Summer Homework: Had Me a Blast

One of my favorite teachers of all time wrote a blog post this weekend questioning the effectiveness of assigning summer homework and it was amazing.  I suggest you all read it on his blog, The Readiness is All.  At the end, he asks readers to share their thoughts in a comment or blog post response.  In the beginning I was going to just leave a short comment and be on my way, but then I realized I had a lot more to say on the subject then would be courteous to leave in a comment.  So here I am, blogging about summer homework, two-week into school.  You would think my opinions would have died down after being in school for two weeks, but nope, I’m still really passionate in my displeasure about summer homework.

To start off, I have had summer homework in at least one class for the past three years.  This past summer was amazing because college doesn’t have required summer homework(that I know of.  Oh gosh, what if they do? Oh no.) and it was amazing.  It was sharply contrasted by my sister’s summer in which she had three books to read for freshman honors english.  Some might argue that the books weren’t super long or hard to read, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that she read all three books diligently and did not wait until the last-minute, but as the first day of school crept closer and closer, she got more and more stressed out.  Talk about nerve-racking! Imagine starting a new school for the first time, one where everyone is bigger than you and there are a bazillion people everywhere.  The stress of six new teachers, finding your classes, having somewhere to eat lunch, being able to find one’s friends in the sea of people, opening one’s locker…the list of stressors goes on and on. Then add the stress of an impending test and multiple essays to be done in class within the first week of school. Poor freshman, I did not want to be in her shoes.

The day before school started for her, I received probably 15 texts, 3 phone calls, and one long FaceTime call in which she was in tears, stressed about the test and essays.  She was so nervous that she would fail and her teacher would think she was stupid and a failure, and even worse, have him think she didn’t even read the book.  She had no idea what to expect except the teachers had given a list of nine essay prompts and said, “Be prepared to answer three of these in class on the first day of school.”  I counseled her and told her that it would be extremely rare for a teacher(especially of freshman) to give a test on the first day because people are getting lost, coming in late, finding their assigned seat, etc.  It just doesn’t work to give a test within those first fifty-six minutes.  She still wanted to be prepared, so she set to writing an essay answering each of the prompts.  She wrote three essays before I was able to convince her that if she felt that she needed to write the essays, to just write bullet points.  She was so stressed.

I know teachers don’t sit around all summer thinking up new ways to torture their students(if they do, that’s a bigger problem than one of summer homework).  So I would like to think that if they knew what summer homework put their students through, they might think twice about assigning it.  Now I know, the reason summer homework is assigned is so that the class can hit the ground running and cover more material in the course of the year.  There has only been ONE class that I have found this statement even partially true and the summer homework necessary.  That class was AP Biology.

In AP Bio, we had four chapters to go over and do activities for on our own over the summer.  It was all review from regular biology, which was a prerequisite so everyone completing the summer homework had taken it, AND we went over it all in class, so if anyone had questions they could get them answered.  The only reason summer homework was assigned in the first place was that the AP test requires so much material to be covered, that one must start in the summer, just to have the time to cover all the required material adequately.  Which is a whole other problem in itself. Why design a test in which all material cannot be covered within the school year?  Oh well, that will have to be a completely separate blog post. The summer homework is justified in the extremely high pass rate that our school has on the AP Biology test.

What I don’t understand is assigned reading for English classes.  And not to bash on the English department at my school; I enjoyed every English class I was in, but I still don’t understand the purpose of the summer reading homework they assign.  I can only come up with two plausible reasons as to why summer reading homework would be assigned.

Reason One: The teachers want to scare of the faint of heart(in an academic sense).  They don’t want to deal with students who don’t want to do the level of work required of a higher level English course. I don’t blame them.  There have been many a time when I have been in class frustrated because some of my classmates did not want to put in the effort and work required of the class, thus unfortunately sometimes bringing the entire class down. I love being in a class with all academic thinking students just as much as a teacher like teaching one.  When everyone is participating and putting something into the class, it transforms the class; discussions flow freely, group projects are no longer a pain, and the positives can go on forever.  But I’m not so sure that assigned summer reading is going to solve that problem.

In fact, in assigning summer reading, one is more likely to scare away those students who are on the fence between excelling in a regular level English class and being challenged in an honors or AP class.  You won’t scare away the students who are forced by their parents to take the upper level course, just to get into a “good college”.  They will just read Sparknotes and take whatever grade they get on the first tests, because they don’t really care.  You won’t scare away those kids that are naturally smart, but have no desire to put any effort into the course. All who get scared away are the timid ones, those unsure about their academic strength, but willing to put in the effort to get to that next level if needed.

