The Uncommon Core

For many many months, we have seen several articles about the new Common Core curriculum. While some tout its rigor, others feel that it has been "rolled out" too quickly. After 28 years of teaching, I can tell you that the rigor of the Common Core or the speed with which it has been presented is neither the solution nor the problem. Rather, I would like to speak about thee Uncommon Core. This is my term for the core that has been lost in recent years. The Core of THE FAMILY was something that many of us had in common in the past; however, it has now been eaten up by the internet, cell phones, X-box, overworked students, and litigious individuals who rather blame educators than work with them.
In a world where the divorce rate has skyrocketed, bullying appears in many forms, and teen suicide continues to rise, do we really need to focus on a new educational curriculum with such ardor? Curriculums come and go, and those that stay, whether good bad or indifferent, somehow we adjust. What we need to focus on is the fact that we are losing our children to drugs, bullies, and the added pressure we as parents, and educators often place on them. Are we all guilty of this? Perhaps not; I know I am. Bogged down with higher expectations and the need to have my students perform better on standardized tests, I, too, have fallen prey to the Uncommon Core. As a parent, I have often failed my children and blamed others for their shortcomings as well as mine.
How often did we, as youngsters, eat meals with our parents? Compare that to the number of times per week we eat meals at the SAME time with all of our family members present. We are too busy carpooling to hockey, jazz band, baseball, Model UN, and a myriad of other activities. Many of these activities are those our children love to attend, and often, we are trying to expand the list of
clubs we can add to their high school activity sheets for college. What children used to learn from us at the dinner table, they are now learning in an adverse manner at parties, on Facebook, and Call of Duty.
The next time you are at a family restaurant, look around and see how many children have an earphone attached to their heads as they are texting throughout the entire meal. You can also see how many adults are doing the same thing. I should know; I read my emails when I am out to dinner and also text as well. Does this make me a hypocrite? It certainly does. I can easily blame this on society, technology, or the axiom, "If you cant beat'em, join'em.” I can beat them and I do NOT have to join them. This is my choice and my fault....period.
When our parents saw a less than stellar report card they would turn to us
and say, "How did this happen?" The question has remained the same, yet we now direct it to the teachers. I have been in education for almost 30 years and I would be lying if I didn't say that I have met some less than adequate teachers. I would also be lying if I didn't admit that I have had some awful doctors, lawyers, and plumbers in my more than 50 years on this earth. I can say with total confidence that, by and large, the educators I have worked with are hard working, dedicated professionals who take their charge most seriously. They have an unparalleled love and respect for children that is evidenced by their professionalism every day. I have also met dedicated, loving parents who want the best for their children.
There is a "triangle" in education that must be created in order to have our youth succeed. This three pronged approach must consist of the school, the parent, and the STUDENT! We are all responsible for the well-being and character development of the children whom we serve. You can't ask the teacher, "What is the meaning of this report card," without asking the child and yourself the same question. Even more important is the BLAMELESS question, "How can WE work together to see a better report card next quarter?" THIS is the needed COMMON CORE!
How do WE use the triangle as parents, students, and school staff to stop the bullying of our children beyond a simple BULLY FREE Zone sign? How many
of us have the passwords to our children's Facebook accounts? Some may say this is an invasion of privacy. I would argue that there are parents who have lost their sons and daughters to cyber-bullying who would disagree.
The Family CORE is something that we had in COMMON several years ago. It has been lost in far too many families recently, and we need to focus our efforts on getting it back. We have all worked hard to give our children better lives than we had. Were ours that bad? Are we basing our successes on materialistic possessions? Are we crazy because we had fun playing pong and Monopoly with our family compared to our children who now play online war games with strangers on the Internet? Are we fools because we used to play family word games during long car trips while our children now listen to music as they sleep in the back seat? Is our problem really the new Common Core Curriculum? I don't think so.
I believe our problem has become the unraveling of the family unit. Think of some of the inappropriate things your children often say. Now laugh as you think of what your parents would have said or done to you if you uttered some of those comments. Are we bad parents? Of course not. Increased taxes, a
higher cost of living, and outrageous college costs have made us work harder and longer in order to survive and provide for our families. More families than ever before are double income families, and that has taken away from "family time". Never before has the term quality vs. quantity been more meaningful.
I submit that we, as a nation, have always shown our courage and resilience in times of adversity. Hurricane Sandy, 911, and the Boston Bombing to name just a few. We need to work together as families AND schools to give the youth of America the moral fiber they will need to become productive members of society. With that, there is no enemy, certainly no curriculum, which can hinder them from reaching their full potential. Let's teach them to take responsibility for their actions, fight against injustice appropriately, and respect themselves and each other. Not only can we learn from history, but also, we have the ability to CREATE it! In this respect, we ALL need to do our Common Core homework, myself included.

