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Ah... The End of the Semester

It's the END of the semester! Time for in-depth reviews, developed discussions on the content of the semester, thoroughly researched and well-written papers to be turned in, and those long, comprehensive, final exams. Isn't it great to see such PROGRESS AND SUCCESS that comes from your hard work and dedication throughout the semester?

Ha! Do you really see this? I do remember those days... but, my days at the end of the semester are quite different now.

I see:




  • Students skipping school on the final days because: "They can't pass the class anyway, so why does it matter?"


  • Students coming in all hours of the school day asking for bonus or extra credit.


  • Students asking when I will be "fixing" their grades in the computer so it shows they are now passing.


  • Students rejoicing that they just passed their Algebra exam because the teacher made it so easy; otherwise everyone would fail the course and she would be in trouble. "The questions were like, 'What is 1+1?' I totally passed it with like a 100!"


  • Emails from parents asking, "What can we do to get my child's grade to passing?"


  • Emails from parenst asking what I have done to help their child pass my class this semester.


  • No replies from parents to whom I respond that I offered before and after school assistance, study sessions before tests, a writing session before and after school, bonus assignments posted online for each unit, and weekly email reminders to parents and students about upcoming assignments, tests, and other due dates.


In the early years of my teaching career, I remember hearing the words "high expectations" so often, I wanted to vomit each time it was uttered. I was teaching with high expectations. I was pushing my students. I was preparing them for college. I was seeing success. But now I long to hear those words come from an administrator. I think I would grab them and hug them with great vigor if they told me to hold my classroom expectations high and



DO NOT LOWER MY STANDARDS



just to make everyone feel good and appear as though they are earning the credit. And then, I would probably pass out from all of the excitement.



But as testing accountability became more oppressing, I no longer heard the words "high expectations." It was a thing of the past. The new words were "closing the gap" and "passing rates" and "no retention" and "accept all work, late or not" and so many more. These can all be combined into one simple phrase in my book: Dumb down the education.



We are no longer called to the principal's office because little Sally's mommy is concerned that she will not be college ready. We don't hear that Johnny needs to work more on developing his research paper so his college essays will be well-written. We aren't told that we need to step up our standards to compete with the other local high schools in our academics. Instead, we are asked questions like: Why are so many of your students failing? What can you do to improve your students' grades? What can you do to fix the grades problem for your classes? What can you change so that more of your students are successful in passing the course?



What can I do? NO! It's what SHOULD my STUDENTS DO? I can answer that question.



It is no longer a question about meeting the standards. It is no longer a conversation about creating college-ready students that will make us proud in their futures. It is no longer about producing students who know our content and can retain what they have learned in their high school classes as they move on into adulthood. It is no longer preparing students with good work habits and strong ethics. Those ideals are becoming novelties of the past.



So, as this semester comes to an end, I have a decision to make. Do I conform or do I teach?



The lesson that I teach in these years may not be about history or geography. It may not be about the mistakes of the past or the heros who have changed our world. Instead, it may be that if you do not work, you fail. If you do not study, your GPA will not be good enough to get you into college. If you do not write your own papers, you will receive a zero for your work and learn about a little thing called plagairism. And the biggest lesson of all: If you do not put forth the effort in high school to do your best, you will live a more challenged life in adulthood. Life does not come easy to those who ONLY wait.



But then again, that is in my ideal world. The truth is that other questions around this whole situation come to my mind now. Do I want to keep my job? Do I want to constantly be harassed by the adminstration? Do I want to be identified as the ONE who will not pass her students? Should I just dumb it down like the rest?



Is there anyone else out there that wants to keep their high expectations?



Where have all the TEACHERS gone?



Is there HOPE?

The Gap Kids

When I first started teaching, I attended a series of trainings by Ruby Payne and her associates. At first, I thought it would be just another training, but almost immediately, I realized these people actually knew what they were talking about, and more importantly, they were saying something I liked!


Many of the students we teach today have struggles they deal with on a daily basis. The news media (and educational specialists, etc.) like to say that this is a new problem, and that the growing level of poverty is changing the playing field for our students. I don't agree. Oh, I admit that there are quite a few kids out there that experience some level of poverty (nothing compared to the rest of the world), and I will accept the idea that this interferes with their content learning; however, I will not agree that this is a new problem. It is as old as time. The difference... now we simply hear about it more.


And, poverty is not the only problem our students face. Some are abused, some are neglected. Some must care for siblings or parents. Some must deal with other hardships that are beyond my ability to imagine. BUT, and this is a big BUT: These problems cannot be excuses.


Here is where some of you reading will begin to turn away from the screen, cursing me for being so harsh and uncaring. But, in the real world, our students must be prepared. And I know very few employers who will care if the electric was turned off or if they only had scraps as a meal the night before. In our nation, the workforce does not accept excuses. So, if we DO in the classroom, we are setting our students up for failure.


There were moments in my life as a child where I had to struggle to survive. I remember standing in line with my mother for a cheese block. I remember going to assistance organizations to have our heat turned back on. I dealt with the extremes of parental neglect and abuse, and never knew which to expect when I got home from school. But, I NEVER told my teachers that I struggled. And I NEVER wanted to be made an exception or allowed any excuses that wouldn't fly for my friends. And, more than anything else, I wanted to feel successful. I wanted to know that I could do something for myself, and that I could do it right. I wanted that approval.


