Disheartened

March 27, 2007 16 Comments »
Disheartened

I don’t think I’m a particularly harsh teacher. Most nights, my students take no homework out of the classroom. My courses are set up so that if you put in a minimum amount of work, you will pass. And yet, this past week, I’ve been accused more than once of not being easy enough on my students.

Scenario 1: My French 20 course does a unit on electronic press. The final project for the unit is to produce their own video news segment. They have to cover at least five stories and the video has to be at least 22 minutes long. The students have 3 weeks to complete the project, the last of which we spend in the computer lab where I teach them how to import and edit the video. So, two weeks to film 22 minutes of footage. Is that too little time? Most of the students procrastinated for the first week, scrambled somewhat in the second week and went into full-tilt panic mode in the third week. In previous years, students have done interviews with the mayor, the chief of police and other local luminaries. Suffice it to say, this year’s crowd did not have time to interview anyone other than the students’ own parents and each other (which is not to say these interviews were badly done, just that they didn’t put in the effort that previous years have done).

Now, I’m of the opinion that this was sufficient time to shoot and edit a 22 minute newscast – it has been in previous years. My students (and some of their parents) are not of the same opinion.

Scenario 2: In previous years, I’ve attempted to teach grammar concepts to my French class in the context of the content of the course. At the end of last year, I came to realise that this method was not working to get the students up to the level where the curriculum guide said they should be at the end of the course. This year, we (the French department) decided to be a little more proactive about the grammar concepts. And then the whining started: “We do this every year!” “Why do we have to do this?” “We’ve never learned this before!” Sheesh! You’d think I was asking them to memorize the Magna Carta or something, rather than something they should, by all rights, have learned by now in the course of their French studies.

Scenario 3: As required by Sask Learning, all the grade 10 students in the school are taking a reading assessment test (yeah, don’t get me started on standardised tests) to measure their reading skills. Today we did the pre-test to acclimatise students to the types of readings and questions that will be asked on the actual test. One student’s comment: “It’s not fair that we’re getting measured on how bad we got taught reading.”

There seems to be a lack of personal responsibility on the part of students for their own learning. If they don’t know something, it’s because some teacher in the past didn’t teach them well enough. If they don’t get a project in on time, it’s because the instructor didn’t give enough time to complete it. I wouldn’t be so frightened by this if it was just the students, but more and more, parents have been calling with the same attitude. At what point do the students become responsible for their own learning? If not high school, university? Maybe their first job? Or are they going to go through life expecting to be spoon-fed all the information they need and given as much time as they want to complete only the tasks that they choose for themselves? Yikes.

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16 Comments

  1. Jeremy March 28, 2007 at 9:12 am -

    Would you say that what you’ve described here is a growing trend, or a relative constant? I think I hear you arguing that students are becoming less responsible, but what you describe here reminds my of my high school over 10 years ago.

    BTW, way to use standardize testing. Love it.

  2. Ian H. March 28, 2007 at 11:24 am -

    As I’ve only been teaching for 5 years, I don’t have the background to say whether or not it’s growing. I will say that I’ve experienced it more this year than any other, and that it’s very discouraging as a teacher.

    I’d love to do a quick survey of my students:

    Would you rather:
    A. Learn the material well regardless of how high your mark was?
    B. Get high marks regardless of how well you learned the material?

    I’m guessing the vast majority of my students would pick B, which is very disappointing.

  3. Julie March 28, 2007 at 8:33 pm -

    It reminds me of my highschool too, but ten years ago it wasn’t the majority of my classmates who were procrastinating. Now it seems to be that way. I think sometimes that parents are too relaxed with their kids education. As a parent, I get what I think is too busy to answer my children’s questions, but what am I doing to their desire to learn? There are a number of people/groups who could be blamed for the current state of teenagers and their noncommital approach to their own education.

  4. Jeremy March 29, 2007 at 1:43 pm -

    I was always C) Get high marks and learn the material well enough. Wink

  5. Julie March 29, 2007 at 4:30 pm -

    Ah, you were that guy that we all hated…..and the teachers loved.

  6. Ian H. March 29, 2007 at 4:40 pm -

    I did this poll with my class today – to the second-last student, they chose B. Why? Because “what we learn here doesn’t matter, it just gets us into university.” Why don’t I just hand out 90s at the beginning of the semester and we can all just twiddle our thumbs for five months then?

  7. Julie March 29, 2007 at 9:30 pm -

    Well, to be honest, depending on what you’re planning on doing after all your education, there isn’t much practical use for most of your highschool knowledge. Having said that, I wish I’d worked a little harder in highschool just to increase my ability to learn. It would have made things easier later on. So it doesn’t matter WHAT you are learning, it’s just that you ARE learning. It’s like practice for the brain. (By the way, where was the course on parenting? I could have used it.)