Is Your Child Struggling in School?

With all the busy schedules of children today, it is harder than ever to motivate them in the school setting. But it’s important for parents to help keep kids on track.

1. Know when you can’t help, and why. First of all, parents are emotionally involved in their children’s lives and this creates an enormous amount of frustration. Additionally, most parents do not have the knowledge base to effectively teach children the material they need to learn.

2. Parents, you are the enemy! Why is it that teachers, who might not know our children well, say things that are taken as gospel but when we say the same things to our children, we don’t know what we are talking about? As much as you want to help your child, most youngsters resist assistance from their parents…..period. Take solace in the fact that when they are older and need money, you will seem very smart to them.

3. Know when you can help, and how. No matter their grade level, children rarely ask for help. You must notice the warning signs as soon as possible so intervention can take place in a fast and efficient manner.

4. What are the warning signs? During study time, a child’s head might be down, he or she might be crying, falling asleep or, in some cases, pulling his hair out. Low grades on quizzes, tests or projects are indications that help is needed. Teacher phone calls or emails, as well as negative progress reports, can also be signs that students are struggling.

5. Don’t wait! Progress reports are usually mailed home five weeks (half-way) into a marking period. At this point, too much time has passed for a struggling student to make up missed work. Contact the teacher and make sure you let her know to contact you if you can help in any way. Your child’s success is everyone’s responsibility.

6. What can you do to help? Firstly, set up a schedule of extra help sessions for your child. Many schools have peer tutoring and other resources as well. Sometimes parents feel it’s necessary to contact a professional tutor. Be wary of agencies that make you sign contracts for an excessive number of lessons. Also, ask for referrals and make sure that the person working with your child has acceptable credentials; however, some tutors who do not have Master’s degrees can also be excellent instructors.

7. Testing. If you feel your child needs special testing accommodations or might have a learning disability, your school district can often do the testing for you. Sometimes it’s necessary to go to an outside agency, but these tests are quite costly so be sure to get a referral from someone you trust.
It is never easy to help a struggling, frustrated youngster; but with a positive action plan, it is certainly easier to motivate your child to succeed in school.

The Waitlist

Guest Blogger: Kelli MacDonald

You’ve received most of your letters by now: Admit (YAY!), Deny (Ugh…), or Waitlist (Waitlist… I got on the waitlist??). Now what? Most students wait a few more weeks to find out if they will get accepted or not. Don’t sit back and wait – be aggressive and take action!

Why do colleges put students on the dreaded waitlist? In a word: numbers.  The average college-bound high school senior applies to eight colleges.  Take Suzie Q. Assume five colleges admit her and she chooses one. Four colleges now have a spot open for their next waitlisted student.  The only problem is that usually by the time the waitlist opens up, the deposit deadline for other schools has passed. This is where the process gets tricky. Some students will chose from a school they’ve been admitted to and forget about the waitlist schools.  Others, though, have had their sights set on Awesome University and are determined to attend if admitted.  As a College Advisor, I would recommend students put a deposit on the top choice of admitted schools, then follow the plan below to get yourself off the waitlist and admitted. Full or partial deposit refunds are usually available up until a certain date, so even if you put a deposit down, you may not be out all of the money if you don’t end up going to that college. (And while a couple hundred dollars is a big chunk of change, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to tuition. You want to make sure you’ve chosen the correct school for you, otherwise, it will be a long four years.)