In our schools, we are told every day about the poverty of our children. We are reminded that they struggle overnight and in the mornings and when they get home. We are warned that they do not have supplies, parental assistance, or positive role models to guide them in their learning. And we are often encouraged to give these kids "breaks" to help them "pass" through the system. If that is what we do, it is the same as stabbing that child in the chest and watching them bleed.


Children need adversity to learn to deal with life. They need to struggle to learn the skills of survival. And, while it may be a tough lesson to learn, it will only make them stronger. If we, as teachers, only support them by accepting excuses ("I couldn't do my homework because our power was off."), we are instead teaching them that they do not have to do anything, that life will just go on without them, and that truly they do not matter.


In my classroom, it may seem like a tough love lesson every day, but my students know what I expect. They know that I demand extreme structure, that my due dates are due dates, and that I do not "care" if they have an excuse for their lack of preparation or participation. However, they also know that I want the best for them, I want to see them gain success for themselves, and I "care" enough to put the hard stuff back on them.


Life is a tough lesson. And no, it is not fair. And, yes, my views on this are very harsh. But, I know the truth about growing up in the gap. If you don't learn to fight your way out, you will always be there.



Read more about this topic, and many others in my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, New and Old!

The Sunshine Award



Over the past few weeks I have struggled in my own classroom. This is new for me, and I took my frustrations to my blog. Before I knew it, Scipi had made multiple comments, including a link to a wonderful article that made me feel so much better. I, at least, knew that I wasn't alone in my struggles.


And then, I received another gift from Scipi. She nominated me for the Sunshine Award. And boy, did I need some sunshine just at that moment. So, THANK YOU! Thank you so much for understanding. Thank you for not judging. And, thank you for knowing that all I really needed was to refocus and to know that I could make it through. Most importantly, thank you for passing me the torch! I feel so honored among so many wonderful Tpt sellers and blog writers.


Now, I must complete the tasks required to accept this award. Here we go:


  1. A favorite color is very important. It tells so much about a person. Someone who loves yellow may well deserve this award for their brightness and glowing personality. Someone who like white may be pure and good in all they do, including keeping up their blog and Tpt site with concise and clear products. So, what is my favorite color? Ok, well, it is blue. I know. I am not exactly bright or bold or pure, but I do love the color of the sky for all it has to offer. It is hope and harmony and th eoptomism we all need to keep going each day!

  2. Having a favorite animal is such a wonderful experience. Mine was my sweet Snowball. She was an Alaskan Spitz, and she was with me for 14 years. She was always there when I came home, ready to love me, even when I felt tired and defeated. She was not just a favorite, she was my perfect best friend.

  3. I used to play the lottery when I was too young to legally play. I was a "goody" kid thinking I was being bad! Ha Ha. My favorite number - always 17. It has the number 1, which being 1st is always a good thing, and it has the lucky 7. What could be a better set of numbers? P.S. I don't play the lottery now. I need every penny I earn these days.

  4. Next is choosing between Facebook and Twitter. I have to say Facebook for now. I am just getting into Twitter, and I just don't know how to work it well enough to like it yet. Give me time, maybe a summer, and I will have a better answer!

  5. My passion has always been teaching. First of all, I love being the center of attention. And to be able to earn and keep that attention from an interested audience is the most amazing feeling. I also love to talk! What a better combination for a teacher. Now, though, I have learned that I have to share the classroom time, so I do my best to practice what I preach - I allow my students the opportunity to be the experts, and it makes all the difference.

  6. I am an avid giver. I actually hate to wrap presents, but I like to be sneaking in my giving. I love to watch others open gifts, and to me it is even better when they don't know where it is coming from or why. I have even had my students participate in Pay it Forward projects that were so incredibly rewarding for us all. And they were also fun!

  7. My favorite day each year is the final task. This is hard. I love so many things that I do each year, that it is hard to make a choice. First and foremost, I have to say that any day I get to see my new grandbaby girl is a wonderful day. Seeing her smile or hearing her laugh is just the most amazing thing. And then, if I get to see my baby girl with my grandbaby girl, it is even more incredible. However, I have to say that the last day of school is always a bittersweet, but wonderful day for me. I always do exit slips with my students, and I encourage a community sharing on the final days where they can tell me what they really think about my classes. This is usually very rewarding for me and leads me into my summer vacation with a new sense of purpose (planning for the next school year!).

Now I get to pass on this great award! This was a challenge considering the many super teachers and blog writers I have had the opportinity to get to know this past year through Tpt. I have to admit that there are so many who are so much more creative than I, and they are incredible inspirations to the rest of us. There are also the ones who are super organized, and they tend to lead the way in the marketing and masterminding for Tpt. But my choice is an inspiration to me for a few other reasons.


Lisa Michalek has been on Tpt for a long while. I remember seeing her name in the top lists and always wishing I could catch her. I am still trying! But now, I see her as a very dedicated seller and a great contributor for teachers everywhere. Her "The Lesson Guide" blog is always offering free products for science teachers, and she is always sharing great advice with her products. I can just imagine how helpful she has been to new teachers who have ventured into the science classroom while keeping up with her blog and Tpt products. More importantly, she does not only offer her products on her website or her facebook page, but she offers her blog followers a wealth of information and links to great resources and opportunities from all over the Internet. All this while balancing a family and career! I am impressed!


With that said, I wish everyone a bright and sunshiny day!


And Scipi, thank you again! You are awesome! :)


Michele Luck