Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Apathy of Youth / The Economy of Youth

The currency of youth is time.

Currently I am teaching summer school. For the first time I am teaching remedial science 9. The students who are taking this course (two 1.5 hr classes full) are students who had finished the year in June with between 40 - 49%. My mandate - to teach a year's worth of Science 9 in 30 hours (1.5 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks) and to cover as much of the breath of the curriculum as possible. It took me about 16 hours of prepping and planning the course before it even began. I have to give special thanks to my dad, retired science teacher, for helping me navigate the new curriculum and textbook, breaking it into manageable chunks.

I have never taught a remediation course before. It has been an eye opener. When I polled the students, the majority of them responded that they failed because they either:

1.) Didn't attend classes

2.) Didn't do homework

What has been most surprising is the homework. I work at breakneck speed, and I hand out homework by the wheelbarrow. The kids have never been pushed to work so fast. But I strive to make the workload manageable, and offer support.

One of my pet peeves is when kids don't attempt to answer a question. I ask them why they didn't try to answer a question they say "because I didn't know the answer." I ask them did they try to phone/email/text a friend.


Did you think to come early, as you know I am in class an hour before class, and for two hours after?


Did you go back and re-read that part of the text?


Well, they're honest! One student handed in incomplete work, and then looked at me with this look on their face. This particular student may not pass summer school, with only 8 days left. This student has only recently begun to blow off their assignments. The look on this student's face said "This is about all I am willing to invest of my time in this, and you should get your head around to accepting that."

This student knows that they only need to put in 8 more days of work that will save them 5 months of Science 9. Again.

I think sometimes we work to hard to chase after these students with safety nets, and that they just expect this trend to continue. Students can and will only work so hard, which is also true of adults.

Perhaps they think of the work in and after class as being costly. Perhaps they value their outside-of-class time at a premium, and cannot think to spend this valuable commodity on something that doesn't provide them with a feeling of gratification - homework and study. And some of these students as a result will have to repeat grade 9 science. Perhaps only then will they understand the true value of their time; when it costs them something.

That is what I have had to get my head around. Still, I hope I get to do this again next year. Maybe by then I will have found a way to make homework more gratifying.


Vicki A. Davis said...

James, I love this post. It shows your heartfelt desire to do well (aka your preparation with the advice of a mentor, your dad), your tenacity, and your ability to read the body language of your students.

These are all so much part of good teaching. My Mom and sister are both retired teachers and we often grapple with the best way to "reach" kids and redesign courses over the Thanksgiving table or table at a restaurant. It is this constant reinventing and desire to customize and translate material into learning coupled with the face to face interaction and reading the body language of kids that truly makes for great teaching.

My hat is off to you. This post will be linked from my blog tomorrow morning. Great job.

Catherine said...

Hi James,
You have described the homework/apathy problem really well! Recently I have been toying with the idea that we have to change our demands for certain students, those students that really do value their outside of school time more than their educations. What if we could find a way to teach them enough to meet most of the standards without their having to invest time after school. They wouldn't advance as far as students who got the extra practice, but maybe we could get them far enough to pass with a reasonable amount of knowledge. Kids will need to have the discipline of homework in order to continue with college, but not all kids are going to go that route.
Anyway, that's what I'm thinking...
I may let my kids read your blog entry next year if that's ok with you. It would be a great discussion starter!
Have a fun summer,
Cathy (in Pennsylvania)

Diane P said...

Then you watch Two million minutes on You tube and wonder how do we get that message across?

D.C. Hess said...

Wow. You teach in Vancouver? You could just as easily have been writing about Oakland. I'm teaching summer school as well (for the first time) and reading your post made me think you were either reading my mind or suffering the same fate. It is a constant battle to motivate students who place no value in the work. If its not worth their time to begin with, how can we convince them otherwise? Thanks to Vicki for the link. I'll be adding this blog to my RSS.

Mrs. Holder said...

And I was thinking that you were teaching around the corner from where I do. I teach grade 9 Physical Science and struggle with the homework issue as well. I am considering the idea Cathy in PA proposed. First I am considering having the students complete projects as teams rather than individual homework assignments. I have already dropped the "copy definitions from the glossary assignment. I am going to endeavor to make homework assignments more meaningful to that group of students...

On another note, I had a principal make the suggestion one time that if a student doesn't complete the assignment they should receive a 50% or some such. That score is still an "F" but not so low as to be impossible to overcome.

Love your blog and I am linking to mine.