Colleges care about action; you have to show that you deserve that spot in their institution and will be a contributing member of the campus community. When you take action, you are in essence taking control of the situation. I always advise students to get moving when it comes to waitlist letters. Write a follow up letter to the admissions counselor who is assigned to your file. You probably have their contact information in the letter or email that told of your waitlist status. This follow up letter should be something like the following:

Dear Ms. Adams,
I received your recent offer to be placed on the waiting list. I was disappointed but remain optimistic that an opportunity to attend Awesome University is still possible.  Awesome University has been and remains my first choice.  Although I have been accepted at several other institutions, my dream to attend Awesome University remains strong.
I have continued to work hard on every level and I have continued to maintain a competitive GPA. In addition to my Physics, English, Anatomy and Physiology I have taken AP Government and Pre-calculus.
My schedule has remained active and full.  I am a Varsity Lacrosse player, but this year there was an upset.  Unexpectedly, our only goalie was gone.  The team needed someone and no one had the skills or the desire to step up.  In January I spoke with coach and told him I will ensure I get training between then and now to assume the position with competence.  I took the challenge, learned the skills, practiced non-stop and I am currently doing very well in the position for our team.  I share this with you to show I am willing to step up. I am not only a student, but also an individual who faces life challenges. I will always strive to do my best in every situation.
I still very much want to attend Awesome University.  I appreciate your consideration in the event that an additional space becomes available.
John Blake
 This letter should include information on the following:
  • The activities you’ve participated in since sending your application
  • A re-iteration of your second semester courses
  • An update on your GPA (if it’s good…)
  • Any personal information that may be compelling to an admissions committee (a loss in your family,an award earned from a civic group, your volleyball winning the sectional      tournament, etc)
  • Your interest in attending the university (and how they are your first choice… ALWAYS tell the school they are your first choice!)
  • Good grammar.  Make sure an adult (preferably an English teacher) proofreads the letter before sending.
The letter requesting a move from the waitlist column to the admit column should be upbeat, optimistic, and enthusiastic. Be yourself and be honest; these are two critical pieces that add authenticity to your request!

The College Interview

You’ve taken challenging courses, sat for the SAT or ACT, filled out all of the applications, written the essays and there’s still more??? The college interview can be a critical piece of the admissions process. Many students look identical on paper; they’ve all been involved in multiple activities, taken challenging courses, and penned compelling essays.  How do colleges decide which applicants to admit? They interview.

Most students get the email or letter requesting an interview and the heart palpitations start immediately.  Why do they want an interview? What will they ask? Will they like me? AHHH! Stressful.

Managing the college interview is easy with three parts: knowing how to dress, what types of questions they will ask, and what questions you should ask.  The first part, how to dress, determines what the interviewer’s first impression of you will be.  This doesn’t require a magical formula – GUYS: wear a nice shirt, nice pants, and clean shoes; GIRLS: a skirt (not too short!) and shirt, or pants and a nice shirt.  If you would be comfortable around your grandparents or in a church/synagogue, then you’ll be fine for the interview.  A suit and tie is unnecessary; dressing that way will probably only make you feel uneasy and tell the interviewer you’re uncomfortable and hoping to compensate by dressing up. I advise students not to wear jeans, only because they’re a bit casual.  However, if they are nice jeans (preferably dark…) paired with a nice shirt and clean dark shoes, then jeans can be acceptable.  Clearly, the idea is to form an impression that you take care of yourself, dress appropriately for an academic interview, and are comfortable presenting yourself.
The second component: What will they ask? Every college is different, but most have a bank of questions from which the interviewer can choose.  The ultimate goal for the interview is to be conversational; they want to get to know who you are as a person and how you will contribute to campus life at their institution. Some interviewers will only get to one or two of the optional questions because the conversation is self-generating and easy to maintain.  This is good! It means you and the interviewer have connected on a personal level and your personality is coming through without being forced. However, this won’t necessarily happen on every interview. Personalities differ and you won’t connect immediately with each one.  Not to worry though - interviewers have their lists of questions to keep the conversation going. Some typical questions include:
  • Why are you interested in this school?
  • What do you expect to gain from your college experience?
  • How have you spent your summers and free time?
  • How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?
  • Name an experience when your friends were proud of you or the way you handled a situation?
  • Tell me about a significant personal experience.
  • Discuss the reasons for choosing your essay topic. (Bring two copies and be ready to discuss.)
  • What is your favorite book? (Don’t just give the title - be prepared to share your thoughts.)
  • Briefly explain a challenge you overcame and how it affected your life.
  • Prepare a 30-second biography. Paint a vivid, compelling portrait of yourself.
  • If you could travel in time, what period of history would you visit and why?
Prepare a little information about yourself and ask an adult to give you a mock interview using the questions above. The adult should NOT be a parent! You are way too comfortable with them; ask a teacher, counselor, or another adult.  Remember, the idea is to be nervous and uncomfortable during the mock interview.  Get this out of the way so you can be confident during your real interview.  The more you practice (in front of a mirror, with friends, etc), the better you’ll be.  Trust me, this will be awkward, weird, and not fun – but you will get better.  Keep working at it!
*Remember to bring two copies of the following (one for you, one for interviewer):
  • Resume
  • College Essay
  • Any Supplemental Essays  (if applicable)
The third part: What to ask? This is the part where most interviewees get freaked out.  Toward the end of the interview, most students will be asked “Do you have any questions for me?” and the typical response is “Umm… I don’t think so.”  Fail. This is your chance to show the interviewer that you have prepared and researched this amazing college where you are applying! Here are some good, generic questions (but also feel free to develop some on your own!)
  • What was your college experience like at ________ University?
  • How does ________  University help freshmen to get involved with campus activities?
  • What is the typical 4-year college schedule at ______ University?
  • Are courses typically taught by professors or teaching assistants (TAs)?
  • If _________ University is strongly known for it’s internship program, ask detailed questions about how these programs would work for your specific intended major or area of      interest.
  • Ask a follow-up question for a topic discussed during the interview.
Stay true to yourself during the interview.  This is not a test! The colleges just want to get to know you a little better and see what your contribution to their campus has the potential to be.
The best advice? Be yourself. Practice to gain confidence in your answers and be prepared to talk about yourself. That is why you are there!

