnel for longitudinal data on AP scores, ACT, and PSAE scores. I have been doing this for 7 years, one year prior to my oldest child starting at MCHS, because I believe that research and information are exceedingly important.

I have made all of these points over the last 6 years, to all three principals at MCHS, to a number of teachers, and to members of the school board. I have stood behind what I believe, and what I have researched, and I have spoken directly to those involved in the most egregious offenses, ONLY when I had substantive data to back me up – because it wouldn’t be fair otherwise.

And NONE of that means that I don’t get to vent, blow off steam, or express my opinions on my own blog. As I stated at the beginning, I could put any variety of witless, fictional fluff I wanted, and it still wouldn’t mean I was in violation of anything. You can read it, you can agree, disagree, move on, never visit again, whatever. I don’t care. It’s up to you.

P.S. One thing MY father taught me is that anyone who is afraid to stand up and take responsibility for his/her opinion and uses the “anonymous” label isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit. That’s why I’m glad to sign my response.David M. Rice, Proud MCHS English Teacher.

Potpourri and Reasons for Anonymity 8/5/07 self-explanatory

In no particular order, the following is a list of relevant prior posts. It is not comprehensive or all-inclusive.

The Talk 4/2/07 about high standards intrinsic rewards, and the quest for personal excellence
The Letter I Didn't Send 5/29/07 morally questionable selling of academic indulgences
Potpourri and Reasons for Anonymity 8/5/07 self-explanatory
Spawn's Small Town 12/05/06 latter half are his experiences re the HS
The Mind of Spawn 8/23/06 about dealing with gifted children and their thirst for knowledge
Notes I Have Sent 5/3/06 humorous notes I’ve sent to elementary, middle and high schools
School Supplies 4/30/06 – a humorous parody of notes sent home from school for additional supplies, elementary and middle school years.
My Kids Aren't From Stepford 4/29/06 l – actual calls I’ve gotten from schools, and my responses. In reality, I did say these things, but followed them up with more situationally correct remarks as well.
Plans for Life 4/23/07 – prepping for the ACT and my opinions about high school studies and the early years of college
Last Sock in the Nerd Hamper 3/5/07 – a humorous take on validated giftedness
Nerdliness Further 2/13/07 – living with gifted children and memories
Phrase Migration 1/10/07 – last third, school encounters
Aargh, Student Teachers 11/13/06 – The Social Studies department quirks
Five Things for Student Teachers 11/17/06 – self-explanatory vent of things I wish student teachers had assimilated before entering the classroom. There are undoubtedly points for/of disagreement.
Holding Forth 8/28/06 – teaching language skills from the get-go

1 comment:

Amber in Albuquerque said...

I'm not sure why this particular teacher chose to take such offense to your posts. All I can say is I wish someone, anyone, at Stinky's ES read my blog and bothered to address my rants (assuming they can read may be a little much, though).

Even in my limited experience, good teachers are a rare commodity these days. So, Mr. Rice, if you are still reading, it should be clear that Buns wasn't talking about you (and, for the record, once she knows you aren't a complete whacko, she's not a 'hider'). She wasn't talking about you AND her (sometimes sarcastic, but always well-founded and well written) points are, sadly, more the rule than the exception.

I know, also from sad experience, that teachers (the good and the bad) tend to stick together and to protect the bad ones. I would urge you to 1) give yourself some credit for being a good teacher and 2) stop protecting the ones that, well SUCK!