Reason Two: Summer reading is important because it helps classes to cover more books in a year, which ultimately helps students on the AP Literature test as they will have more books to choose from when they are writing their free response essays.  I’m pretty sure no teacher can wholeheartedly say this and believe it one hundred percent.  No student in May of their senior year is going to recall a book they read over the summer before freshman year enough to write a fully developed essay on it.  For one, it is highly likely that after reading that book over the summer, they took a test on it and never discussed it again.  Which ultimately won’t help them on the AP test, because on the test one is required to examine the book on a deeper level than just knowing what the book was about.  Class discussion of a book help set those themes in stone in a student’s mind, so that they can, hopefully, recall them when necessary.  Also, speaking solely from my personal experience taking the AP Literature test; you read enough of a variety of books senior year that you can answer just about any prompt and relate it to one of the books read that year quite easily.

There are some many things students can do during the summer that would be way more worthwhile and thought-provoking than summer homework.  I could list them out, but I think you get the picture.  (If you need an idea of what I’m talking about, check out my previous blog post about what I did this summer!)

Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!
Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!

In conclusion, I am going to echo the wise question of Mr. Theriault; why is summer homework still being assigned?  If you have an answer, or see a reason for keeping it that I haven’t thought of, feel free to comment below!

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Affluenza…You’re Kidding, Right?

This past week in Texas, a 16-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 years probation and a stay in an alcohol rehab center in Newport Beach.  What did he do, you ask?  This past June he and a couple of friends stole beer from a nearby grocery store, went out and got drunk at a party, and then sped off in his truck, only to get in a car accident and kill four people.

CNN Video News Coverage

See the full news article at http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/11/us/texas-teen-dwi-wreck/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

He took four lives and he got ten years probation; no jail time at all.  How does that work?  He was charged with four counts of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence.  His defense team did the unexpected.  They argued that it wasn’t the boy’s fault, in fact, it was his parent’s fault because they had not set boundaries and limits for him and he was too accustomed to life as an affluent member of society.  Really?  A psychologist that argued for the defense said he suffered from “affluenza”.  What affluenza is, I can only guess.

 GUESS ONE: the illness of being to affluent

GUESS TWO: like dementia, but for wealthy people when they forget that laws and rules still apply to them

GUESS THREE: a highly contagious disease that infects young, wealthy people, who have grown up with parents who stink at parenting

So what I’m hearing them saying is that because of poor parenting, this boy, who was perfectly capable of making decisions on his own, gets off basically Scot free, because he never “knew” that rules apply to him?   Or is it because he has money and is affluent that he got off so easy, compared to the 20 years that at stake?  Dare I suggest that the case might have turned out different had the boy not been white?

The sad part is that our judicial branch has strayed so far from the way the Founding Fathers wanted it, and has been for so long, that as infuriating as this case is; it doesn’t really surprise me.  We have seen for a long time that, even though it shouldn’t, money can get you out of most anything.  How else do Lindsay Lohan and many of the other celebrities that  are always getting in trouble, stay out of jail?  The bottom answer, under all the courthouse jargon, is money, pure and simple.  Money is power.  And power can keep you protected from a lot of things.

I honestly can’t even suggest a possible solution to this problem, we are so deep into this black hole of corruption that we have dug.  All I can say is, it stinks.  I’m sure all the friends and family of the four people killed in the accident would agree that it is awful when you lose someone close to you because of someone else’s careless mistake.  But it is like a slap in the face and fresh lemon juice on a cut, to have the person who made the mistake not have to take ownership over his mistake, because he has too much money.  I bet that feels pretty darn terrible.

You Need to Stop Now

thumper

I have had it.  Why can’t everyone be like Thumper in Bambi? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  With all the awareness on bullying, and the huge anti bullying campaign that schools are putting on, you would think educators would learn to filter what they say to students and not become part of the bullying problem.  Now, I don’t expect them to be perfect angels and always say the right thing and never be inappropriate ever.  That would be hypocritical of me, because I sometimes let something pass through my speech filter that shouldn’t have.  What I do expect them to do is to apologize.  Whether it be better individually or in front of the class, they should say sincerely, “I was wrong about saying this to Polly.  I was completely rude and out of line, and I am sorry for hurting you with my words.”

Too many times this is not the case though.  If they even think to say that they are “sorry”, it is a fake apology and just makes the student more hurt, or they just don’t stop to think that what they said was really hurtful.  Then the teacher goes on with life, never knowing that what they said sent a little girl home in tears and made her insecure.  Most people would feel awful, if they knew their words caused insecurity and tears.  I know I would, most definitely.