10 Tips to Get Your Student's Grades Back Up

Once October arrives, the leaves fall and a hint of winter is in the air. Along with the changes of nature, there may be something else arriving at home . . . progress reports, interim reports, or failure notices. This will be the first time many parents are made aware of their child’s performance in school.   Here’s how to take the next step in helping your child succeed, early in the semester:

1. Do NOT panic. Let me say that again. Do NOT panic! Although it is difficult because of your emotional involvement, you must be careful not to go into full parent mode. As we all know, this immediately puts your child into child mode. All parents know that child mode is far stronger and more frustrating than parent mode.

2. You will not get a lot of help from your child. If you see something problematic on the report, be prepared to hear your child refute every single aspect of anything negative. You will hear things such as, “She is the worst teacher; ask anybody.” Or, “I don’t know what Mr. Smith is talking about. I did every homework assignment this quarter.” Students seem to have no idea how they are doing in a class until these reports surface.

3. Contact the teacher. You must call or email each teacher individually and allow a few days for your return call. But you should not have to wait more than a few days. Depending on grade level, you can call the department chairperson, guidance counselor, or appropriate assistant principal. Do not call anyone before you try to reach the teacher first. This is not only courteous, but professional as well.

4. Pinpoint the problem. You should not accept any non-specific answers. “He is not working to his ability” is not an acceptable answer. You need to know if your child is: a. attentive in class b. participating in class c. handing in all homework assignments d. asking questions (not just answering them) e. doing well on tests f. completing all projects

 5. Set up a plan to move forward. There is a triangle that’s needed to work together for the benefit of the child. You need the school, the parent, and the child. If any one of these is missing, it’s difficult to improve the situation. Too many parents talk to the teacher when the child is not present. This is a HUGE error. The student has to do the work and implement the changes. Too often parents make deals with teachers that the students simply can’t honor.

 6. Your child must make arrangements for extra help. Whether it be lunch time or after school, extra help serves two very important functions. First of all, the student will get more personalized attention. Secondly, the teacher truly appreciates the efforts of a student who puts in that extra time.

 7. More drastic measures are often needed. If the student has not done his or her homework. Instead of taking things “away”, add things to reward good work habits. If I child usually gets 30 minutes for Playstation, he should now get 45 minutes after all homework is completed. This creates a win-win situation in the household.

 8. Outside help might be needed.  Although I own a tutoring agency, I don’t think parents should use outside help until all other alternatives have been exhausted. Some teacher don’t know how to reach certain children and often personalities do clash. There are many outside agencies that offer tutoring and even educational testing. It is best to find these people from referrals whenever possible.

