School Culture

I’m two weeks from the end of the first quarter.  I think this is enough time that I have  a better idea of my new school’s culture.

First off, although every student is required to do science fair, I’ve learned that no one takes this seriously.  Even the child of a school board member – that school board that mandated the science fair – doesn’t want to take part.  So I’ve got students that don’t want to do these projects, teachers that don’t want to help them, administrators that don’t want to hear from either party and parents that think it’s too much.  And yet the show goes on!

If I was to sum up the school culture here, I would say it’s all about the grades.  Most of my honors students didn’t read a short 3 page essay on Grit.  When I asked why, they couldn’t give a reason.  Many confessed that they treated the survey on the back like a lottery ticket – randomly filling in answers.  In their words, if it isn’t graded, then it can’t be important.  On top of that, the system has worked quite well for my honors physics students.  Classes have typically been easy and grades have been inflated from the possibility of parent intervention.  Sometimes the parents actually intervene so their student doesn’t have to face the prospect of not getting an A.  One of my honors students told me her mother said if she didn’t understand a class, she should transfer out.  It wasn’t get extra help, or figure out what she was missing.  Nope, if it’s too hard then just keep doing something easy.  All in hopes of the perfect GPA!

On the other hand, my general physics students are eager to learn, but they don’t have the tools.  I’m seeing a fair number of students that clearly have never been required to stop and think about why they were doing something.  At least with my general physics students, they’ve actually failed before, so they’re interested in trying something different to see if things go better.

Bear with me a moment, because I’m about to get nostalgic.

At my previous school, we had developed a very different school culture.  From the student’s own mouths, we had created a culture of learning.  Student’s were very invested in if they learned the concepts, knowing the grades would follow.  I miss that.  There were other problems – big problems imposed on us from the outside.  But at least we created an awesome school culture.

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One thought on “School Culture

  1. You’re in the DC area now, right? I felt very similar things at an independent school in DC. I think you can begin to help students see a different approach by having them do things like watch Shawn Cornally’s TEDx talk, or Dr. Tae’s talk, or read bits from Cal Newport, or Carol Dweck, but you’ll really need to take time to dig into this, and at first, students will likely see it as a joke, but when they see you’re serious, and aren’t just doing it as a tool to get them to gripe less about bad grades, I think it will have some effect.

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