  8. Just Another Student April 1, 2007 at 11:23 pm -

    So pretty much my take on it, is people are alot more busy today…. Hecht, i mean heck everyone has a job, it now seems, well is that everyone who can drive has a job, and between working in a group where most of us are working right after school, and trying to get other people who work for an interview, many of us tried for that but failed… why…. because they were busy so we did what we could. As i see it, the shows were not that badly done, for the parent’s and kids interviews, well it was who was not busy, or people who actually took time out of their hands to help us. Now that Comment done

    Senario two:
    Grammer is grammer, never changes, but after putting on every single report card, “low scores on grammer test have affected this mark” we are pretty put up with this. Another teacher who shall remain unnamed is not half as hard with thoes tests, i’m not saying either way is right, i would think half way between would be better, something like make up one single sided paper with cheat notes, by hand, show it to you first then we can write the test with that paper, this forces us to study, and helps us during the test. but thoese who don’t care don’t put in the effort. Simple as that.

    Might i add that French Exceptions we have never learned, each one is different essentially. but that was not one of my arguments.

    oh and by the way, that was a good game for the ol PS2

    Senario 3: i know the student and personally i am not too opposed, we have done these forever, and its not your fault. that one you have a point on, nothing to complain on there from me.

    As my conclusion, i put in effort, sometimes it is not seen, not appreciated, but i do try. Sometimes, things you just have to take in stride, others you just have to listen and nodd you head…. others you have to actually listen, and well maybe think from a different perspective…

    This has been one decient reply, maybe i should get bonus marks? For effort?

  9. Ian H. April 2, 2007 at 10:48 am -

    Do you think perhaps that it’s the other busy-ness that’s the root cause of the problem? If we validate having a car and having a job higher than we do having an education to our students, it’s no wonder that school takes a backseat to other “more pressing” concerns.

    The “cheat sheets” mentioned were handed out before the testing started – every student in the French Immersion program received a booklet on the 50 most common irregular verbs. I’m not sure what having students write the exam with the answers beside them would prove other than that they know how to copy off material given to them by the teacher. The problem is that in assignments and projects, students won’t take the time to look at the cheat sheet. If, however, they’ve memorised the correct conjugations, then they wouldn’t need a cheat sheet and can simply write in the right answer.

    BTW, William, it’s spelled “grammar”…

  10. One more student April 2, 2007 at 12:52 pm -

    Ok! Wow, I’m another student of Mr. Hecht’s class. The grammar tests we do, they aren’t even hard tests, we’ve all learned the material beforehand, probably for the last I don’t know, 10 years? A simple matter of looking over the correct conjugation of verbs isn’t a difficult task.

    An excuse that’s used often in class is, “You didn’t tell us when the test was going to be!” What is that? You tell us when the test is at the beginning of every week. Here’s another one: “You didn’t tell us what verbs we’re doing!” They’re on the board every single week! I’ve used that excuse before, I know, I’m a hypocrite, but some of the students are taking it too far.

    On the subject of being too busy: I’m a very busy person. But only on weekends. The week, after schools, that’s when I get things done. Work should never take priority over school: what kind of job do you end up with if your life at Burger King makes you fail your Grade 12 Language arts? School prepares you for the future; not the present.

  11. One More Student April 2, 2007 at 4:09 pm -

    I don’t exactly have a problem with scenario 1, or scenario 3, but the second one, as the first student said, does it make sense to you when every single student’s report card says that “poor performance in grammar has lowered the mark?” As the second student said, we have been learning these verbs for most of our french education, but not all the modes of conjugation (pass? simple, etc.) were covered. Maybe it is the students’ fault – but then, keep in mind that I remember a point this year where the French 20 class average was roughly 35%. I remember very clearly our Francais 9 class average being somewhere in the mid-to-high 70’s, with *Monsieur*. So, maybe it is (y)our fault.

  12. Another Student April 2, 2007 at 4:27 pm -

    First of all, you are completly miss understanding our concerns. We, well, I, don’t think your being too hard, I think your not being hard enough. You’re not giving any structure let alone an education to us. You say a student would have to put minimum effort to pass in this class. That’s not the point of school. If it was, no body would be in it. The fact is you have to put effort in school. The point of it is to learn and want to learn, to get ready and teach you how to make it in the real world. What you’re teaching is that at your job, with your family, in life itself, if you do the minimum you will succeed and by doing the best you can isn’t worth it.
    I think you need to step back and actually look at OUR needs and not the easiest way to get out of everything.
    Did you became a teacher because you wanted to teach, help students become the best they could be and take something from your classes? Or because you thought you could just pass through it with what you’re doing.
    Sure you can give them the course outline and say its due friday, but are they actually learning anything, or just memorizing it, pouring it onto the paper, then forgetting?
    And as the other comments said, when every single report card says “Low grammar marks lowered overall mark” you have to realize somethings wrong, and maybe its not always the student.
    As well, you said that we are blaming it on past teachers not teaching. Well since you aren’t teaching us the material, i guess you might as well be one of those teachers. You could change that by going out of your way and catching us up to where we are supposed to be. But that’s probably too much effort, right?