 9. Daily progress sheets. In more drastic situations, these are sheets that each teacher must sign daily to indicate how your child is doing. This will give you an immediate idea of how well the new plan is working.

10. DO not wait for the next progress sheet/report card. The first report card is usually mailed home 10 weeks into the school year. You need to be in contact with certain teachers sooner. One quarter of missed work is very difficult for an already struggling student to make up.

The Summer Brain Drain

Studies have shown that children can lose between 10 and 25 percent of their reading skills over the course of the summer. This is directly due to the lack of work, skills and drills in which the student should be engaged over the break from school. It manifests itself in a slow start and difficulty with coursework when school resumes. Additionally, a child’s ability to write effectively is hindered because the writing process has not continued over the summer. Below are several ideas to help your child maintain and improve his or her abilities over the summer months.

READ, READ, READ: Reading is without a doubt the most important facet to a child’s education regardless of age or grade in school. Even math tests are becoming more challenging as word problems are nearly impossible to answer correctly without an understanding of the task at hand. Although many schools have summer reading assignments, more often than not a child sees this as a punishment since the book was chosen for them and not by them. Most students read the summer book assigned three or four days before school begins.
To get your child excited about reading, purchase a $15 gift card from the local bookstore and allow him to choose any book he feels like reading. (Of course, it must be appropriate.) This does not have to be a book that he will be reading for school. It will have extra meaning since it will be a book that he has chosen without parental or teacher input.

Write, Write, Write: Journals or diaries are an excellent way to keep students in the “school mode”. While reading is important, writing and reading work in concert. Children will not want to do long writing assignments, but journals based on what they read and how they feel about the readings can be brief and assist them in moving forward once school begins.

Fun Study Groups: Kids get together all the time to play video games, watch movies, and just hang out. An exciting book or magazine article that all have read can spark some additional interest. This is a bit more difficult because it requires some parent input. You might find an article on the Internet about a video game the kids play and challenge them to create a test for you based on that article. This way, you have to read the article as well. The culmination is to see if they can stump you on a question. Bet them a trip to their favorite ice cream store once they have completed their test regardless of how well you do on the exam. (Pizza works, too!)

Movie Reviews: Take your child and a friend to the movies and offer to buy extra surprises at the candy counter if they promise to write a movie review afterwards.
Letters: The arrival of computers and improved technology has been a double-edged sword in society. Our children rely on spell checkers and other such programs to provide them with a product that is well written. Have them write to their grandparents via “snail mail” rather than email in order to maintain and sharpen their skills.

While it is difficult to have children complete arduous assignments over the summer, it is important and necessary to engage them in activities that will keep their brains active. This will make the transition from one school year to the next more positive for them on a variety of levels. Turn the summer brain drain into the summer BRAIN GAIN!
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Staff Training Year Round - Four Seasons of Change

Although the ground is cold and the trees are bare, summer 2012 will soon be upon us. Of course, camp directors think about July and August constantly. But upper staff and counselors don’t always think about camp until the early buds of May appear.
Many people don’t realize that staff training need not be an Orientation only proposition. People learn by what they see and what they hear, but they learn even more by actually DOING. Below are some ideas that might prove helpful in training your staff before, during, and after the camp season.