There are three parts to this problem: students, teachers, and parents; and I will address each one individually.  But the root of the problem is poor communication or lack there of.  Now, don’t think I am this brilliant communicator that has no problem letting people know when they have hurt me, and am not afraid of the repercussions of speaking up.  I am not, by any means, that vocal person.  I have suffered through two years of certain people hurting me with their actions and their words.  I didn’t say anything because of fear of repercussions and fear of being treated differently because I stood up for myself and said, “This is enough and it needs to stop now.”  I regret not saying anything now.  Who knows if it would have helped or not, but at least they would know about the pain they put me through.

First off, to the hurt students.  Have you ever thought about telling the teacher that hurt you that they hurt you?  Yes, it will be considered an “awkward” conversation, because that means you have to talk about your feelings.  Why has society made it so socially unacceptable to show people your emotions?  Especially if they have hurt your feelings! But that is a rant for a whole separate blog post, so I will save you from that.  Have you ever thought of telling your parents what is going on?  I know, some people aren’t as fortunate and don’t have the utterly amazing parents that I do, that will be there for me no matter what, and who will stand up for me whenever it’s needed.  But, I encourage you to find someone to tell!  It can be anyone that would be willing to stand up for you!  A friend’s parent, an older sibling, a relative, just someone who can have your back. I want you to seriously consider telling the person that hurt you how it made you feel, because most likely they didn’t intend to make you feel that way.

Second, to the parents of hurt children. LISTEN to your kids.  Watch them, spend time with them, and be someone they will come to when they are hurt, so you can help them.  The only reason my parents didn’t speak up and go to the school about it, was because I didn’t want them too and they didn’t want to sacrifice the trust I had in them, by going behind my back.  Respect your kids opinion, don’t be pushy about it, but let them know that what the person did to them was wrong and it would be a very good idea for them to be told how much it hurt. Documentation is key.  For every one person that speaks up, there might be three other people who have been hurt that won’t speak up.  That is how rude teachers get away with being rude.   Don’t force your student to talk to them if they don’t want to, maybe just you need to go in and talk to them or something.  The biggest thing to remember is to not break that trust that your kid has in you in confiding in you.  If you do, it will be very hard to get it back, and most likely they won’t tell you things like that again.  I realize I’m painting a pretty fine line to walk, but just focus on being there for your kid and the rest of the necessary steps will follow.

Lastly, to the teachers.  I realize that most of you aren’t trying to be mean.  You might have just cracked a joke on the wrong day, been agitated and said something you shouldn’t have, or for some other reason, accidentally was mean.  If you have the slightest feeling that your comment could have been taken the wrong way, apologize.  It never hurts to apologize.  If a student or parent approaches you with something you have done or said that was hurtful, try your hardest not to get defensive.  I know it is hard when someone is pointing out one of your mistakes, I struggle with it more often than not.  Listen to them, and apologize sincerely.  Then, learn from your mistake.  If you keep making the same mistake over and over, and people keep talking to you about it, it can cost you your job.  The student is the school’s first priority, so if complaint after complaint is filed about you, then I would hope you would change your ways before it came to firing you, but I am very sure that after you lost your job for being rude to students, you would learn very quickly the importance of not saying rude things to people.

As you can see, this issue is a three-way street.  It beings with parents being there for their kids, so that the kids can go to their parents when they are being bullied.  Then the parents have to decide with their student what action to take, whether to wait and see if it was a one time thing, or if it will happen again.  Communicate with your student, but things only get fixed if there is feedback to either the teacher that is being rude, directly, or to that teacher’s supervisor.  That teacher then can choose to change or not(I recommend change and apologize), but now the rudeness has been documented, so that it can hopefully be stopped, one way or another.  Good communication on all levels is key.  People need to start standing up for themselves, and then hopefully the rudeness and injustices will end.

speak up 2

Bad Idea Factory

bad idea meme

This week we came up with bad ideas.  Lots of them. We discovered that in the process of innovation, one naturally has to come up with a few bad ideas before they get a great one.  Using this discovery, we decided to convert the classroom into a bad idea factory.  We spent an entire class period coming up with “bad ideas” in hopes of finding a few good ones.  Coming up with bad ideas is so much easier and people are more inclined to speak up about their ideas if there is no pressure for them to be good, as we are looking for bad ideas.

bad idea factory

If I had a dollar for every bad idea I had, I would be a millionaire.