Saturday, September 15, 2012


My new school has very different policies on homework than I am used to.  At my old school, many teachers didn't give homework.  I gave a short assignment every night, but most of the time, less than half of kids would turn it in, and many of those were copied from each other.  I graded on completion/effort.  Homework counted for 20% of kids' grades; I figured it was a boost for kids who bothered to do it, and the practice did help some kids.

At my new school, there is required to be homework for every subject, every night.  The guideline for ninth graders is at least 30 minutes per subject.  Kids turn in homework when they first enter the building, into a "Homework First" bin each teacher keeps in the lobby.  98% of kids turn in homework on any given day.  If they don't turn in homework, or turn in incomplete homework, they get a 1-hour after school detention (per class!).  I am required to grade on correctness, which is a huge daily volume of paper and scores to manage, compared to the quick check/check-minus I am used to.  We have been grading homework in class, but it sucks up a lot of class time, and just managing the papers and entering the grades is killing me.  Other teachers have kids publicly read off their scores in class after self-grading, and the teachers never touch the homework papers.  I recoiled at this idea originally, but now I'm leaning towards doing this too, just to save myself the headache of it all.

I have a calculus student who comes late to school almost every day because she is up so late at night finishing homework.  Kids say they don't have time to join a sport or get a job because they are already spending so much time on homework.  I wonder if there is enough benefit to the work to make it worth it.  I do believe in reinforcing the day's lesson with some independent work, but this is starting to feel excessive.  What about kids who have to babysit their siblings or do other chores in the evenings?  What about having a little time for some leisure?

There is an argument to be made about the effectiveness of all this homework.  Kids at my new school score amazingly well on standardized tests, and I can't deny that there is an intellectual feel amongst my students that was lacking at my old school.  But I wonder if the homework creates that in the kids, or if it just serves to weed out or scare away lower-performing kids?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Previewing the year's vocab and formulas

Three posts in one night... can you tell I am putting off doing paperwork that MUST be done tonight??

This year I had students do "scavenger hunt" types of questions based on the state test's formula sheet on Day 3, as soon as we set up binders.  I have never asked kids to look in any depth at the sheet before actually teaching some of the the content.

After asking them to find various variables and formulas, I also asked them to identify what they think the strangest variable in the list is.  It is so interesting to see what they pick and why.  A lot of kids chose p for momentum, or another variable from the list that uses a letter not found in the word, like Q for heat or c for specific heat or I for current.  Others chose lambda for wavelength because the symbol is unfamiliar to them.  Still others chose words like work and said that they never thought that word could be related to science.  And a lot of kids chose displacement because it is shown as delta x, and all the other delta-something variables are labeled "change in something".

While it has been interesting to see how kids think about the vocabulary and variables before teaching them, I wonder if doing this early will also serve any instructional purpose.  Will kids be more aware of the information available on the formula sheet?  Will they be more prepared to recognize the weird letter choices when they come up later in the year?  I guess we'll find out as the year goes on.

Oh, the possibilities!

My new favorite student info sheet was turned in today by P:

What would you like to do when you graduate from high school?
"I think being an author would be good because I love reading and writing stories.  Or I could work with kids.  Or a CIA agent."


Five days of school down at my new school, and I'm feeling OK about things.  It is hard not to feel totally inadequate about my teaching, now that I am surrounded by all these teacher superstars and overachieving kids.  But I seem to be making some allies among the students (although that may be simply because they know I haven't been strict about giving demerits...) and I'm also figuring out who my best allies are within the staff.

Last night and all day today, though, my mind was on my old school.  According to my sources, there seem to be many really crazy things going on this year, even crazier than last year's insanity.  But the most outrageous thing is that they have not yet hired my replacement yet.  Or a replacement for the other general ed physics teacher.  Or the sheltered-English physics teacher.  All three will be filled by subs until they can find people to hire full time.  Students started school today.

I can't get over this.  I have been obsessively thinking about it all day.  I know it's not my fault; I gave my notice months and months ago and they had ample opportunity to hire someone new.  So it's not guilt that I feel.  It's closer to anger, perhaps.  A slow-boiling deep-gut anger.  It's a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because kids are being ripped off.

I can't even imagine being a student who shows up for the first day of school and finds a substitute.  In a functional school district this would be a major crisis.  As it is, the adults involved seem unfazed.  But I keep putting myself in the students' shoes.  Will they be outraged to find a classroom without a qualified teacher, without a plan to support their success?  Or are they so accustomed to the dysfunction of the system that this won't even surprise them?

They deserve better.