    (By the way, i’d rather get A. Learn the material regardless what marks i get.)

  13. another one April 2, 2007 at 5:11 pm -

    I’m actually finding this whole thing kind of funny.
    But since I’m here…
    My personal opinion is that you (Mr Hecht) see it from the point of view that we (the students) are not taking the class seriously and, therefore, don’t really bother trying.
    However, we (the students) see it that you (Mr Hecht) are not teaching us anything and, therefore, we do (basically) nothing.
    Since these are both pretty pathetic views for teachers and students to have, I think that the best way to look at the whole thing would be from a neutral position, or (if possible) from both our (the students) and your (Mr Hecht) positions.
    I’m not saying it would make the whole problem go away so we can all hold hands and foerver be united as one and whatnot, but it might give us (everyone) a better understanding of each-other’s positions.
    That’s all.

  14. Branson April 2, 2007 at 5:15 pm -

    I’d just like to point out, the first “One more student” is me, and the second “One More Student” is a different student entirely.

    That “35%” was a REAL expression of your mark to date. Let it be known that that was based on French speaking alone. You were given a basis of how you’d be marked on french speaking, right? First day, I believe? The 35% means that out of the six people in this class, only 35% of speaking was done in french. French speaking is only 10% of your final mark. Getting a 35% means you drop 6.5% on your report card. Don’t get so mad about it.

    All french verbs are similar. They all have rules for how to conjugate the radicals. My opinion is that if you can learn how to do, for example, the Imparfait tense, it’s not very much harder to learn the Pass? Simple tense. And so what if you have to learn a new tense? Isn’t that what school is about? Learning new things, oh no afraid! If you have trouble with a verb, ask for help! I’m sure Mr Hecht would not mind at all, even be pleased, if he had a student that was willing to learn.

    I agree, however, with Another Student, because I do think that we should review the verb tenses, and perhaps do some work sheets on Pass? Simple.

    If you honestly can, second “One More Student”, don’t bring Mr Bowden into this. And if you have to, don’t get *whiny* about it, because that’s exactly how it comes off.

    Oh, and not we did NOT all fail that test! We did NOT even get the results back. We NEVER WILL! It’s not a simple pass/fail process, it’s an assessment of our reading abilities! How can you fail reading?

    Just a recap, I was recently been informed that some of the students were telling their parents that everyone in the class failed a reading assessment test, which hadn’t been corrected, never mind recieved a result on. Just speaking for myself, I can’t hardly see myself failing a french reading assessment, mostly because I know how to read in french. I’ve been doing it for 11 years. If anyone manages to fail this, it’s because they don’t put in a decent effort to speak. We could all speak french last year, what happened?

    This test is not simply a test of how well your teachers taught you. It’s an analytical study of everything you’ve done in your entire life related to french. And yes! Your teachers DID have an effect on how well you did, but you have to meet them halfway, somewhere! If the government thought that it was ONLY a reflection of how well your previous teachers could teach, do you honestly think they’d give you that test?

    I also heard that the same students told their parents that “He just gave us the pre-test and then told us to study it.” That is a flat-out lie! We spent the better half of a class going through it! We were SPECIFICALLY told not to turn pages until he had finished explaining the previous one! Am I the only person who remembers that 30-40 minutes of my life? Please, someone with some sense talk to these students!

    Not gonna lie, this is Branson Perreault, a member from Mr Hecht’s Grade 10 French class.

  15. Student April 2, 2007 at 5:33 pm -

    Okay, Well Branson, you’re a really smart guy and I know you work hard at it, but some of us need motivation, and some of us have lots of trouble with verbs. (I’m not implieing myself) To some, verbs are like insane calculus, that no matter how hard you try it still doesn’t make any sense. And yes, we should know most of them, but giving us a booklet and saying, teach yourself, there’s a test thursday isn’t enough. You should atleast review them with us and ask if their are any questions or if anyone needs extra help, help them out. I’m sure you’ve realized who’s stronger than who in your classes, so maybe pay attention to those who are struggeling instead of letting them give up on themselves. Feeling like there’s no reason to try isn’t a good thing.

  16. Ian H. April 2, 2007 at 6:44 pm -

    As much fun as it would be to sponsor an anonymized internet flame war here (and goodness knows, it’s been long enough since our last one), I’m afraid I’m going to cut things off here.

    Without addressing each of the points raised individually, allow me to inform you that nothing goes on in my classroom without forethought, and nothing passes in the classroom without undergoing review afterwards. Believe me when I say that I did not conceive of the grammar quizzes as a way of failing as many students in as short a period as possible. There are easier ways to do that.

    You may have noticed that we are on grammar hiatus at the moment – this is because I am re-evaluating the procedure for the course. As you are aware, the class average for these quizzes has been rising steadily despite there being more questions on the test every week. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that.

    I’m sure some of you have legitimate questions. This is not the forum for them – if you want them seriously addressed, bring them to me in person.

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