Why the School Year Begins with Nightmares

He jumped back. He was so startled that I thought I had a bug on my face when I went into my son’s room at 11 a.m. to wake him.

Seeing is believing.

“Wait, what day is it? Is there school today?” he asked. I shook my head and laughed nervously because I had been thinking that I needed to start waking him up earlier to prepare him for the coming school hours.

“Uuugggh, I thought you were waking me to tell me it was time to go to school,” he said and breathed a sigh of relief then buried his head in his pillow. He proceeded to describe a horrific dream where his teacher gave the class an assignment and he got an F.

I felt terrible because I know how much he hates getting bad grades and how generous some teachers are about giving them. I’m especially fond of the teachers who hand the papers back with an imaginary pair of bifocals hanging on the end of their noses as if to remind students that they just aren’t good enough.

Do teachers really need to give kids F’s?

It might’ve already started for you: The nightmares, the rising tension, the fear that you’re missing something, the sting of an impending headache…. It started in our house about a week ago.

The mere mention of school shot the hairs up on the backs of our necks.

And, it ultimately seems to amount to judgment. How will you be judged by other kids, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and so forth? You just aren’t good enough seems to vibrate in our collective subconscious.

But, what kills me and my kids, are the F’s. I don’t understand that need to give F’s, especially with no second chance. Granted, some students seem to live for the F.

I’ve been there. As a teacher, you’re this short of moving the pencil for the student because you’re trying every technique in the book to get the kid to learn and the student refuses.

Most of the time, however, those students who get those F’s just need a second chance. They need to take the test again. They need to hear the lesson one more time. And, it’s not just about percentages such as 50 percent of the class failed; therefore, the teacher must reteach and retest. No, let’s say 5 percent failed. The rest aced it. Why wouldn’t a teacher try to offer that student a second chance? Most likely, it’s too much work and the teacher doesn’t feel like administering another test and definitely not re-teaching an entire lesson to one or two students.

Second Chances

But, what if it was easier than that? What if it was a matter of spending one or two lunch periods with them and chatting about what they didn’t understand? Ask them what went wrong. Even if they’re brutally honest and say they just don’t care or they didn’t bother to study, what if you said well, then, study here and I’ll give you a second chance.

What then?

Would the student succeed?

And, then, how would that affect that student’s future?

Would the student try harder next time, especially if they found success the second time around?

Yep, that’s right, I’ll tell you. That student will succeed because you’ll have connected with him or her in a deeper way than most teachers. Contrary to the way we judge the kid who gets the F, that child simply doesn’t want it even if he or she vehemently claims to want it, even to deserve it.

A highly intelligent and insightful gifted student once told me that he got F’s because he had gotten so many that he finally just got used to it and didn’t care anymore. He was one of the first students I ever taught and those kids taught me more about teaching than I’ve ever learned before. I asked them everything and he was one who I felt so sad about but even more so, I was infuriated with him. He was so freakin’ smart so when he got F’s, I felt like he just did it on purpose. And, judging from his observations, he kinda did do it on purpose.

However, there was one other very important insight. He said he hated seeing an “F” anyway. That’s why he just gave up and gave in to so many teachers’ labels like that he just didn’t care or that he refused to learn, that he was wasting his talents. That was exactly what I was thinking as I was talking to him.

But, it still didn’t register right away. I still didn’t get it. Give him a second chance? What?!

Then, I did, by accident almost. I experiment a lot when I’m teaching, which is why I hold myself at least partially accountable for every performance estimation that I inflict on my students. I give them second, third, and fourth chances so that I can average scores and teach and reteach. Does it make for a crazy exhausting school year? Yeah, but then, I couldn’t call myself a teacher at all if I didn’t do that.

I asked him if he wanted to take a test again. Different questions. Same subject matter.

He accepted. That acceptance in itself taught me a lot. He actually did want to try. So the label that “he didn’t care” made no sense.

Reset the Mind

Before he took the second test though, I talked to him during lunch and asked why he chose some of the wrong answers. I saw where he went wrong and then helped him adjust his logic. It felt like magic when I scored his second exam. He went from an F to a high B. Plus, the questions on the second exam were much more difficult and somewhat more confusing.

When I gave it to him, he held it as if it was a rare piece of parchment paper. Then he smiled and laughed a little. He blamed his success on the questions being too easy, but I insisted that the questions were harder. I had thrown them out because they were too confusing.

After that success, he never got anything lower than a B. Most of the time, he got A’s.

So, what of it? I think the story speaks clearly.

F’s are like viruses. They spread quickly and they’re hard to get rid of. But, you can wipe them out with a little love. And, that just takes a lunch or two.

Don’t get me wrong. My students who don’t like me will tell you I’m the detention teacher. And, I would have to agree. But, guess when I give detentions? Yep, during lunch. Some students, especially in middle school, don’t think it’s so cool to have lunch with a teacher, hence the detentions (and second chances), but that’s another story.

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5 thoughts on “Why the School Year Begins with Nightmares”

  1. I was a teacher for thirty years and I also had nightmares and lost sleep starting two to four weeks before a new school year. I retired in 2005 and if I had to work for a living again, I’d rather volunteer to be a human bomb sent to Syria to blow up some ISIS troops then return to teaching in the U.S.—teachers are treated poorly here by far too many people.

