And Grades Again
I ended up relenting on the students' grades. The Principal had called each on of them in to tell them how disappointed he was with their grades. Apparently some of the readily admitted they had earned exactly what they got. So, I had them in my room in little clusters and first made sure they understood why they had failed and also what lesson they should have learned by it. Then we went about making "amends" of sorts having them write the missing reports to hand in for partial credit. None of their grades came up to much more than "D's," but at least they were passing for the marking level.
The one student I had been really strict with the day before was a bit chastened, at least, but when I told him the instruction manual had not been good at all, he started to defend himself about how "hard" he'd worked on it. I stopped him at that point and gave him a pretty accurate critque of what exactly he'd done wrong with it and why, in his particular case, those mistakes were so serious. Of all the projects, his is the one that is going to actually be used in the real world--as a hands on museum exhibit for children. Thus, an instruction manual with safety features, good diagrams, pictures of the parts in operation, examples of how the computer screen should look with diagrams, trouble shooting details, and good solid information about when and where to get help should something go wrong was extremely importants.
I have no idea if he will actually sit down and think it through. I told him sometimes when a person is extremely intelligent, as I'm sure he is, it's difficult to see the world and something like his project through the eyes of an untrained novice. Personally, I think it is a hard skill to develop--something that's taken me years to learn as a teacher. It's all well and good that he understands how the invention works and that most of the fixes are simple, but suppose it doesn't work and someone tries to open the back with a screwdriver to "repair" it, or the program crashes and doesn't boot back up the way he was sure it would? People panic if they see an error message on a computer screen when they have little knowledge of the program they're using. And, unless they know the step by step method for rebooting and what to expect to appear on the screen during each step, they stay panicked. "User friendly" has to be socialble to nearly all levels of potential users.
He seemed to listen, but who knows. Graduation was last night and high school--despite what these kids may think now--very quickly becomes a "thing of the past" once their new lives begin.
It was a nice ceremony, although I have rather mixed feelings about the students' speeches. They were clever, I'll say that, but the messages were more memories of jokes and fun than inspirational. I will say that each one of the students was an exceptional public speaker. It is one skill stressed all along in that school and what I saw was a great deal of confidence and leadership in front of a large audience. As well, they were articulate, used their voices well, and enunciated clearly--something many teenagers are not likely to do. On the downside, there was a bit too much ego and a touch of arrogance now and then which tells me something needs to be done to temper their self-esteem a little along the way.
Which leads me to an interesting conversation I had with one of the staff. We got on to the subject of rules in the school and how some of the seniors and teachers had griped that the new principal was "ruining things by making rules." Actually, so far, nothing he has said or done that know of has been unreasonable and everything has been simply following required State regulations, school system policy, or safety requirements. The trouble is, that on several occasions, when people have tried to do things that were perfectly fine under the old administration, he has said, "No." Like rather petulant children, teachers and students have bristled at that. So, in their eyes, he's the bad guy.
To my eyes, by and large, he's been doing the right thing. When I got there to teach, I shivered a few times and some of the "too much" freedom the kids had. While it made them happy, it had my stomach in flutters. They were not to happy with me when I insisted they had to sign out of class if they needed to go somewhere and when I refused them a few times. They weren't too keen that I was strict about taking attendance in the morning and needed to actually see them before taking someone else's word that indeed they had made it safely to school that morning. And, of course, how dare I actually insist that they turn in their work as required on time or suffer a penalty?
The staff member I was chatting with said that the students had been spoiled and given far too much freedom, as had some of the teachers who also didn't exactly abide by rules they needed to follow--mostly regarding school monies collected for various activities. (Long story there...) From what I saw, I have to agree. Don't get me wrong, The school is wonderful, the kids are smart and generally well behaved, and the teachers are really good, but.....there have to be limits. And the limits have to be set by the law.
From my first day of teaching I was always reminded of that fact that we, as teachers and administrators, are acting in "loco parentis"--in place of our students' parents. Mothers and fathers are handing over their children to us for the good part of a day presuming they will be safe, well cared for and properly educated. In the vocational/technical high schools, where I worked, the word SAFE was always said in capital letters. There are, of course, other laws set down that need to be followed, but making sure that students are accounted for at all times, and supervised properly is an essential.
It's kind of like horses....see this is a horse blog after all...when you put your horse into someone else's care, you expect him/her to be safe, well fed, and properly cared for. Trainers and handlers should be accountable for how your horse is worked with so that he/she doesn't get hurt or traumatized by any kind of cruelty. Your vet need to be knowlegeable, competent, and responsive. Your farrier needs to be a master horse handler and tremendously skilled. And you need to have faith in each one of these people that they will always, always do what is best to keep your horse healthy and protected.
Schools need to do no less.