Written by Ms. Berman
Dedicated to the class of 2014
For the past two days, the low scores on the latest Honors Chemistry quiz have been concerning me. It is the same quiz that I give every year at this point in the semester, my students are top notch, and yet the failure rate was unexpectedly high. These are the moments I envy the teacher who can accept the situation as status quo, walk to her car at 2:30 pm, and leave the work day behind her. I cannot.
Today I prepped my Science Scholars for their after school tutorial, making sure that the focus would be upon achievement. My students need to know that they still have multiple opportunities to recoup their grades. I can’t imagine what it feels like to live in this competitive pre-college environment, and I will go to great lengths to promote success in my class. Where I stop, however, is that I don’t “gift” grades; students must rise to my standards and earn them.
One problem with our educational system, where it stands at the moment, is that open communication is discouraged. Recently my students were disappointed because I didn’t go over the homework assignments during class (due to time constraints) and yet no one asked if I could make an answer key available. I have a Science Scholars website to assist them in any way that will enhance their understanding. Scanning the answer keys and posting them online is an easy solution to this dilemma. And yet, not one of my students asked me if it could be done. Lectures are posted online. I told them old quizzes could be posted online. Why would I withhold homework answer keys if it would increase student success?
This leads to another key element that is lacking in most classrooms, apparently in mine, and that is the element of student-teacher trust. When a student is in elementary school, he/she knows that the teacher can be counted upon for comfort and support. Somehow that thread of trust is squashed in the high school years, and teachers and students are viewed on opposite teams. This is damaging in a class such as Honors Chemistry, when the process of accessing the information is unique for each person, and communication is critical. Obviously, if a group of students put any teacher on the defensive, they will be shut down, and their needs will not be met. Advocacy, however, is an imperative component of education. A student should have the ability to politely state his/her needs to a teacher who is striving to enhance student success. Unfortunately this is not usually the case.
Too many students in this era are withdrawn and in fear of repercussions. They are not in the habit of their ideas having validity. Allowing for student input in the teaching process does not undermine the authority of the instructor, but empowers the students to take part in their own learning. When students identify ways in which they will be more successful in a class, they are developing life skills that will carry them through college. Taking the next step, and learning the art of advocacy, is one of the most important lessons a person can learn in high school. Therefore, students, I now challenge you to think about how you best learn, seek the help you need, politely share your ideas, and work with me to achieve a memorable and successful year in Honors Chemistry. For, regardless of what you may think, I will not accept this as status quo. Although it sounds great in theory, I will not leave my work behind at 2:30 pm, until I am certain that you all have mastered the content of this course.