Sometimes I wonder how California is going to pull our education system out of the deep dark abyss we have been hiding in for the last several years. When I first started teaching in 1990, I thought I was working in the most exciting, progressive career I could imagine, in the most forward thinking state I could live in.
As time has passed, I have changed my way of thinking. Year by year I have seen my class sizes get larger, the students need more attention to skills, and the number of preps increase. NCLB’s focus on standards dramatically changed the focus of many districts towards test taking achievement and away from critical thinking.
Last weekend’s headline in the Sacramento Bee, “Gay History To Hit Classrooms In January”, however, made me feel proud of being an educator and citizen of California.
I was born during the Civil Rights movement and just a little girl when women were fighting for their liberation. In a multi-racial and multi-lingual state like California, emphasis often is put on creating a multicultural, diverse curriculum to meet the needs of all students and ensure equal representation. We teach our students to use appropriate, politically correct terminology and to have tolerance for all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. However, very few districts have put any sort of emphasis on the latter. To me, the taboo of speaking about sexual orientation is as antiquated as the pre-Civil Rights era when segregation was commonplace.
Just as when blacks were being lynched and attacked for the genetic make-up of their skin pigment, teens and adults today are experiencing discrimination, torture, beatings and death for their inborn sexual orientation. Just as we learned not to judge people for the color of their skin, we will now be able to show the content of all people’s character, regardless of what gender they choose to love.
I don’t for a minute think that the passage of this law will suddenly create a ‘gay pride’ unit in many school districts. Nor do I believe that teaching about gay history will change any heterosexual teen’s sexual orientation. State education leaders and school districts will carefully and deliberately work to construct frameworks and lesson plans to objectively include, not purposefully disclude, this element of our society.
What I do believe is that this law will allow age-appropriate lessons that will humanize gays, hopefully creating a more harmonious society for our children to grow up in. I do believe in inclusion over exclusion. I do believe that by bestowing value on all people we help to lift them up, which in turn can only bring us all to a higher place.
What do you think? Do you agree with the new legislation? Or do you want to keep things ‘old school’?
Me? I’m proud to be a Californian today.
Middle school can be the most confusing time for students and parents in their educational career. Everything ‘known’ about school is shifting, and hormones are often kicking into gear at the same time. Students want more independence, and parents want to do the right thing. Instead of letting teens ‘sink or swim’, try a more balanced approach. Teens definitely need to learn responsibility and independence, but they also require structure and supervision more than ever. By following these simple tips you may be able to crack the middle school confusion code and have a more happy and stress free experience.
Step 1: Attend Back To School Night, Parent Nights and Open House.
Everyone has busy schedules, but this is an important show of support to your child, their teacher and school community. These nights often are times to sign up for email lists, learn about the course, and at a minimum get a ‘visual’ of where your child spends their day, and who their teachers are.
Step 2: Expect homework every night.
Follow the school’s homework policy or create one of your own. If you teen says they ‘don’t have any homework’, ask to see their planner or sit down with them to check the school or teacher website. If they truly have nothing assigned, require them to read a book, graphic novel, or magazine of their choice for 20-30 minutes.
Step 3: Set aside a regular time and quiet place to study.
In middle school it is important to create and/or maintain good study habits. Not only will it help improve grades, but will assist students as they enter more rigorous high school courses that count towards college entrance. Bedrooms, kitchen tables, and family rooms all can be acceptable study areas as long as they are equipped with a writing surface, are relatively free of distractions, and have a place for teens to store their school supplies and books when not in use. Many teens are able to listen to music while studying-TV and computers are generally more distracting. Also, turn phones on silent to discourage the temptation to read texts while concentrating.
Step 4: Check your child’s planner/backpack/binder regularly.
Not every teen is a born organizer. They need help finding a system that works for them. Teach them how to use a calendar to write down homework, preferably something that will clip into a 3 ring binder. Try using one binder for all classes-it will cut down on the misplaced papers and forgotten assignments in lockers. Once a week, dump out backpacks and book bags. Hole punch loose papers and put in their binder behind dividers for each subject.
Step 5: Make studying fun.
Some teens have shorter attention spans than others. Try setting a timer for 15-20 minutes of solid concentration. Take a 5 minute break, then resume studying. Make sure they have a full tummy-hunger can be very distracting. Try Skype or FaceTime-teens are social by nature and may surprise you with their ability to work with a partner. Studying with a friend at home or in a cafe can also be a nice change of pace.
Step 6: Provide encouragement, clear expectations and logical consequences.
Middle school is a time for kids to learn what works and doesn’t work for them. Rewards and consequences are an effective tool to help teens stay on track. Try to use a one week system-many kids today are used to instant gratification and waiting for a month or two is too long. Figure out what they really like, value or want and use that as your motivator!
Step 7: Be proactive with teachers.
Middle school teachers often have 100+ students. While they may want to contact you, often times they aren’t able to let you know about problems and successes as soon as you’d like them to. Make sure to get on email distribution lists. Send teachers an email every week or two asking specific questions about your student. Think of yourself, your child and their teachers as a team that is working together to provide the best educational experience possible.
Step 8: Expect success and understand struggles.
Teens are bound to encounter subjects that challenge them in middle school. Earning straight A’s is not in every subject. By setting high expectations yet understanding their struggles teens will learn that you are listening and care about them. When teens are scared to talk to their parents about grades it becomes unproductive and unsafe. Encourage them to do their best everyday, and understand when they make mistakes. They’re still learning!