Monday, October 10, 2011

The Art of Advocacy

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.


  1. I feel as if sometimes students feel as if grades should be handed to them. But instead, grades must be earned. Students understand this, although sometimes hope differently. It is awkward to say, but being proactive about your grades now, will help you become proactive in your future. No one in college, like YiQiu has said, is there to hold your hand, YOU must be the one to ask questions and get the help you need. Otherwise, an opportunity is passed up. I always stick to the advice I was once given, take advantage of your opportunities. From my perspective, this means take the help that is given to you.
    Often times I am discouraged because I see my grades and constantly question, why am I taking these courses?! Of course the easiest option is to switch out of my classes and pretend my failing grades never existed but what satisfaction will I get from this? When I feel like taking the easy way out, I realize that there are numerous opportunities I did not take advantage of. That does not mean Science Scholars every day, week after week, but that does mean speaking up when you do not understand, or answering a friend's question when they are unsure of an answer. Any type of review will better your understanding of the material, even if you are not 100% sure. Speaking about it, reviewing notes, whatever recall of the information will increase your knowledge.Failing a test is upsetting, yet, I understand that is all the more reason for to ask questions and be proactive, besides it is MY grade, who else should decide this but me?

  2. I agree completely, although I studied hard, I still failed the quiz. I feel like is my fault though, I went to scholar's yesterday, and they helped a lot. It isn't the teachers fault that the students grades aren't perfect. It is also the students who must take part in their failure. The fact that students do not study is their own problem, and yet they continue to blame the teacher.

  3. I think that many students don't feel like some of the teachers are very open to helping them and having one teacher being like that they will tend to lean in the way that all teachers are like that and not want to seek out help.

  4. I feel that many times students don't realize that when all is said and done a teacher is still someone that is there to help you. I went to science scholars and still failed the quiz, but I personally know sometimes it's hard to go and try to get help. Instead people just wait around for someone else to ask a question first or raise their hand first. I feel if more students were more comfortable going to the teacher and asking for help, tests like these would be more successful. One thing I also realized was I studied a lot for that quiz, but I basically studied all the wrong things. At science scholars I got help with the more recent subjects we had been going over in class. So it was not quite clear to me what the quiz would be covering, and if I knew which lectures I should study, I think I could have done a lot better. I think the most important thing is to not let one bad grade on a quiz bring you down, because there is still hope, as long as you keep trying.

  5. I believe that many students feel that if they have an understanding of the lesson in class, they do not need to review. I try my best to review and understand everything that is given to me. When I am not clear on a certain topic, I ask Ms. Berman or I go to science-scholars so I can understand it. I feel that many students try to review, however when they get to a place where they get stuck, they just move on and dont ask for help in class. I believe that this was the main problem for most of the students that failed. If all the students had taken the extra step to ask the teacher and find the answers to their questions, there would have been more passing grades. We students should try to go to science-scholars at least once a week so can be surrounded by people that can help us when we are struggling. I went to science-scholars the morning of the test, but I realized that going the mornining of the test was not enough. I will now start going to science-scholars at least once a week so I can review what Ms Berman has taught us. I feel that if all students make the extra effort to go to science-scholars and ask questions during class, their grade will reflect all of the hard work they put into it.

  6. In the schools these days, I feel that most students are less likely to communicate with their teachers because they feel like they will be judged. I think this hesitation to openly talk to others about what problems we have in a class is caused by the competitive school enviroment today.
    This generation is looking towards the future and the journey that goes along with it. Most of us are focused on getting better scores to get into a better college to get a better job to overcome the effects of the struggling ecomomy. This stress makes competition in schools high and leads to judgement on those who struggle with their classes. This judgement makes it difficult for students to speak up in class and ask questions about the topics they don't understand.
    I find that this happens a lot in my Chemistry class, Ms. Berman asks if the class understands the lecture and it's silent even though it's impossible that we all understand Stoichometry perfectly. It's understandable to be scared of speaking up in class for the fear of embarrassment, but there are other options for getting homework help. If you don't understand the way the teacher explains something you can always ask your classmates to try and explain it differently. You can also talk to the teacher about it privately, if you need to.
    A really helpful thing to do is go to Science Scholars, it really helps. At Science Scholars you can get individual help from experienced students and teachers. And if you can't make it after school you should try the morning tutorials. It's a great way to get a last minute review and it doesn't get in the way of your other activities. So don't let the fear of judgement get in the way of your grade, do something about it.

  7. I think we should have more tutorials like we had last Tuesday after school. We started back at the beginning of the unit and people had a chance to ask a lot of questions without feeling embarrassed. What do other people think?

  8. I can definitely vouch for the effectiveness of one-on-one tutoring, such as that offered by Science Scholars and "Chemistry Coaches". I was, and am a student who continues to benefit greatly from being taught or by teaching someone who can see the material in the same way I do.
    I have never been as challenged understanding a concept as I have in Chemistry. As frustrating as it can be to feel lost, dizzy with formulas, numbers and equations spinning around in your head, it makes it all the more satisfying when you have those "AHA" moments, and you finally get it!
    There are many resources at your disposal! There is no reason for anyone to continue to feel lost, as there are many others who are not only willing, but happy to help you! To piggy-back on my peer, Zoe’s, affirmation, it’s important to not let fear of judgement or ridicule impede, or halt your search for understanding. This goes beyond Ms. Berman’s classroom, it’s something that will always be relevant, no matter how old, or how smart you are.