Monday, December 29, 2014

Fly Your Freak Flag (Or is it Your Freedom Flag?)

When I was in my awkward tween years I had a hippie-dippie taste in music. I was drawn like a moth to a flame to Janis Joplin.  Not a particularly pretty woman, her style was random, her hair was ratty looking, but when I would listen to her music, my soul would ache and I would belt out the tunes right along with my worn copy of her greatest hits album.  To this day, her songs still make me feel really freakin' good. You can tell she probably felt good singing them too.  Her voice was loud and hoarse.  It seemed like there wasn't anything left in her soul to sing or air in her lungs to exhale.   

Does that make her a freak or truly free?

I attend church almost every Sunday.  A Congregationalist church, where people sometimes raise their hands and yell things, like “Praise God!  Or “Yes, yes!” after the preacher makes a poignant point.  At first it made me uncomfortable, but now I don’t think twice.  Currently, I feel uncomfortable when I drive by people on the sidewalk holding poster boards that say “Jesus is coming soon, prepare.” I think, am I prepared? and then I wonder what was the impetus for their poster board holding....

.. And am I really that far removed from that place?

I have two tattoos.  They are in fairly discrete places that can be hidden by socks or clothing.  I love them. I want more.  I recently met a mother at church in the playroom and she had a sleeve tattoo.  I enviously gabbed with her about the meaning of the designs and where she got them and if people judged her for her body art.  I daydream about getting more ink on my arm (gasp – in a visible place), but I don’t do it. I convince myself it's not practical.  Then in the next breath I don’t want to live in discrete mode anymore. 

What makes people take the leap from strategically placed-tattoos to ones that are visible ?  Furthermore, what makes it necessary to hide them? 

Kids are free spirited and no one thinks twice !
What is the difference between the toe tappers, handraisers, Jesus-preaching posterboard holders and sleeve-tattoed people?  Not too much, unbridled conviction?  

What makes people choose to fly their “freak flags?” Or are they really freedom flags?   I think it’s because they are confident with their lives and themselves and therefor have "nothing left to lose."   That is my hope for the new year: To fly my freak/freedom flag more frequently. 

What’s your hope for the New Year?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Letter to Parents of a Student with an 89%

Disclaimer: No, this post is not about any one situation in particular.  I have been teaching for over a decade and it is a conglomerate of about 1300 students and my experiences, along with the experiences of good friends within several entirely different school districts in several states as well as sassy figments of my imagination (obviously).

** It is also part of a training that I intend to give on Standards Based Instruction/Assessment at some point in life, so stay tuned for that!**

If you have been in the education system where you had to assess work in a traditional point-based system, …..your welcome, I am about to write things you have been thinking.

Dear Parents of a Student with an 89%,

Your student is a good student, a very good student!  89%! Wow! Nice work student, high five! They have earned a summation of 89% of the credit assigned to all assignments within one academic quarter.  I’m sorry that’s not to your satisfaction.  While this may feel like a personal blow to you/your student, it’s not.  I did not randomly assign this grade to your student - they earned it.  As you know, during the quarter I enter grades into a computerized grading system and it uses the pre-set expectations I have decided upon- (these expectations were given out at open house, parent teacher conferences and posted to my website) to spit out an average. No, I do not offer extra credit.  No, they cannot bring in a canned good or dress up in school colors to earn back that 1 point….  And by the way, its not just one point, it’s one percent of all points assigned from the entire quarter.

Just to be clear, I did not personally keep your student off of high honor roll, they did it themselves.  No, I don’t hate them. No, I don’t hate you.  Is there anything they can do? Yes, please have them try 1% harder next quarter.  Is it sad that their grandparents will not see their name printed in the newspaper with the other children in the all A’s section? – maybe?  Unfortunately, they will have to “slum it up” with the other regular honor roll students in the section printed below it.  I guarantee they will still become successful adults.  If they are interested, they will get into a college.  If they are athletically gifted, they will earn a sports scholarship.  The 89% they earned one quarter in my class will neither be a help, nor a hindrance in either situation. 

Your student is a good student and they are earning an 89%!  If the other 11% of their energy was invested in something else this quarter (a different class, their family, their job, their appearance, the opposite sex, what their peers are wearing, what their peers are doing, annoying you, face timing, tweeting, snapping, posting, thinking about touching or actually touching, smoking, drinking, driving, drinking while driving, using drugs,) then I would say we are collectively winning the battle.  I am here to help and (I know this stings)…but I may know things about your child that you don't, so don’t bite the hand that feeds.

Not satisfied with that answer? Please don’t take to the weekly town paper or social media venues to slander my school/name/grading expectations.  I get it, your fierce tiger parent instincts are coming out– but your privacy setting are not tight and with six degrees of separation I will find out and then I will be annoyed – not shocked – but annoyed.  Perhaps you should have your child help you tighten up those settings.

Yes, I will meet with your student, you, the department head, administration, their grieving grandparents or the pope himself to discuss this grade of 89%, if this is that important to you.  However, your student hasn’t skipped a beat and looks happy and healthy per usual.

To be honest, I have my own tiger-mom-ish business to attend to.  I am thinking about other things when I leave work: Do my children have manners? Are they kind? Did I remember to pack them mittens for daycare?  Will my kid need surgery for that weird gastrointestinal thing that just happened? Will I be able to pay for heating oil upfront or will I have to charge it? Do we need milk (again)? When will I stop stress eating and lose my baby weight? When will I be able to go on a date with my husband?  The list goes on and on and on.  See how your student’s 89% didn’t make it in there? That’s because your student is a good student.  Take a breath and have a cocktail, you are doing a good job and so are they!

Talk to you soon,

One of the 50+ teachers your child will have throughout their educational career…

P.S. – In a school with only standards based instruction and assessment, this letter would not exist.  
Just sayin'.