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Education Optional

written Saturday, 4/8/2006

Last week I mentioned how, at the start of this final academic quarter, a few students decided to start trying to learn after months of making absolutely no effort.

Not so surprisingly, those motivated spurts didn’t last.

In fact, the overall level of motivation in my classroom seems to have swung in the opposite direction in the past week.

Even some of my more steady students seem to be falling off. Regardless of whatever grades they got in the first three quarters, an F in the fourth quarter means they will have failed the course for the entire year. You’d think that the mediocre and better students would be willing to make the minimal effort to avoid retaking the course.

Everyone’s weary from this 2005-06 school year out here – students, teachers, and administrators alike. It seems that the challenge of keeping students focused on learning will not get any easier in the remaining 8 weeks.

From my perspective, a big part of the problem is the pervasive attitude among many students that education is optional. Nice to have, but not necessary.

My earliest classes are frequently interrupted by students finally arriving to school an hour or two late, after sleeping in. Just as often students simply take the day off if they miss the bus.

In the first two weeks of the fourth quarter, the average absence rate for my classes is 23%. Only 22% of my students have perfect attendance for those 10 school days. These are about the same rates, or maybe slightly worse than I’ve seen in the earlier quarters of the school year.

I want to remain sympathetic to the daily struggles of urban life in Greater New Orleans: devastated homes and belongings, financial despair, broken families, teenage parenthood, drugs and alcohol, etc. Nonetheless, I don’t get the feeling from many students that such weighty issues are preventing them from coming to class on any given day. Too often the attitude is one of “I didn’t feel like coming to school today.” In other words, it’s not that important.

It’s hard to smoothly advance the learning process with such spotty attendance in my classes. School seems to be a place to drop in when children have nothing else on their schedules. Students returning from absences occasionally ask, “What did I miss yesterday?” When they find that an hour-long lesson can’t be encapsulated in a thirty-second summary, they invariably decline my offer to catch them up during lunchtime.

One girl was absent three days in a row last week. She made no effort to find out what she missed. Instead, she wrote on her quiz, “u can’t grade me 4 what I don’t knw wasn’t her 4 dis didn’t teach it to me!” Interesting perspective. I proceeded to give her the F that she earned 4 dis.

Thursday was “Parent Conference” day. We teachers remained in our classrooms for four hours to be available to parents. I had pleasant discussions with all the parents who showed up in my room. All three of them.

Why aren’t more parents involved in their children’s education? Why didn’t any parents of the 39 children who received an F from me last quarter take the opportunity to talk to me? On one hand, so many people are preoccupied with post-hurricane issues this year. On the other hand, I’m told that the parent turnout wasn’t any better in previous years.

Spring break starts this coming Thursday, and continues through the following Monday. Various other year-end activities are also scattered throughout the final weeks of school. I’m not one to turn down a vacation, but I wonder how much learning will be possible amongst all the interruptions.

There’s a lot of material in my Geometry and Algebra 2 classes that I haven’t covered yet. I’d like to make our remaining time as productive as possible. Or, maybe I should just loosen up a bit and try to enjoy the year-end with my students. In either case, eight short weeks from now will most likely mark the last time that I will ever see any of them again.