    I never gave any of my students F’s, but plenty of them earned F’s mostly for not doing the work—what happens when only 5% of the students turn in homework assignments that could have bee completed in less than thirty minuets a night at home. And the grade in my class was based on the work and not tests. Even with one final exam—the only class test I gave—it was still possible to earn an A in my class on work alone and students who went into the final exam with an A were excused from the last test of the semester but some took it anyway to see what they’d earn.

    In addition, the larger writing assignments could be done over to improve the grade. There were a few students every year that did writing assignments over several times to take the grade from a low mark to an A.

    1. I do the same, and I commend you for sticking to it for that long. I’m entering my tenth year and I think I’ve only got maybe five more years in me, at least that’s what it feels like from this vantage point.
      I have given F’s but for the grade to stay an F that student has to refuse to do anything at all. Teaching the way you did takes every last bit of your energy. I worry that I won’t make it to the end of the year every year because I’m drained by the beginning of the fourth nine weeks.
      Thank you for commenting. It keeps me grounded and sane to hear from other remarkable and hardworking teachers and writers.

      1. In the early 1990s, about 15 years after I started teaching, I was ready to call it quits and get out of teaching. I was even actively looking for a job outside of education.

        In fact, back in 1982, after teaching for just seven years, I seriously considered an offer to go into management for a small corporate chain of nightclubs called the Red Onion in Southern California where I worked as a maitre d’ in one of the clubs nights and weekends while teaching days. The Red Onion where I worked was a big club split between the nightclub with a large dance floor, stage and D-jay’s booth and a restaurant with a full-service kitchen on the other side of the building.

        The nightclub held about a thousand people and had three bars, and the restaurant had three large dinning rooms split by a lobby with a front desk that served both. That’s where I worked, out of the lobby. One of the dining rooms had a glass ceiling along with full-sized palm trees and ferns—-inside and under the glass. I left that job near the end of 1982 and stayed in teaching.

        Then in 1993-94, I volunteered to become the adviser-teacher of the student high school newspaper. It made sense to me. I had a BA in journalism and was earning an MFA in writing.

        That decision kept me in teaching. For the next seven years my last class of the day was the journalism class—the best seven years of the thirty years I was a teacher was that one class. That class was the reason why I decided to keep a daily journal for the 1994-95 school year. And 20 years later, I published a memoir based on that detailed daily journal that shows the dramatic difference between struggling to teach at-risk children compared to the highly motivated learners I worked with in that one period of journalism—four periods of regular ninth grade English versus one period of journalism with students from 9th to 12th grade.

        If you don’t mind, here’s the link to that memoir:

        http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Normal-classroom-Lloyd-Lofthouse-ebook/dp/B00L00EM8A/ref=la_B002BM6VNU_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1440361992&sr=1-2&refinements=p_82%3AB002BM6VNU%2Cp_n_feature_browse-bin%3A618073011

      2. How “Crazy-Normal” my life is right now…. It’s the first chance I’ve had to touch base with you and WordPress. I’ll be reading up on your ebook as soon as I get a moment to breathe–hopefully that will be before next summer. Thank you for connecting and taking the time to write about your experiences. Everyone should know what we go through and start re-evaluating the way teachers are treated. In the end, students would reap the rewards that all the reforms claim to offer if only teachers were rewarded according to their efforts.

      3. As teachers who now have a voice through the Internet we must educate the public about the challenges of teaching. The RheeForm lies and propaganda have created a myth that teachers only work 25 hours a week and get paid to do nothing but read books at the beach during the 10 weeks of the summer break.

        That 25 hours class teaching time is the tip of the iceberg and the reform movement never, ever mentions how difficult that 25 hours a week can be when teachers are working with challenging, difficult at risk children who were not raised to enjoy reading or learning. To them reading and/or learning is torture and they often hate it and fight back anyway they can. The classroom management skills it takes to teach and deal with these challenge are huge. I read once that it takes the average teacher as much as 10 years to reach the level of classroom management necessary to deal with these challenges and many teachers burn out in the first five years and leave education forever.

        The corporate Charter schools have solved this problem. They just weed out the children who are challenging to teach and only keep those who cooperate and also do well on multiple choice bubble tests and that often means students without severe learning disabilities like me when I was a child.

        I had severe dyslexia. My mother was told by so-called administrative experts that I’d never learn to read or write. My 1st grade teacher didn’t tell her that. She told my mother what she had to do at home to teach me to read and that with more than 30 students there was no way the teacher could do that on her own. My mother did what she was told, and I learned to read by the time I was seven.

        In today’s corporate education reform minded world, I’d have been labeled a failure as a child, and when the public schools were gone, the corporate Charters would have dumped my on the streets—because I was always and still am a terrible test taker—-where I would have followed my older brother, who never learned to read, into a gang and eventually to prison where he spent 15 years of his 64 years on this earth before he died. When he wasn’t in jail, he lived in poverty struggling to feed his seven children while he worked odd jobs for poverty wages.

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