What do you do “In Between”?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rentalsoul/4391778447/

Yesterday I read a post from Matthew Ray called Laughs Over Lunch  in which he illustrates some discussions he and his students have while blogging at lunch time.

I smiled as I read and thought about my own “in between” times with students.

Aren’t the in between times the times when we really build relationships with students?  When we can turn off our teacher faces and voices and just be? I love the times when we can chat and tease and laugh.

Last week I can remember giving high fives in the hallway as students moved to the next class and stopping to talk with groups of students outside their classroom just before the bell went.  I compared book choices from the book fair with one of my grade 8s and shared the  excitement as that same student became an uncle for the second time. I laughed and teased my soccer star about the weaker points of the game and once again turned down the boy who asks me every day if we can play basketball today.

Curriculum and lesson plans are important but filling up the in between time is the foundation of what we do.

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My Dad

Growing up, I often asked my parents about their own childhoods and school experiences. My mom got the typing award and not surprisingly, later became a school secretary. My dad, though, had no stories about awards and accolades.  He remembered a little bit of bullying (as the bully, not the bullied), a few fights and one classroom story that stuck with me through the years.

My dad was held back two years in school and in high school took as many shop and mechanics classes as he possibly could.  He couldn’t get out of taking some French, however.  His most vivid memory of his classroom experience was that after each French test, his teacher would seat the students in the order of their test scores.  My dad and another boy would switch off being in the last seat.  My dad is 64 years old and he still remembers that.

When I read this article on Twitter this week, I immediately thought of my dad and his French experience.  The article relates the story of two California schools who gave students different colored student cards based on their standardized test scores.  More privileges were given to the students with the highest scores.  This quote from the article struck me as the most ludicrous:

Ben Carpenter, the principal of Cypress High, told the Register that because the cards didn’t reveal specific scores, the program doesn’t violate privacy laws. And, he said, at a time when educators are under pressure to boost scores, schools needed an innovative way to motivate kids.

How on earth would this tactic motivate kids?  I know exactly what my dad, considered a non-academic student, would have been motivated to do…drop out. What kind of leaders would agree to this as a valid way to help students learn? My dad went to school in the sixties, you’d think we have moved forward since then, but apparently you’d be wrong.

“At a time when educators are under pressure to boost scores,…” Who is this about, teachers or students?  I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about this, just as I did when my dad told his story of being treated as a second class citizen in French class.   I don’t know where to go to protest such discriminatory, disgusting educational policy.  As I teach in Alberta, Canada, I am not sure my voice would be considered anyway.  So I record my disagreement here, on my blog.

Now, to go back for a minute to my dad.  The truth is that my dad is one of the smartest people I know and also one of the greatest learners I’ve ever seen.  My dad can teach himself to do pretty much anything he wants to.  When he was in his twenties, he started skiing and taught himself, by watching others, how to ski.  He still spends much of the winter on the ski hill.  He finished the basement in our house even though he is not in construction.  He read books and talked to “experts” and figured it out on his own. In their thirties, my parents bought a fast food restaurant even though they had no business degrees or experience.  My dad researched and learned as he went.   Despite all of this I think that in a lot of ways my dad still sees himself as “not a very smart guy.”

I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different had my dad been treated differently when he was in school. How would he see himself today if he had not been ridiculed by seating arrangements and teachers who didn’t think about differentiating and finding each student’s turn-on button?

Are these school leaders in California thinking at all about the long-term effects of their rewards program?  When those students who held the white cards tell their kids stories of their high school years, it won’t be about phenomenal teachers, cool technology, relationships, school spirit and a feeling of togetherness. It will be about being made to feel little, unimportant and dumb.