Watch DOGS Observations

Last Wednesday, I spent an entire day at my daughter’s school as a Watch DOGS (a program trying to get dads into their son’s/daughter’s school). I expected it to be fun. I expected it to be rewarding. I expected to be tired. All my expectations came true, but I was surprised about some of the other observations I made.

  1. Since I teach at the high school and my own children are at the elementary/intermediate level, I couldn’t help but look at the students as–well–young high schoolers. If I had to put money on it, I’d feel confident in identifying the prom queen, the well-rounded student, and the bully already in second grade. It made me question just how much change a person really goes through in his/her lifetime. Are the determining traits–such as motivation or lack thereof–really solidified at such an early age? As a teacher, I refuse to believe that. I hold onto the fact that people can change based off of their interactions with others. But–Wow!–I saw mini-teens in those elementary classrooms.
  2. There is an achievement gap–in kindergarten. I found this to be sad, but already at age five or six, it was clear that students are coming in to their education at vastly different levels. This says a lot: primarily, it talks about the role of parents in the first five years. It is essential to have involved, caring, motivated mentors in an infant’s and toddler’s life. That was clear. It was also confirmation that, at the high school level, we must be very careful about how we use grades. If we are judging only mastery of skills with our letter grades, it is now abundantly clear to me that we are setting some students up for failure. (By the way, we’re also setting some advanced students up for getting away with not working hard. That’s equally bad, isn’t it?) The achievement gap is real (even when students first start school) and to expect all students to be at the same place at the same time academically–and tie it to such an important aspect of their assessment–is wrong. Grades must mean more than mastery. They have to contain major elements of improvement and work ethic as well.
  3. I’ve been wearing my Fitbit recently (with some mild gains–well, losses in pounds, anyway), thank you very much. I thought it would be a good way to judge my activity between the high school and the elementary school. It’s true that the elementary school had me active at lunch and recesses and all of that, but the number differences were drastic. High School Steps on average: 4200. Elementary Steps: 9500. Is it true that elementary schools are more active than high schools? And, if so, is that why students tend to look at elementary schools with a much more positive attitude?
  4. I had more high fives on Wednesday than I’ve had in my past few years combined. At every turn, students were asking for high fives. I was asked to join in tag, basketball, Kendama, four-square. I got hugs from students I’d never met before. In just seven short years, they’ll–generally speaking–be pushing away adults, discouraging their parents from setting foot in the high school. Very few high fives between students and teachers there. It’s all–well–just an observation. I don’t even claim it to be bad. Students do need to claim their independence, right? But students also need to be celebrated. So, I think I need to hand out a few more high fives in the last three weeks of the school year.
I expected to leave that elementary school being my girl’s Daddy Hero. I think that mission was accomplished. But it also goes to show that a day away at the elementary school might have made me a better and more understanding high school teacher.

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