But This is Summer School!

I’m a huge believer in mutual respect in the classroom. Coming from a Title I school where I spent the first ten years of my career, I learned pretty quickly that students don’t grant respect simply because you’re the only adult in the room. Respect must be earned, and I chose to do this in my high school classroom by getting to know my kids.

So of course, as I thought about how I would begin my summer school class, I knew that I would need to start by listening to my students.

As teachers, I think we spend so much time telling students what we expect from them that we may forget at times to ask them what they expect from us. So that’s what I did.

Not surprisingly, one of my students, a lively fifteen-year-old boy with flashing mischievous eyes, said instantly, “Fun assignments!”

When I pressed him for more information–what exactly did he mean by fun?–he said, “Oh you know, like word searches and crossword puzzles!”

Huh?

After I gently explained that my plan was to engage them differently–with interesting reading and writing assignments that challenged them to think–a chorus of voices simultaneously responded, “But this is summer school! We’re here because we couldn’t do all that stuff!”

In that moment, I was deflated–not because I was upset with the kids for wanting this type of work, but because I was unbelievably disappointed that it seemed to be a symptom of a larger issue–years and years of low expectations placed on those kids. The ones who don’t play school. The ones who are engaged differently. The ones who don’t want or need the threat of a bad grade hanging over them to comply with the system’s demands.

Then, when I think about the demands of the Common Core, I worry even more. I worry because these standards are so much more ambitious than what we have. They expect all students to have access to tasks that push them to think, that respect them as intellectual human beings, that develop their academic identities.

As I learn about what it will take to transition to these standards well and to truly embrace the spirit of what they represent, I think that, first and foremost, we have to honestly face the students we have in front of us–all of them–and, as challenging as this is, relentlessly push each and every one of them forward from where they are now, not where they should be and not where we wish they would be.

Our kids deserve nothing less.

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10 thoughts on “But This is Summer School!

  1. Keep your chin up! Having taught at similar schools I can also add that very rarely are students held to the high expectations the Common Core demands. When they are presented with these challenges in a relevant and engaging context from a caring and compassionate mentor I believe they are completely capable of achieving them. They just have to be shown that learning doesn’t involve a series of pointless crossword puzzle worksheets to keep the beast…I mean teacher…off of your back.

    • Totally agree. I’ve definitely seen this before. It’s just a tough reminder when it is so blatantly apparent. My students at SJ rarely (if ever) made those comments to me. It’s just weird. And sad.

      • It is sad, but since it is summer school, you have no time to dwell on that. What is the plan for engagement? They’ve already told you that they want it (even though they don’t know what it looks like), so what’s it going to be?

        I love that you are doing this. Every one of us has felt this at some point in our careers. That feeling of why do I have to be the one to push them? Wouldn’t my job be easier if others had pushed them before me? But sometimes that is just the hand that you are dealt, and YES the kids deserve it. To badly paraphrase, if not me, than who? So…bring it!! I’m with you!

        Writing sprints to start them thinking and writing? Read and debate to get them talking? So many options, but so hard to choose…

      • Engagement…let’s see…LOTS of choice in their writing. Constantly communicating exactly what they’re doing well so that they can see their successes (which is very motivating). Lots of interaction and conversation.

        We’re totally doing writing sprints tomorrow!!! I can’t wait. They have done serious needs around writing stamina (which doesn’t surprise me), so I am hoping to use writing sprints to start building their stamina and volume.

        Ultimately, I know things will be fine. I just feel like I have so little time to make any REAL impact!

      • The sprints were amazing! When I first introduced the idea, my kids were less than pleased. You would have thought I’d just asked them to drown kittens in Arcade Creek. At the end of yesterday, however, they told me that the writing sprints were their FAVORITE part of the day, and today, they were like, “Can we do more writing sprints???” So yep. It was a huge success. I think it will become part of our afternoon ritual. We just did a couple today. Now the KIDS are coming up with topics. One wants to do “Illuminati” and another wants to do “Eggroll.” Gotta love fifteen-year-olds. 🙂

  2. Institutionalized dumbing down of students is unfortunately common across American schools. I am often saddened when I hear educators say that kids need to be prepared for the ‘real world’ yet thy never model let alone expect that school is an artificial representation of it and we do not adequately prepare students to reason, problem solve and think critically and analytically when all we provide is worksheets.

    • I have enjoyed reading your blog and comments. It is evident to me that because I am interested in classroom culture, I cannot stop reading about classroom culture. I become obsessed with reading, writing, listening, and speaking about the relationship between teacher and students. I want my students to have that passion for my students in their learning.

      In theory students should have an almost obsession about what is being learned. How do you get that? Throw out the curriculum? Standardized test?
      We want our students to become innovative, creative, critical thinkers, but yet we (as a society) standardize their formal education. Standardized knowledge is not what I want for my students. They can google that!

      Passion is needed for deep, transferable, engaging learning. Getting my students to share their passions is another challenge because the school culture does not accept their passions or even the student’s identity sometimes. A culture of shared power is needed to develop a mutual trust. What activities allow that to happen in a classroom?

      Shared power means a certain amount of trust and respect. I feel that I have always respected my students but I did not get that mutual respect. Developing a shared power with my students has always been a challenge for me in my classroom. Have you thought about journal writing and then volunteer sharing everyday? Free write or topic? I have been hypothesizing about that because I feel I need to let my students process their own thoughts for knowledge first….then the curriculum.

    • @Stacy – What do you mean? I do worksheets all day at work. Don’t you? I’m working on a dot-to-dot right now! 🙂

  3. t is evident to me that because I am interested in classroom culture, I cannot stop reading about classroom culture. I become obsessed with reading, writing, listening, and speaking about the relationship between teacher and students. I want my students to have that passion for my students in their learning.

    In theory students should have an almost obsession about what is being learned. How do you get that? Throw out the curriculum? Standardized test?
    We want our students to become innovative, creative, critical thinkers, but yet we (as a society) standardize their formal education. Standardized knowledge is not what I want for my students. They can google that!

    Passion is needed for deep, transferable, engaging learning. Getting my students to share their passions is another challenge because the school culture does not accept their passions or even the student’s identity sometimes. A culture of shared power is needed to develop a mutual trust. What activities allow that to happen in a classroom?

    Shared power means a certain amount of trust and respect. I feel that I have always respected my students but I did not get that mutual respect. Developing a shared power with my students has always been a challenge for me in my classroom. Have you thought about journal writing and then volunteer sharing everyday? Free write or topic? I have been hypothesizing about that because I feel I need to let my students process their own thoughts for knowledge first….then the curriculum.

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