Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What time is it?????

Growing up in school, we had our homeroom classes where attendance was taken, report cards were given out, and the pledge of allegiance was recited. There was no grade given in homeroom, nor was anything really taught. It was simply a short block of time during the day in which the requisite administrative tasks of the day were carried out. This is why we as students loved homeroom--we didn't have to do anything. It wasn't "milk" time, it wasn't "nap" time, and it wasn't even recess. It was just a place where we had our "cubby hole" and kept our big chief tablet and crayons.

As we got older and progressed through the sequence of grade levels, homeroom disappeared about the same time it became unnecessary to keep a careful list of which students preferred white milk or chocolate during the break. Eventually, we pledged allegiance in 1st period, whether it was our math class or gym. We got our report cards during social studies (unless they were mailed home) and "cubby holes" became lockers that were difficult to open even with the correct combination.

But WHY did such a logical, effective concept as homeroom ever go away? I don't think is was to make the students happy. Likely, it was because as students get older, especially in groups of 20 or more, they become increasingly difficult to control in an environment where there is nothing to do with no grade attached to it. Also, the shift in curriculum gradually sways from character education and teaching social norms to actual academics, and getting rid of homeroom means more time for students to spend in the classroom learning readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic (but not spelin'.) Makes sense to me.

Well, the past few years, our high school has brought the homeroom concept to teenagers and young adults, clever disguised as "Unicorn Time," or "UT," as the Aggies are loathe to call it. Originally structured as a 20 minute block of time in the morning to take care of all administrative tasks, which included and were limited to announcements and handing out progress reports, activities that absorbed only a paltry 30% of the allotted time (32% if you also take into account taking attendance), many teachers were left with 15 minutes daily with a room full of kids where we were encouraged and verbally rallied to do something "constructive" with our students. We teachers had a blank check to do anything we wanted for 1 hour and 15 minutes a week with our students (could we even call them that?) Frantically searching websites and books for "babysitting activities," some teachers came up with some great time-filling activities. Many did not.

Over time, many suggestions were made, and some even mandated as to what to do with that block of time: peer tutoring, study hall, TAKS remediation, watch Sportscenter, and "heads-up 7-up." Everything worked for a while, but it also quickly grew old for teachers and students alike. Everyone found themselves eagerly looking forward to report card day, just so there would be something to do. You've never seen so many students and teachers so excited when the class ring salesmen is on campus giving short presentations during "UT" time (yes, people call it "UT" time, which is short for "Unicorn Time time.") Additionally, it seemed like really good ideas and uses for that time were never in place from day one, but rather experimental ideas came and went throughout the year, each with the fervent energy of the anticipation of the best and final solution. These things, too, came and went as fast as a Texas winter.

In my UT class, I have always gone out my way to be engaging and entertaining (which is why I make such an excellent baby sitter and fun dad.) Regardless of the current stipulated mandate (currently, it is the "Drop Everything And Read" or D.E.A.R. initiative, whereby every students reads for 15 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday) I have always tried to teach my UT kids something new each and everyday, whether it was a cool math trick or fact, something from current events, sharing a good poem, looking at famous artwork on the internet (at least the ones not blocked by the district's internet filter--sorry "Venus De Milo," tell "David" hi if you see him.) Doing this not only helps the time go by faster, but it helps us develop a mutual respect for each other. In essence, it makes them my students and not just my subjects. When the time actually does come to "reel them in" and make them read silently for 15 minutes, or watch TAKS lessons on the closed-circuit television, it's much easier to get them to do this without having to resort to verbal abuse and idle threats.

Right now, I'm giving out "fake" grades at the end of the D.E.A.R. sessions, awarding 100s to students who stayed on task the whole time, and 200s to anyone who was actually reading and not just staring quietly at pages while there mind is at recess.

I just look forward to the day when the D.R.E.A.M. initiative goes into effect, then everyone will be Dropping Reading & Everything (idleness, boredom, horseplay, . . . .) And "Mathing", or at least feigning it. With an Acronym like that, it's sure to work.


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear some things don't change. Let me guess who is reponsible for having the books to read on! And the ones that don't read, let me guess again about fixing that; if you were only a better teacher you would find a way to motivate them to read.

kwkorpi said...