What if we weren't so tolerant?
A few weeks ago I did a post on why so many high school kids are so lazy. Between the commentators and me, we talked about parents, we talked about our culture, we talked about poor teaching, and we talked about other things. But I really think the bottom line is that some kids do so little simply because they can.
The semester just ended at our school, and I ended up with eleven kids failing my regular American History class. That means they don't get credit, so they'll have to make it up by going to our alternative learning center or by coming back and spending another semester with gool ol' me again next year. Of the eleven, ten weren't even close. Sixty-seven percent is the bottom passing score in my class, and a couple of these kids were in the fifties, others were in the forties, and there were even a couple in the thirties. One of the students who failed was taking the class for the second time. She's a nice girl, but she just can't seem to get to class and do assignments consistently enough to earn a passing grade. She failed both semesters last year, and she is now three for three.
I talked to our counselor, and together we asked some of these kids if they'd like to move to my basic class (everyone in that class passed), and the others we asked if they'd like to try our ALC. I don't have the authority to tell any of these kids that they can't be in my class, but I tried to make it clear that it wasn't in their interest to do so unless they were willing to make a big turnaround from the first semester. Three kids opted for my basic class, but the rest all elected to stay in my regular class. After only one week of the new semester, there is no evidence that there has been any change in any of them. It's just the same old song--frivolous absences, missed assignments, and a total lack of effort. I have to ask, what good does this do anybody? But yet, they continue to do nothing because they can.
On the other hand, I have three winter-sport athletes who failed the first marking, but they all ended up passing the semester. Along with their coaches, and in one case with the parents, I got together with the kids and made it clear that I had no desire to put them on our ineligibility list week after week, but if they didn't do the work, that was exactly what would happen. If they didn't make a reasonable effort in the classroom, they wouldn't be able to play their sports. It was amazing how the effort and scores for all three of these kids skyrocketed. The only problem was that one of them went into the tank as soon as he raised his grade enough to be safe. He never did badly enough to become ineligible again, but his grade ended up being a lot lower than it could have been. Once again, he did poorly because he could.
Speaking of sports, although I retired from coaching our hockey team last year, I still go and work with the high school goalies a couple of times a week. Every time I go to those practices I am struck by how hard the kids work. Their effort is nothing less than fantastic, and everyone wins because of it. The players get better, the team gets better, and everyone feels good about what they're doing and accomplishing. There are definite differences between athletics and academics, but there is no question in my mind that part of the reason for that fantastic effort is that a poor effort won't be tolerated. In my eighteen years at Warroad, only two players have managed to get themselves kicked off the hockey team, but everyone knows the situation--coaches don't have to tolerate kids who make a poor effort, and any player would have to be a fool to put that to the test. I can't help but wonder what would happen if classroom teachers didn't have to either.