The most exciting part of my summer thus far (considering I got a few extra days tacked onto it) has been spent with other teachers coming up with a new curricular direction and aligning standards to the common core, as well as in talking about schedule changes coming up in the next school year — we’ve decided to play around with our daily calendar and move around one class that’s been irking me for years. Now, this calendar change was not my decision, and I don’t have any involvement in it other than to give suggestions/praise/criticism whenever a new draft is shown, but it’s also a change that I’ve wanted for years.
Without getting too specific about it, we have an advisory class. Oe homeroom class, if you’d like. The class meets every day for the same amount of time as a regular curricular class. We meet midmorning and the class serves several functions: It is a place for teachers to create strong bonds with a core group of students so that they can advocate for those students. Teachers track those students and monitor their progress both socially and academically and help out wherever they’re needed. We also serve as a place where students are to learn practical moralistic/ethical skills (usually dealing with anti-bullying, leadership, friendship, citizenship, etc.). And finally we serve as a reading class where students spend thirty minutes a day reading novels or other writing — this decision was made years ago when the district eliminated reading classes (don’t get me started on that).
Anyway, the class has always landed in the middle of the morning, tucked between other classes. Over time, for me, the class has become nothing more than a frustration — a place where students know no academic work will be done, and for which they need to do nothing in order to pass. As a matter of fact, of students actually Fail advisory, the teacher is reprimanded.
I’ve argued that the class is too long, and too unstructured for me. Much of this is my fault. I have a hard time pumping kids up for this class. I have a hard time making students read in a non-academic course, especially when they will not open a book, or if they do they will choose a new book ever day of the week for the entire school year and try starting somewhere in the middle, or they will throw the books around, or they will finally go to the library and grab something that’s interesting to them, only to take it home and forget it and rack up library fines that follow them through to high school.
For me, no matter how much prepping, planning, and clowning around I do with and for the kids in this class, it becomes a one-hour session in seeing how many times the kids can get me to redirect them.
Other teachers are much better at this class than I am, and somehow they end up creating wonderful relationships with their students even though I see them resort to military measures in order to keep the students in line or paying attention: this means there are times that students spend the hour with their heads down on their desks, or sittin in corners; kids are marched in single file lines around the school going from point A to B without saying a single word or snickering a single snort, else it’s turned right back around and tried again. The kids write letters and make public apologies and they do it every day of the year while the teacher sits around and scolds them. I don’t like this method, but I’m certainly not doing much better myself.
I’ve long thought that this class should be moved to the end of the day, for a number of reasons:
- We often have homework days in advisory — times when students are supposed to do the day’s work they’ve accumulated 00 but no kid has homework after two periods of school, especially when the majority of the students in our grade level and on our team have spent at least one of the two class periods in elective courses. If advisory were moved to the end of the day, there’s a greater likelihood that kids will actually have something that could be done, and they can also be reminded that they will take any unfinished work home directly after the end of that class (versus the idea that they’ll have homework after six more class periods, because the truth is: no one wants to do homework in the middle of the day in a non-academic class, they need to do it closer to the time they will actually be going home. Now, instead of this being: “You’ll have homework in five hours if you don’t do it now”, it’s more a “You’ll have homework in twenty minutes if you do’t do it now.” Much closer to home.).
- It makes so much more sense to go through that whole: “Where are you, grade-wise” thing with a student at the end of the day versus the middle of the morning. In the middle of the morning kids don’t know why their grades haven’t changed from yesterday. They don’t know why Mr. so-and-so hasn’t graded that one assignment. They don’t know there’s a test coming up in tomorrow. In the middle of the morning, there’s no connection to the rest of the school day because it hasn’t happened, and therefore is an unknown. It’s a nice way to be able to wrap things up from the day before because, again, kids don’t remember if they ended up talking to that one teacher yesterday about that one assignment. Here, with nothing academic afterward, I can send that kid directly to the teacher without interrupting anything.
- With advisory at the end of the day, I can hold kids accountable for a variety of things that are more directly painful for them. Not that I want things to be painful, but lets say I want my room cleaned at the end of the day. Usually it’s an academic class that has to do this. They didn’t make the mess, and they’re very reluctant to pick things up. With an advisory class, at least I can make the argument that it’s their room, and that they should help me.
- When it comes to homework and grades, anything not done and any item with which a student has not complied, can be dealt with as an after-school detention, and during this time I can actually call that student’s parents and set it up. No more having to wait around for the end of the day. No more trying to call parents who’ve just gotten to work. No more having to remind students throughout the day that they’ll have to show or suffer more consequences: it’s going to happen right now.
- Holding kids after class no longer means I have to send out an email to my team or to any other team saying: “Sorry!” It’s my problem and no one else’s.
- My books haven’t been properly returned? Well, after school we have all the time in the world to do that.
- The students decided to move the desks around or draw on them? Same thing.
- Not treating this with the same importance as an academic class means both teachers and students can change their opinions about it. We no longer have to pretend it’s just as important, and the students don’t have to put on a show complaining that it’s not important. Now that it’s shorter, it’s different. Being different is what makes it important.
- Nicer Me
- Advisory has always been a disruption. Now it’s a bookend.
- It’s always interrupted the flow of a working day. Now it’s closure.
- It’s always been about me and/or the school. Now it’s about the kids.
- You want to make it about support? Now it’s supportive.