  1. Don’t assume that people need help in certain areas……ASK.
Staff are sometimes disillusioned with training because many of them feel as if certain topics are not pertinent to their jobs. Although they are often mistaken, clearly we can do a better job of finding out what would have a greater impact on helping them become more effective. Also, you are showing your staff that asking questions is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of strength.
     a. Surveys  are a great way to find out information without putting staff members in a position to feel embarrassed. This is also an opportunity to get honest  and important feedback which can help you improve the training process. Surveys or suggestion boxes should be done during the summer as well as at the end. The BEST time to help people with issues that arise is during on the job training! In the fall, surveys are a great idea since camp is still fresh in the minds of staff. While filling out the surveys, they are once again thinking about their jobs at camp and looking forward to the next summer.
     b. Mini-meetings.  During the year, upper staff is more readily available than counselors who might be away at college. Divide and conquer is a great approach that  will help you gain information through effective dialogue. You can meet  with specialists, group leaders, maintenance staff and others in an informal setting to determine what training is needed in the future for them and those they supervise. Helpful hint: Supply refreshments.
     c. Emails- Sending emails is a fast way to get IMMEDIATE responses from staff members. There are no stamps and envelopes that make snail mail such a difficult process. Think of sending personalized emails whenever possible. Blast emails are great for sending mass information, but when you want frank responses, the more personal…the better.
Winter (and all year long)
  1. Train by Example-We often hear the term “lead by example.” But most of us have never thought to “train by example.” In other words, sending birthday cards to campers is something many camps do. However, few camps send such cards      to staff members throughout the year. Doing so would send a message to your staff that going the extra mile means so much. You could, of course, reference this at Orientation and create a dialogue about how the staff members felt when they received the card from the camp. Additionally, this could springboard into a  discussion about how campers feel when staff go the “extra mile for them”.   It is SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE to train staff with things that are tangible as opposed to a simple lecture.
  1. Manual Madness- If two heads are better than one, then what would we think about 250 heads?!!  Although the size of a staff varies from camp to camp, why not send small parts of the staff manual to certain people throughout the year and ask  them to add information? For example, you can send Water Safety pages from the staff manual to those people who work at your pools. As productive as we try to be, it is almost certain that others will think of important things that we left out. This way, your staff is learning as they THINK of things that would be helpful for the future. Giving them credit for their input in the staff manual or at a staff meeting would be an added bonus as well. When you Empower your staff, you make them more Powerful!
  1. Bring in Guest Speakers- Training throughout the year can be made more fun and interesting if you think “outside the box” and bring people in to help you train. This does not mean you have to always hire motivational speakers or camp experts. You can use guest speakers that are already on your payroll! Let a specialist with a lot of experience lead a session in November on how to get the most from your assistants. Bring a parent in who has had children in the camp for a few years to speak about parent expectations. A director can talk about what the parents expect, but that pales in comparison to hearing it from an actual mother or father. Bring in a veteran counselor to speak to newly hired counselors in May or June.
People who are not in the camp industry have no idea how long planning takes to ensure a safe and fun summer for children. Staff Training is a key element in giving counselors and upper staff the tools they need to succeed. Relegating this training to a few hot days in June before the start of camp is simply not enough time. By following the above outline, you will be well on the way to training your staff year-round while strengthening your bond with them at the same time.

Classroom Management

Teaching is rewarding, exciting, and often fun. But make no mistake; teaching is a business. We compete for salaries with other districts and cities, federal funding is often based on attendance, and some districts have been known to deny people tenure in order to hire new, less experienced teachers. This hurts the kids, but keeps some taxpayers happy. Harold Geneen is correct in saying that we all have the power to create leaders. However, if you don’t have ownership and control of your classroom, you will never get the chance to impart knowledge.

I have seen teachers who were absolutely brilliant in their content. Unfortunately, they did not have the management skills to create a learning environment in their classrooms. This chapter should help all teachers, novice and seasoned, create a learning environment rich in knowledge and respect. MOST IMPORTANTLY, please always remember that the GREATEST Classroom Management tool is this: An ENGAGING LESSON!!!

Managing Student Behavior 
I remember when I first began to teach. I was lucky enough to be part of a subschool where the toughest dean resided. She was respected and feared by the students. She laughed when years later I told her she scared me as well. When the kids misbehaved, a daily occurrence, I said I would send for her and they quieted down rather quickly. One day I threatened to call her and they continued their poor behavior and even began throwing spitballs at me. I soon found out what they already knew. She was absent! I never had control of my class; she did.
I immediately asked teachers with excellent class control if I could observe their techniques during my lunch hour. I sat and learned from the Masters and over the years I have honed my own skills to create what I think is a very powerful formula for managing student behavior. 
It is not difficult to teach in a classroom where students are misbehaving. It is IMPOSSIBLE! The following is a step-by-step approach to managing student behavior.
First, all students get a contract the first day of class. You have to decide on your rules; I  can’t do that for you. I often ask what rule number three is as part of my Notebook Quiz. You can ask any number on a Notebook Quiz (always number your rules so you can direct them to the rule they broke quickly.) Some of my rules include:

