Friday, October 28, 2016

Polygons of Wellness

       I was looking through my old English papers and discovered a persuasive essay I wrote in seventh grade. I had gotten sick of health class with Mr. B (how lucky I was to have him for two years) right around the same time we got this assignment (which was supposed to be specific to problems at school), so I essentially wrote a blog post a year before starting my blog. I never got any feedback on this essay, nor did the decision-making lessons we had to suffer through change, which greatly disappointed me. Anyway, I'm submitting it exactly as I wrote it in seventh grade, with the exception of the school name.

                Seventh-Grade Health: Decision Making
    In seventh-grade health class at [School], several of the lessons, particularly those in the decision-making unit, are presented in a rather manipulative manner. Seventh-graders learn about the “health triangle”, which represents the three aspects of health: physical health, mental/emotional health, and social health. When these categories are listed out loud, it sounds like four different categories (mental and emotional being separate rather then blended into one as intended), so I think it would be more logical to present a “health quadrangle”. However, the geometric shape used to represent “overall wellness” is not a very pressing concern; the lessons in the decision-making unit take up significantly more time in the early stages of the quarter of health than the polygon of wellness.
    Students are given an acronym, H.E.L.P., to use as a guide when making decisions. H.E.L.P. stands for “healthful, ethical, legal, and parental approval”, all of which were to be taken into consideration when making a decision. To exercise the use of this acronym, the class was divided into groups and given scenarios in which they wrote out their decision after listing each step of H.E.L.P., but the scenarios themselves were manipulative. In one, students had to decide whether to let a friend copy answers for a test, and the scenario specified that if their friend failed the test, their parents would not permit them to go on the class trip. I believe the purpose of this was to make the decision harder, so the students would have something else influencing their decision, but it seemed a rather feeble attempt. Kindergartners through second-graders might be swayed by the possibility of their friend not attending the class trip, but middle-schoolers would be able to see right away what they were meant to choose. The scenario clearly gives away what the “best decision” is in advance. Anyone can see what they are meant to choose, and so they will choose that one and then go through the steps of H.E.L.P., rather than using the guide to help them make the decision. And it is possible that some students would, if it came to such a thing in reality, cheat to help their friends, but they certainly would not reveal that in front of their teacher and classmates; rather, they would keep it a secret and just go along with the intended answer. Each of the scenarios followed this pattern of having what is generally accepted as “the best decision” made clear right off the bat. It does not exercise the students’ decision-making skills so much as their skills in doing what they are told is right.
    Since neither the teachers nor the students will really get anything out of such a clearly manipulated exercise, it is a waste of time and energy on both parts. And forty-five wasted minutes a day is a lot of time that could be used more beneficially.
    A similar situation was one of the warm-ups in the health packet about an unfortunate girl named Victoria who is having trouble in math, roughly copied below:
    Victoria is having trouble in math. When her teacher announces a pop quiz, Victoria begins to panic but her friend says, “Don’t worry. You can copy off my test.” Put a check next to the things that will help Victoria make a good decision, and an X by the ones that will not.

Victoria should consider whether her parents would approve of cheating.
Victoria should consider whether it is ethical to cheat on a quiz.
Victoria should focus on the fact that a bad grade on the quiz will lower her score in class.

    The one Victoria was not supposed to think about was the one about her class average. This seems rather one-sided - yes, H.E.L.P. does make some good points when it comes to “evaluating a decision”, but it is not the sole basis of good decisions. After all, everyone has been making thousands of decisions by the time they enter seventh grade, and they haven’t gotten killed or ended up in juvenile hall by then, because they have enough students to actually form multiple health classes, so we can safely assume that not all good decisions are made by H.E.L.P.
    A more efficient use of time and method of teaching would be to use less general scenarios, ones students will not have been prepared for and will not have a clear idea of how to answer. This might compel them to actually use the guide to help them decide, as it was meant to be used, rather than just using it to “justify their answer” (another common phrase). It would probably also be appropriate to emphasize that H.E.L.P. is just a guide in making decisions, nothing more, and students are still capable of making good decisions without it.
    If teachers wanted to continue using the originally prepared scenarios, they could specify that they are simply warm-ups where the decision is already clear so students can get a general idea of how H.E.L.P. is meant to work, and then move on to a couple of more original scenarios.
    In conclusion, I believe students are being underestimated and manipulated when it comes to the decision-making unit of seventh-grade health, and time should be used more appropriately and beneficially to solve this education problem at [School].

Monday, October 17, 2016

Top Twenty Unnecessary, Ironic, Mean, or Just Plain Stupid Things Teachers Have Said

Well, apart from the countless ones I already listed in past blog posts.

