The Elephant in the Classroom

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When it comes to dealing with chronically disruptive students, everyone  – administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, and social service providers – must operate from the “same page.” Keeping chronically disruptive students in the classroom, as opposed to removing them from classroom, isn’t an effective instructional practice. Although suspensions aren’t effective, no student has the right to take a room hostage or prevent a teacher from delivering a quality lesson. We have to discuss this phenomenon.

Every teacher in this country will attest to having a small percentage of students who aren’t prepared to learn. Moreover, these small percentages of students often prevent the larger majority from learning on a higher level. Is it fair to the large majority of students to lose instructional time because the teacher has to spend valuable time redirecting a severely disruptive student?

The go-to strategy of “calling home, “ or after school detention, isn’t always effective. For example, there ARE situations when a parent or guardian’s contact number is no longer in service. In fact, there are times when the contact number changes often. How does a teacher acquire “buy-in” from SOME parents who literally say, “they’re done dealing” with his or her child?

From my understanding, charter schools have a little more wiggle room in addressing severely disruptive students because they can rely on “counseling out” such students. However, once this student arrives at a public school, such an option becomes severely restricted. Moreover, administrators must keep their suspension numbers low for professional and pedagogical reasons. So, we – teachers – are the bearers of this policy gap. We – teachers – are held accountable for finding a way to turn this student’s behavior around.

As professional educators, it’s our responsibility to prepare students to excel in higher education. If severe disruptions aren’t allowed in college or in the professional world, then why are they condoned within the K-12 levels? What better way to prepare students for the real world then to require students to use professional language and develop a sound work ethic? Excusing behaviors due to teenage years and hormones is akin to lowering expectations. Yes, middle school years is challenging, but a school’s overarching vision statement needs fleshing out and constant implementation.

When a child receives a referral, because of severe disruptive, what he or she must hear is the same message: College and the professional world will not allow certain behaviors. What this student should never hear is someone validating their outburst or sympathizing with their version of the event. Students will always find excuses not to work, especially when the work is rigorous. I’ve never heard a student say a teacher removed them from the classroom because the teacher “likes” that student. That would be the same as believing the dog actually ate the homework. Whenever we coddle or make excuses for a student’s disruptive behavior, we are failing to prepare them for the future.

Chronically disruptive students DO NOT have a right to prevent responsible students from preparing for college. Students should not lose instructional days because of severely disruptive students. Although this phenomenon occurs within almost every classroom, it’s an issue that is never discussed with serious intent. If we want to maximize instructional time with our struggling students, then we MUST tackle this issue head on.

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A Common MisCOREception?

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I’m having a difficult time understanding the argument against the actual CCSS. I’m not referring to HOW they were developed, or ARE financed, but the case against using the anchor standards as a guide for lesson planning. Basically, there are four anchor standards, each provided in length below. As a social studies teacher, I cannot understand why we wouldn’t want every citizen to possess these fundamental – dare I say core – skills:

#1 College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts. Through extensive reading of stories, dramas, poems, and myths from diverse cultures and different time periods, students gain literary and cultural knowledge as well as familiarity with various text structures and elements. By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades. Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.

#2 College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events. They learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose. They develop the capacity to build knowledge on a subject through research projects and to respond analytically to literary and informational sources. To meet these goals, students must devote significant time and effort to writing, producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year.

#3 College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner. Being productive members of these conversations requires that students contribute accurate, relevant information; respond to and develop what others have said; make comparisons and contrasts; and analyze and synthesize a multitude of ideas in various domains.

New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge and have tightened their link to other forms of communication. Digital texts confront students with the potential for continually updated content and dynamically changing combinations of words, graphics, images, hyperlinks, and embedded video and audio.

#4 College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively. They must also be able to determine or clarify the meaning of grade-appropriate words encountered through listening, reading, and media use; come to appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings, shadings of meaning, and relationships to other words; and expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content. The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we want an educated citizenry? Aren’t we the same people who chastise the likes of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones for propagating conspiracy theories? Aren’t we always arguing that the average American spends far too much time watching reality TV rather than learning about the world around them? Since the world is becoming more complex, don’t we need more adults capable of researching complex events/issues via complex journals and periodicals?

I certainly appreciate the criticism against the use of high-stakes testing, particularly within high poverty neighborhood schools, to evaluate a teacher’s “effectiveness.” However, I don’t believe in issuing a free pass to poor schools or students. Why? Regardless of HOW they were developed, or ARE financed, the four fundamental skills represented in the anchor standards ARE important.

Full disclosure: I am a public middle school teacher. I teach in a high poverty neighborhood school. Based on data, which I cannot share via social media, I know for a fact that a majority of my students are reading multiple years behind grade level. In fact, I have several 7th grade students reading below a 500L (Lexile) ranking. This doesn’t mean they’re incapable of learning how to draw conclusions or make inferences. It just means I have to put in the time and work on the front-end to find them more appropriate – leveled – texts. The way I see it, that’s just a part of the job.