Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 125: I'm Not Lou Costello

From February 8th until March 9th, my Astronomy students collectively missed 570 class periods.  According to our online management system, the students on my roster have collectively missed 4,365 days of school.

This averages to slightly under a marking period per student.  We do not have an attendance policy, so lack of attendance does not automatically guarantee course failure.

I can't go to 140 homes and pick up my students.  I can't call them to make sure they show up to school.

I can't convince them to be in school.

I need to focus on making the most of the time that they are willing and able to spend in my room.

I gave my students class time today to work on assignments that they had not yet completed.  Many of them used this time productively.

While I was walking around checking work and helping with polar graphing and question interpretation, a student pulled me aside.

Him: "Mr. Aion, we need to talk about my grade."
Me: "I'm not sure that we do.  Your grade is your business. Your learning is mine."
Him: "Uh huh... I got to get this grade up."
Me: "I understand. A good step to doing that would be working on the assignment that the rest of the class is doing."
Him: "Man! You always got something smart to say!"
Me: "I'm not being 'smart' with you. You want to know how to bring your grade up, and I gave you a place to start."
Him: "I'm not talking about this one, I mean for the marking period."
Me: "I know what you meant.  What I'm telling you is that you have an assignment to work on right now that you're choosing not to do.  If you are concerned about your grade, then you should be working on that assignment."
Him: "This is just one assignment. It's not going to help my grade as much as I need."
Me: "That may be true, but NOT doing it will certainly hurt your grade."
Him: "Well, I'm not talking about right now.  I need to get my grade up."

Christopher Emdin just published a new book.

In an excerpt that I read, he talks about a conflict between a white teacher and a black student arising because of communications and expectation barriers.  The teacher expected the student to be on time for class and the student expected that being at the door was being on time.  Emdin doesn't make judgements on either of these people and doesn't claim that one is right and one is wrong.

What he does do is bring to light the fact that the conflict had arisen because both parties were working from different definitions.

A few weeks ago, I would have labeled my student of intentionally obtuse.  He still may be, but Emdin's example has me wondering about other things.

Is it possible that my student thinks he's doing what he needs to do?  Or, more broadly, is there a massive disconnect in culture that is leading to my students missing 4,365 classes and not understanding why they are doing poorly?

I think that there must be.  I  have been trying to understand and empathize with my students more.  Last week, a student confided in me that she had not been to her house in 2 weeks.  She has been staying with a family member because the father of her son got into some trouble and there were threats on her life and the life of her toddler son.

Knowing that this is happening certainly makes me more willing to be flexible, but how many kids are going through similar situations and never mention it?  One of my students lost a brother earlier this year and I only found out because his mother sent an email.  He never spoke about it.

How much of student failure is them being teenagers making poor choices and how much is a darkly tragic Abbott and Costello routine?
"Who's got your homework?" "Exactly!"
I am a funny guy, but I'd rather not be in that skit.  It was horrible for everyone but the audience.

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