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The School Year Begins

August 14, 2011 - Al Stephenson
Tiffin Columbian students will return to the classroom on Wednesday. Check your calendar folks. The first day of school is August 17. That's right. The middle of August! For those of you who think that is a bit early, I agree. In fact I have a calendar proposal that I have been espousing for years. Few people are familiar with it because I have only shared the idea by word of mouth. That changes today.

I think the school year should start the Tuesday following Labor Day. The last day of school should be the Friday before Memorial Day. My calendar would include a week and a half off at Christmas and a week for Spring Break. The latter should be tied into Easter whenever possible. Some times Easter is so early in the year that moving the break back by a month would be a necessity.

For those advocates of a longer school year of 190, 200 or 210 days - I'm not buying it. This is your school year. Labor Day to Memorial Day. Get your work done! We will give the kids a FULL summer vacation. I'm guessing I have made fans of all school kids with this proposal. Not so fast my young friends. Make sure you read this entire blog.

I've never been a proponent of the importance attached to the number of days in a school year. My logic has always been based on a coaching example. I am familiar with a basketball team that practiced three hours every day. Of course half of that time was spent standing around to the point that actual practice time was closer to an hour and a half. My theory suggests that it's not how much time one spends in the classroom, but the quality of what goes on when you are there. In other words - use the time wisely because that's all the time you have.

Now before kids get too deleriously happy with this calendar concept, let me add the one thing I wished I had done in my 30 years in the classroom. I wish I had been more demanding of my students. My experience was that most students would do whatever I asked of them, but nothing more. Even the so-called "good" students would not go beyond the basic requirements. Even if they were told that it would be beneficial to them to do so.

Most students want a letter grade. Learning is of little consequence. Let me know what I have to do to get the grade I desire - and then let me get on with my life. Many parents are complicit in this problem as all they want to see are good grades. Learning that will prepare students for college is almost considered a bonus. Their priorities are wrong.

Given this situation there are a couple of things that need to be done. Attendance requirements should be increased. I hade a number of students that missed a lot of days of school, but still got passing grades. Students need to be in the classroom as much as possible. Missing work can be made up to the point where the grade looks good, but the learning didn't take place because the students weren't there. In addition we must make our curriculums more demanding. In fact I would almost suggest that a theory that I and some fellow teachers came up with once should be considered.

The theory was entitled A, B, C or see you in the summer. A is excellent. B is above average. C is average. Anything below that would require summer school. We should not accept poor attendance. We should not put up with complacency. If students want that FULL summer vacation, they should earn it.

Are there problems with these ideas. Of course. Calamity days will be an issue. Adding an hour to spring days (to account for calamity days) might be preferable to extending the school year. There will always be some students that will need special help, but that can be provided. Costs (for summer school) must be considered, especially in light of the current economic climate.

I certainly don't have all the answers for the current state of education in this country. Nobody does, or else we would have already changed what needed changing.

The view from my seat suggests that the quality of a student's education is determined primarily by the STUDENT. Somehow we have to convince the majority of students that learning is important!


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