Monday, January 07, 2008

What type of student were you?

I ask, because of my conversation with Tyler on our way home from watching the Seahawks game up at Marc's house. Tyler is one of the smartest people I know, but he also only went to college for a few quarters before dropping out. In high school, he usually understood all the information, but refused to do any homework. He made a game of out seeing how little work he could do, and still pass the class.

He was saying how he looks back on it now and realizes how silly and stupid it was. When I asked him what, if anything, teachers could have done to "get through to him," he didn't think anyone could have made him do homework. He went to school every day, paid attention in class, but flat out refused to do homework, which got him plenty of C's and D's in school.

School for me was a bit different, but I think Tyler and I share plenty of similarities. Instead of doing the least I could to pass, I did the least I could to get an A or a B. I settled for lots of B's, because the work I needed to do for a B was 5x less than shooting for an A. I showed up, participated, did the homework, and didn't fail every test. I didn't do much extra credit, nor did I strive to achieve A's in every course. The first few years of high school I slept though a lot of my classes, but still did the homework. I wasn't necessarily a bad student, but I wasn't a good one either.

I don't think there is anything a teacher could have said to change my values or outlook towards school either. I didn't want to be a doctor, so as long as I got a 3.2 or higher, I didn't worry too much about getting into college. I had a couple of teachers try to "light fires" under my feet and get me motivated to try and maximize my ability, but I mostly just laughed at them.

So then, as a teacher, how would you handle these two different types of students? I'm thinking middle school for my teaching, but what would I do if a kid continually drifts off to sleep in my class, or refuses to do the homework? If I fail the kid, that doesn't help anything, and puts a black mark on my record as a teacher. I wouldn't allow sleeping in my classroom (and I wonder why Ms. Oas let me get away with it), but if I send the kid to the principal's office and the student continues to sleep in my classroom, what would the next step be?

I think a more difficult situation is the student who refuses to do homework. If the kid shows signs of understanding the material and does alright on tests--but just refuses to do the homework, do you pass them and reinforce a bad habit? Sure, it is OK to never do any homework, you'll still pass! Presumably, the kid would test right into the next class anyways. Do you just stick to the syllabus and give him a zero in the homework section, which drops a perfect A+ grade down 30% do a D+?

I think a very well written and easy to read syllabus, outlining the various expectations and grading rubric, goes a long ways towards relieving some of these issues, but it wouldn't change the outcome. The student knows he or she is going to get a D, but doesn't care.

So, what type of student were you? Did any teachers get through to you, or have an effect on your in-class or study habits?

I remember enjoying math in middle school, and pretty much hating it in high school. Almost entirely due to the teachers. I had some nut cases in high school.

Tyler said that his favorite teacher was Mr. Grosskopf, because he challenged the students to think for themselves and he had various projects that Tyler spent hours on at home--something he had never really done before. Tyler's most memorable project in Grosskopf's class was the "Create your own Utopia" project. What Tyler thought would be a quick and fun project, turned into hours upon hours of thinking about what it would take to create a utopian society and if that society would in fact be a utopia or not. Precisely what Mr. Grosskopf had in mind for the students to conclude.

For me, I think the teacher that stands out the most in my mind is Mr. Sarmiento. While most of my friends took AP History, or Honors history, for some reason I decided to take regular history for my junior year at Roosevelt. Mr. Sarmiento was a 20-something guy who had some very fresh ideas and also loved to play basketball. We had an in-class project about the Pilgrims and Mr. Sarmiento turned it into a game where we were split up into teams and had to make choices along the way for our party of Pilgrims. From where we started the colony to our interactions with the Natives and expansion, there were always a wide variety of choices to choose from, each with pros and cons. In reality, the Pilgrims landed and settled in Jamestown, but most everyone died off to diseases, because Jamestown is a marsh. I think we picked a hill along the coast, for disease purposes and defense--but we got less food than the groups who chose to live in the grasslands.

Mr. Sarmiento incorporated lots of other games into the class, including Jeopardy for study sessions. All in all, he taught me that there can be balance, and he pushed everyone to do the homework and get A's, but he also understood that high school included other things besides spending all our time on homework. If we got a B, he was happy for us, knowing that we put effort into his class, but at the same time we were enjoying our lives as high schoolers.

I also played basketball with him a few times at these very run down courts underneath the freeway by my house. The exhaust from the freeway was a killer, and after just one game, you'd be sucking wind. After I went off to college, Mr. Sarmiento ended up taking the head basketball coaching job at the school, before moving to Chicago with his wife. Being in his position is something I'm striving for. Showing students that they can have a lot of fun with school, and hopefully having the students enjoy themselves while they learn.

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Blogger RaisingCayne said...

Myself, I was definitely in the "do just enough to guarantee at least a C" mindframe. School seemed to come real easy for me, and I never had the ambition to put forth the effort for an A grade when a "good 'nuff" grade was so much easier to accomplish. And given my understanding for the material, (and my natural intellectual arrogance,) I never considered that the extra effort to put forth to get the A would improve my understanding. (Of course I also probably didn't care about having a better understanding.)

I remember in college there was a VERY popular slogan that read: "C's get degrees." Seemed to be the motto for the majority of students, and I was not any different. ...

Ya know what they call the guy that graduates LAST in his class at Medical School? ... They call him a DOCTOR!

9:46 AM  
Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

I was the same as your friend. I would go to school 1/2 the year and get A's and then skip the second half. In those days you passed if you got a C for the year. I found most of the school work boring. On occasion a teacher would inspire me in something I was interested in.

I do not think school is setup for kids that are smart though. It is setup to fill the average kid with what he needs to know to be a member of society. You are basically serving the lowest denominator and anyone else can fuck off.

It would be nice if kids with potential were realized and given some kind of alternate schooling.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous tortimom said...

This is fascinating and helpful. I was a "do it by the book - go for the A's motivated student" and I now have a son who is the opposite. He tries to get away with doing the least amount of work (4th grader now), negotiates his way out of things, acts stupid, won't try things without being hand held throughout the entire exercise over and over, and yet he is uniquely creative, an incredible artist (drawing) and will likely be a film-maker, actor, or fine artist some day. But I'm tearing my hair out with frustration trying to get him to do his school work. The last line of SirFWALGMan's post brought a tear to my eye. I wish I could find a super creative elementary school - private or public. I'm at my wits end! I live in Berkeley, CA

8:00 AM  

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