It was a good day. I stood at my door during passing periods. I greeted each student, albeit with “Last name?” more often than not. Honestly, high school is its own beast and not everything Harry Wong says carries over exactly. I just couldn’t bring myself to welcome every student by name with a handshake and all of that. But, I think that tone of voice can carry a lot.
I numbered my seats so I could just tell a kid which number seat to sit in and that worked very well. I told them, generally about how the class will work. So interesting. When I tell some teachers about this I might get alarmed looks, quizzical stares, and even a couple outraged glares. But, kids? They smiled, they nodded, they shared looks with each other that said, “This sounds good!”. I heard a few things like:
“Why don’t other teachers do this?”
“I got behind in my work last year and I never could bring my grade back up.”
“That makes a lot of sense.”
I think they got it. Not a single kid said that a “no zeroes” policy was bad. When I pointed out that my classroom was NOT the real world and I was not hired to teach them responsibility, one kid said, “Thank you!”
Now, I have taught high school for ten years. Teens are notorious con artists. But, they also often possess a keen sense of justice. I have many times trusted students with responsibility and “put the ball in their court”, frequently to be rewarded with kids rising to the occasion. I am not naive. I know that this could go wrong. I know they will try to game the system.
But, I saw something as I looked into their eyes today. I looked at kids that understood that I was there to teach, not torture, them. They understood that my goal was their learning first and foremost. Why? Because every thing I told them about my policies was consistent. I said we would focus on standards and proved it by showing there were no assignments in my gradebook, only standards. I told them they could reasses to show greater mastery and the fear drained away.
I looked at their grades. I would say that three quarters of them failed at least one full year of high school Language Arts.
I saw kids that had hope. Not hope to get a passing grade. They had hope that they could learn. See, I got some “F’s” in high school. Its demoralizing. My math teacher called me, and many others in the class, a “dumb bunny.” But, when you’re failing the class, that name feels like truth. This year, I will teach them Language Arts. This year, I will teach them reading, writing, and thinking. But most of all, this year I will teach them that they are not dumb bunnies.