1. No foul language                                                                                                        
2. No hats (bad hair days are your problem, not mine.)
3. Raise your hand to ask or answer a question
4. Never throw your work out
5. Garbage gets thrown out at the end of the period (I hate when they get up and throw garbage away when I am teaching. It distracts me and is rude.)
6. You are responsible for all work even if you are absent
7. The period is over when I say so, the bell means nothing to me. (I do not allow kids to pack up before I dismiss class. Those who do are made to leave last.)
8. Bring a Loose-leaf Notebook, two pens and two pencils EVERY day.
(I don’t lend pens, I rent supplies. They cost points or a phone call home. I used to take money but not anymore.)
I have them sign the contract and their parent signs as well. I then make copies of the contract. I keep one set and return the others to the students. They have to keep it in their notebooks. I like to have an outline in front of me indicating the rules I would like to be in my contract. However, I allow the students to create some of the rules that will be part of the contract for several reasons:
  1. Their rules are usually more stringent than mine.
  2. They take class very seriously when they have taken part in the creation of the contract.
  3. This allows them to have OWNERSHIP of some of the management of the classroom.
If someone gets up to throw out the garbage I say to that person, “Do me a favor, remind me when we throw garbage away.” They know this is a rhetorical question and hold the paper until class is over. This way, I make it the student’s decision to follow the rules, not mine.

Let students know that their signature means they are agreeing to follow the rules as set forth by you. You are counting on them to be true to their word and honor their commitment. In fact, when they arrive late to class, I have them sign a late sheet that I keep on a clipboard. They will be signing many contracts in their lives and this is the first of many. Although I want to set an example in my class, I sometimes throw garbage out during the period and they ask me to repeat the rule since I just broke it. When this happens, they are truly taking ownership of the rules.

Allow me to get this off my chest. While I agree that we need to be role models for our children, I don’t believe I need to leave my cell phone at home. We are no longer children and we must teach them that with certain jobs and situations, certain privileges exist. We have gone to school, graduated and followed all of the rules. Now it is their turn. I tell them they will be learning how changes are made and they will do this when they become teachers or leaders in other chosen professions. I also mention that well educated people have been changing rules for centuries, so they are in good company.

Student Grades: How to Turn Around the Mid-Year Slump!

No matter what grade a child is in, it is imperative to begin the second half of the school year with renewed motivation and a positive attitude. It is not fair, however, to expect students to be able to do this without proper structure and support from the parent(s). Below are examples on how you can help your child improve grades for the last half of the school year.

1. It’s time for a NOTEBOOK OVERHAUL- Be prepared to have your eyes pop out of your head when you see what the inside of a student backpack or notebook truly reveals. You will witness crumpled paper, torn sheets, and disorganized worksheets without dates, student names, or subjects indicated. This is one of the greatest reasons that students have trouble being organized and effective in school. THEY CAN’T FIND THEIR WORK! Whenever possible, try to have loose-leaf binders available with no more than two or three subjects per binder. (Some teachers only want spiral notebooks so you must adhere to their rules) Divider labels are needed in the following possible categories. Class Work, Homework, Tests and Quizzes. If all work is dated, then your child will now be able to find work chronologically and study properly. Also, children should have a hole puncher available for ALL worksheets given so teacher handouts can be placed in the appropriate section. (Purchase reinforcements as well).

2. Parent / Teacher Communication is Essential-In a perfect world, teachers would be able to call each and every parent often to discuss ways for children to improve their grades, Unfortunately, teachers have many students and this will never be achieved consistently. You must email, phone, or visit your child’s teacher(s) and determine what was done the first semester and what the teachers’ expectations are for your child to succeed the rest of the year. Keep notes and make sure you ask what you can do to support your child in his or her success in school. This method creates what I like to call the TRIANGLE of Educational Success. We need the School, the Parent, and the Student all involved together in order for children to reach their full potential.

3. Time can be the enemy, or the HERO-Adults have difficulty with time management so just imagine what student challenges exist with soccer, cheerleading, band, and the SUPERVILLIANS …..PLAYSTATION AND X-Box! Fun and breaks from work are a must but you need to set aside time when children will do their school work. A break is needed when they first arrive home from school. They should NEVER work for more than twenty minutes at a time. Even a sponge needs to be wrung out once in a while. I suggest twenty minutes of studying and then a five minute break AWAY from the study area. Then, upon return to work, MAKE SURE CHILDREN REVIEW the first twenty minutes of studying and THEN move on to new work or new material. Learning does NOT take place during the initial studying process….it takes place during REVIEW. Hopefully these strategies will place your child on the path to a successful 2012!