Monday, June 15, 2015

The End of the End of School

School's Out!  Wait... it's still May?
Nope.  That's not a typo.  Instead its a reference to the slow and chronic undoing of the meaningful and culminating end of the school.  Students in our building and I suspect in many places elsewhere around the nation finish school for the year at different times.  This begins about the 5th of May, the beginning of AP tests and continues for about another month in a  window of time I recently described in an E-mail to parents not as an end, but instead as "the great fizzle."  As soon as they finish their tests kids mentally check out.  Gone is the concept of the last day of class and with it much of the opportunity to offer a finite conclusion to a course,   I am unapologetic in my assertion that this is a step backwards.  Once testing season begins schools become dysfunctional.  The end of school, a time of many of us remember fondly, appears at least for now, to be at and end.

Its not true everywhere.  No doubt many places still blend the euphoric arrival of summer and the sadness of the end of the year very well.  I was speaking with some Underground colleagues this morning and one said "what we need is to either change our expectations about the end of school, or, accept the change in culture and mindset about what the end of school has become".  That might indeed be a fact but I will admit that his statement drew an immediate rebuke from me.  My response mainly caused by the belief that this shift is a direct byproduct of the test driven culture to which we all belong.  Like most byproducts, it is an unwanted one.  Students still must attend for 180 days.  So why not try and use the tail end of the days for something meaningful?

The current trend is to develop a variety of culminating assessments in lieu of exams. Going that route after AP and SOL exams is swimming against the current when it comes to student  engagement.  While I neither want nor think it is a great idea to have a whole bunch more testing in the form of a final exam, I also do not warm to the alternative of no final.  Should I just abandon the model of the past?  Hard to say.  But I did like my final.  Something I felt reflected what we did in the class more than a measure coming from the state or national level.  I always thought my end of the year testing is something entirely different from the aforementioned varieties.  It doesn't really matter much now as the vast majority of students in our building wind up earning an exemption from final exams.  The only ones left are those who for one reason or another aren't performing well.   So instinct says we should "end" sooner, then bring the combined energies and focus of our entire staff on our students who aren't where they need to be.  Now that doesn't take into account that it is REALLY hard to overcome the lack of student motivation once tests wrap up.  (sigh)

The progress through the school year isn't simply a product of seat time and advancement through a curriculum.  The social, cognitive, developmental and other imperceptible changes that take place during that window of time are not insignificant.  I know they'll forget more than half of the content I teach them, maybe even by the start of next school year.  I'm OK with that.  But they won't as soon forget the people and things that happened.  Those bonds and deeper lessons tend to stick far better than facts.    I guess what I really miss about the way the school year used to end is that it was a meaningful part of of my teaching and their learning.  It was a chance to acknowledge their growth and tie everything together.  The last few days marked a transition.  It was a cultural event signaling the last time these people will ever be together as a group.  That is a significant event and should be recognized in some manner.  You'd recount some of what took place, exchange some meaningful words and gestures and send them on their way.

It is not that hard to find isolated examples of classrooms that manage to find something beneficial but those are likely exception. On the whole, that is not what is taking place. We are just marking time.   It seemed a bigger deal to me than my colleague but that is likely the result of him teaching primarily 12th graders and me teaching mostly 9th graders.  His students were actually "done" where mine won;t be for three more years.

Few would argue that the school year does not have a definitive beginning and it is an important time.  Most know the familiar grind that constitutes the middle of the year when a lot of the real work happens.  So we should all be able say it has a definite and meaningful end as well.  Just a thought.

Looking for a fitting way to end this post.  I stumbled upon this classic Alice Cooper video.  Just when you thought things couldn't get better...(with the end of the school year I mean) find the perfect blend of good music and the Muppetts.  The internet is a good thing.

As if that wasn't good enough you could always turn to the Holderness Family.

The cartoon below captures the evolution of student attitudes over the past week perfectly.