State testing ended last week but school doesn’t end for me until June 26. This far-too-easily sets itself up to be an educational dead zone, a time whereby teachers can simply fluff through the last few weeks of the school year and count down the days til summer.
And the truth is, the kids kind of expect us to do this. Well screw that! Unless each and every kid is being courted by Harvard, there’s work to do. (And even if they were being courted by Harvard, there’d still be work to do.) Besides, what am I going to do, show The Lion King for the next month?
Now don’t get me started on our math department. (Okay, that was a cheap shot. I mean we certainly have a few extremely hard working folks crunching numbers down the halls, but still, ask around… there are some peeps…)
So a student named Laura just came up to me in class after I assigned our final year end project. We’re going deep into propaganda with an Animal Farm and The Giver unit I am just starting right now whereby my students will write, produce, star in and direct their own 30-60 second commercials before we say hasta la vista to this section of their academic journey. (BTW, these projects are going to be wicked. I’ll be sure to post some as they come through but seeing as how we now have more tech tools available than ever before, I am fired up about how cutting edge these things are going to be… or so I hope.)
However, Laura just asked me about timetables for the project. Well, her vocab wasn’t as sophisticated. She didn’t use the word “timetables”. Her exact words were, “When’s this due, by June 12, cause I’m going back to Mexico then?”
“Like, for the rest of the school year?” I asked.
“But school isn’t out until June 26th. Do your parents know this?”
“What about your other teachers? Have you told any of them this yet?”
“So it’s May 27 and you are going to be leaving in 2 weeks and you haven’t spoken to any of your teachers about small little academic things like missing finals or anything like that. When were you going to tell them/us?”
“Laura, let me ask you a question,” I said trying to remain composed. “Do you think that leaving school 2 weeks early is going to impact your grades?”
“Laura, let me ask you another question. Do you think a person should ever be paid full time wages for part-time work?”
“I guess, not really,” she answered.
“Laura, I think you need to go think this through a bit more. Maybe have a discussion with your parents, your other teachers and so on… and then create a plan. I mean you can’t just leave school for the summer whenever you want.”
But the thing is, she can. And probably will. This happens every year to teachers like myself. It’s a scene that has played itself out many, many times for gobs of teachers in California, Texas and so on. Matter of fact, it’s so common that I literally pilfered the scenario from my real life as a teacher and used it in my latest YA novel The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez, a book about a teen latina who is literally and figuratively caught between both two worlds and two cultures.
But in fiction, I get to solve the problem with a-learn-from-your-mistakes-inspirational-and-happy-ending. As a real teacher, I don’t. Laura and her family are going to make their own decision about when summer begins and my input probably will not carry much weight.
Aaarrgghh!! If only they could see what I see. School is a life-raft in America and we have got to get more of our kids to recognize how fiercely they need to clutch it.
A quarter is 9 weeks long. 2 weeks early means Laura will only have completed about 78% of her required attendance. And Laura is, at best, a C student in my class, so if you do the math (75% of 78%), she’s gonna be at about the 58% mark minus taking her year-end finals.
Extrapolate that across the board in all her classes and she goes from being a C student to an F student.
Well, there’s always summer school, right? Oh wait, she’s gonna be in Mexico. Hmm… now I teach in a school with over a 45% non-graduation rate and Laura is gonna bail out on the last two weeks of her freshman year of high school. I wonder how this is going to play out when the numbers get crunched in 2012?