A New Year, New Kids, New Goals

For those of you curious about my new position and my career/life updates, this one’s for you.

 

This school year started off strangely—my biggest behavioral issue has been my dog.

Normally, I would be making plans about how to manage new behaviors in the classroom, because my previous position required it. Honestly, I didn’t mind it too much.

Then I found out my dog barks when my husband and I leave, and actually has some pretty severe separation anxiety.

So my biggest stressor so far this school year have been: figuring out how to handle the dog during the day, deciding if we should even keep her, and how we are going to pay for all of it.

Although I have worked out some of those problems (and we are keeping her ūüôā ), I still have to figure out how to train her when both of us work 10-14 hour days.

So learning a whole new position is not so bad, compared to the dog issues.

Anyway, back to school.

What’s this school about?

When I tell people I teach at an “alternative” school, obviously that word doesn’t get very far, so I have to clarify:

I’m now teaching at¬†an alternative school of choice in the public school district, but it runs very differently (and in my opinion, smarter) than traditional high schools. The reason for this is our grading/discipline system. The students carry around a card that has a space for every class on it, where they get a signature for attendance and a signature for “completion” or “participation.” If they earn a discipline signature, they do not get their “point” for the day. If they do not meet the expectation of the teacher in their work, they do not earn their point for the day. They get immediate feedback at the end of class: “Yes, you met behavioral and academic expectations this class” or “No, you did not. Try again.”

The most powerful part about this system is the agency the student has. Since there are no letter grades, there is no stigma attached to the points they earn. I personally hate the letter grade system. It’s arbitrary, dated, and requires students to play the “game” of school. They have to have a certain number of points to graduate, and can work as quickly or slowly to get there as they need to. Every day they see how many points they are earning towards graduation. The biggest motivator to stay on track: If you fall below making 90% of total points available, interventions begin and the student has to keep 90% consistently to stay enrolled. The expectation is high (how many high schools require you to earn 90% to stay enrolled??) And I will say just from teaching here for a few weeks, that the bar is not set low so students can stay enrolled. It is rigorous work, but the students buy in to the system and feel the need to be pushed. These are not white middle/upper class students either: I have many Hispanic students as well, and the majority of the students are at or below the poverty line.

Culturally, many students who come here don’t buy into the things that traditional school offers: sports, activities, cliques—anything you would associate with “high school.” And that’s OK with me, too. (Students are more than welcome to participate in the local high school’s activities if they choose).

One of the reasons I chose to teach here is because of the “family” system at the school. Each student is assigned a “family” teacher ¬†they see every day until they graduate. The family class meets once a day and is like an “advisory.” I am the student’s counselor and advocate. I know exactly how many points he/she has and needs to graduate. I speak with the other teachers about issues that come up with the student, and I call parents when those issues arise. It’s pretty cool; I’m already starting get to know each of my family students fairly well. (I actually had to interview¬†with¬†them to get the position, because the kids wanted to make sure they had a good family teacher).

So far, so good. I’ve already been asked to be the English department’s Avid strategies¬†leader (a program for strategies to ensure college readiness), mostly because the other department members have other leadership roles and they needed someone to step in. Let’s just say I’ll be learning a lot, because I when asked I had no idea what Avid is! More on that later, once I actually figure out what¬†I’ll be doing.

I feel as if I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be at this time of my life, and I am seeing how my previous experience has prepped me for this one. I can’t wait to see what new challenges arise in the instructional arena, since I am instructing more now instead of doing behavioral interventions. This year I plan to start aligning my teaching with National Board standards, so I can try to get my National Board certification in a couple years. ¬†I’m also toying with the thought of Masters programs. Yikes.

Hope everyone’s off to an exciting and enjoyable school year!

 

-S

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3 comments

  1. Yes, letter grades are not good but points, as you described it, seems like a worse system. Letter grades have ambiguity in them, which many people consider a weakness but I consider it a strength – our performance on anything is actually ambiguous, meaning it has strengths and weaknesses.

    Points takes behaviorism to an awful place in which students are always counting them. A key idea of good teaching and good classroom management is to get students’ minds OFF the points and on the ideas in the lesson.

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