1. When my geometry teacher solved a problem for us on the board, his head was in the way, completely obscuring his work. Valeria, the girl who sat behind me, commented (albeit louder than necessary), “I can’t see the work because Mr. F’s big head is in the way.” Mr. F promptly retorted, equally unnecessarily, “You need to shut your big mouth. It’s only holding you back.” I think it was meant to be clever…?
2. Erica, who sits next to me in geometry, rolled up the sleeve of her T-shirt to get a better look at a freckle. In doing so, she exposed her shoulder (scandalous!), which was slightly paler than the rest of her arm. Mr. F walked by at the same moment, glanced at her arm, and commented, “You need more color.”
3. Mr. F informed us we had a test today. The whole class protested they had heard nothing of a test, and Valeria took a survey, asking everyone in the class to raise their hand if they knew the test was today. Not a soul raised their hand, so she clarified, "I'm assuming this means no one knew there was a test?" Nobody protested.
"No, you guys knew," replied Mr. F, with his trademark Aw-look-at-you-cute-students-thinking-you're-actually-smart look.
"If you're gonna give us a quiz," chimed in a girl named Lily, "at least admit it's a pop quiz. No one knew!"
"I told you it was gonna be this week," he informed us, "so you guys knew."
4. Mr. F asked us how many of us were interested in law, then announced, "Well, here's where you get to start using courtroom stuff. In a courtroom, you have to use evidence to prove your answer." (Wow, that's so original! No teachers have ever asked us to prove our answer before!)
Erica, who had taken student court with me last year, objected, "Well, technically you don't have to prove it, you just have to convince the jury."
"Eh," he replied intelligently, waving his hand at her and moving on.
5. "We don't have time for questions."
6. From every lunchroom facilitator ever: “You guys are in [insert number] grade. It shouldn’t take you this long to quiet down. You’re supposed to be setting an example for the younger kids.”
7. Mr. B, assigning in-class research on feminine hygiene to a class of seventh-graders: “I know you guys are mature enough to handle this without giggling.”
8. The child-loathing sadist Ms. A, my seventh-grade algebra teacher, had a particular student who was retaking algebra and had been in her class the previous year, which was how he solved everything so quickly: he had already had the lessons. When she told us about the new part of the curriculum, which hadn’t been used last year, he quietly said, “Oh.” In the trend of antagonistic, unpleasant math teachers (I’ve had a number of them…), she unnecessarily snapped, “Yeah, Allen. So maybe you should quit messing with your calculator and pay attention.”
9. Whenever anyone asked her a question about a topic we'd already covered, Ms. A would snap, "There is absolutely no reason you should be having trouble with this. We've been over this in class already. Are you having trouble with this?"
And she wonders why no one comes in for lunch help...
10. When my algebra class was in the media center registering for eighth-grade classes, my guidance counselor wandered over and saw me pick algebra for eighth-grade math instead of geometry. I was retaking it, because I'd gotten a B, two C's, and an E, and didn't want that on my college applications. "So you're gonna want to pick geometry," she told me.
I shook my head. "I'm retaking algebra because I wasn't satisfied with my grades." I expected some sort of surprised pleasure, because I had actually opted to retake the most painful class ever because I knew I could do better, cared about my grades, and was thinking ahead to what colleges would want. This is the epitome of school-counseling recommendations.
Instead, she looked horrified. "Are you sure your parents are gonna be okay with that?" she asked.
 "Yeah," I assured her, holding up the page of courses I intended to take with my mom's signature on the bottom. "She signed off on it."
Mrs. F called Ms. A over and said, in a grim, grave voice, "We have a student here retaking algebra - and the parent's signed off on it."
Hypocrisy is alive and well in the school system, everyone!
11. At the beginning of the year, when Ms. A was explaining her homework chart, an elaborate system she had concocted that gave increasingly large, sugary rewards to the kids who finished all of theirs: “It’s lots of fun to have the kids who didn’t do all their homework watch you eating your ice cream without them.”
12. [Put a poster on the wall of Ms. A’s room reading You are valuable. Don’t let anyone make you believe differently.]
13. [Put cowardly on the list of adverbs on the wall.]
14. For an activity on Chasing Vermeer: the sentence Enjoy the packet of Pentomino's. (This from a professional reading teacher.)
15. From an English teacher: "The idea is to say as much as possible using the least amount of words possible."
16. Also from an English teacher: “Use sentence frames! You guys aren’t ready to write your own sentences.” (Note: My generation cannot be blamed for the inevitable cessation of new fiction.)
17. Admittedly, I've heard this secondhand, and never actually met the teacher in question, but my sister shared an anecdote of an art substitute who detailed the rules and then snapped, "It is so rude to raise your hand while I'm talking! If you have your hand up, it is covering your ear, so then you obviously can't hear me talk." I find this quite believable, sadly (see #20).
18. This is also secondhand: apparently, one of my friends had a Spanish teacher who asserted that one shouldn't date unless one is planning to marry the person they're dating.
19. A girl from my book club gave me an account of the time she wrote 42 on her paper, and her teacher insisted she erase it because the teacher "knew about you kids and your 420 reference to drugs." She protested that it was just the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but the teacher remained certain she was trying to sneak a marijuana reference in under her radar.
20. An English substitute I had when I was in sixth grade was explaining the rules to our class when she suddenly yelled, “Why are you raising your hand?! That’s so disrespectful!”
I swiveled in my seat to look, and there was Tommy, protesting, “I had a question!”
“Why would you raise your hand when I’m talking?” she demanded again. “Do your other teachers stand for this?”
“Um, yeah,” he muttered.
“Oh, I don’t think they do, young man,” she informed him coldly.

If anyone has any other anecdotes of unnecessary, ironic, mean, or stupid things they've heard teachers say, please leave them in the comments section. If I get enough, I'll compile another list.