Dysfunctional Dept.

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Soccer Dad, Dec 8, 2009.

  1. Soccer Dad

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    How do you deal with teachers that do the bare minimum? I know I sound like classic teacher-basher, but I get along and would help out all of my coworkers (some more than others). I have been at my current school for 10 years (this is my 10th) and we've been thru 3 dept. heads. This year, they decided to have a dept. head and a teacher liason (me) that was elected by the other teachers in the dept. I was told that I would make suggestions based on the will of the other S.S. teachers. Wrong.

    I teach Honors U.S. History--a course that I've taught for years now. However, two years ago, our enrollment increased so much that we added on an additional teacher for it. However, the APUSH teacher (next year's teacher), is complaining (to me) that the other teacher doesn't do her job adequately. The APUSH teacher wants me to speak with her. She's not a new teacher and she doesn't take well to criticism. In fact, we've had MANY problems regarding sharing projectors with her as well as textbooks. None of that matters, but I wanted to give background. Well I told the APUSH teacher (who I'm close friends with) that I would relay the message to the Dept. head. My dept head said to tell the "problem" teacher that she needs to get her act together and so forth. I do not find it responsible for me to do that. It's out of my original description for being a liason. So I declined politely and SUGGESTED to her that when she (the dept. chair) does evaluations (coming next week) she can speak about it with the teacher should anything be wrong.

    My dept. chair flipped out on me, I mean screaming flipping out! Needless to say, I was shocked.
     
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  3. CanukTeacher

    CanukTeacher Comrade

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    I think this time of year is very stressful for everyone. Does the DH have a say in who teaches what? Is the complainer and the person being accused teaching the same course? If so, I'd suggest the DH not give them the same course next year? If they don't, I'd say your friend is being noisy and the DH is within their rights to be annoyed that said friend is jumping in where it isn't her concern (although that doesn't justify a flip out).
     
  4. Soccer Dad

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    Well this has been going on since two years ago. The Honors U.S. History course is a precursor and a requirement for APUSH (as is AP Euro. History). The APUSH teacher and myself begin this program years ago so I know what he's expecting for next year and he knows what I'm teaching and how I'm teaching it.
    But when we approached the other (new) Honors U.S. History, she told us to save our time because she was going to teach it her way. Now I'm all for independence in teaching; however, I think it's always a good idea to touch base with coworkers, too. Needless to say, she and the APUSH teacher don't get alone and they're bringing me in the middle. But, I feel bad for the students because mine have an advantage over mine since I worked closely in designing the course with the APUSH teacher, she didn't and their grades next year often reflect this because the teaching styles are radically different (she doesn't believe in textbooks, which is fine, but NOT in an Honors Course that is a precursor for AP).

    So I knew I didn't want to get involved so I told my dept chair in hopes that she had a resolution (sinces she's heard this all before). She wanted me to deal with it--and I know that would drive a further wedge between the other Honors teacher, myself, and next year's teacher and that's isn't fair to the students at all. (And it really isn't my place to tell her, "hey you're doing poorly, get it together." I have no say in evaluations so I should not be judging other teacher's performance unless THEY ask for my judgment/suggestions...or that's how I see it at least.)
     
  5. CanukTeacher

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    I agree that it makes sense that it isn't your job. I'm not sure I understand the issue. In your original post you mentioned that she did the bare minimum and in the second post you said she didn't believe in textbooks. It sounds like this is a philosophy of teaching issue. Is she not doing her job or do you both have different ideas about the best way to teach history? The reason I ask is because what I would do in your shoes is very different depending on if this is a philosophy (maybe a head butting?) issue versus a teacher actually not doing their job.
     
  6. Soccer Dad

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    Personally, I do not think she does a good job. She substitutes teaching for watching movies. I'm not exaggerating when I saw they watch at least 3 movies a week. Now by movie I also mean documentaries and stuff like that. However, that's not teaching. She does NOT do debates, Socratic Seminars, fishbowls, etc. I do them regularly, as does next year's teacher. She also doesn't use a textbook. I, myself, hate textbooks, but I know they are necessary for getting kids used to next year and for learning how to read and write at a college level.
     
  7. CanukTeacher

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    Okay. I guess the first question I'd ask myself is what would she say about you? I teach social studies. I also don't do debates, seminars, etc. I also don't watch films all the time either. I use cooperative structures. I actually don't think debates, for example, are a very good technique. I have no interest in debating the merits of debates :) I'm just using the example to highlight that there are different ways to teach and I actually think kids benefit from a variety of strategies. I had some courses in universities (social science courses) where we watched a lot of films and I can tell you I learned a lot from those films. So while I agree that you prepare them for their next course better (as you seem to teach the same as your 'friendly' colleague) I certainly can't judge from a distance if you actually teach better or prepare them better for university.

    So before I did anything I'd think long and hard about if I wanted to die on this hill. Teaching is subjective. If you really believe that she is a "bad/poor" teacher and you want to address it, it will get messy. It seems you've done this already but I just bring it up because I think the judgement you are making sounds pretty subjective.

    I will also say as a side note that kids come into courses with all sorts of strengths and weaknesses. I'd say if your 'friendly' colleagues says that students out of the other class are basically doomed to do less well than those from your class that teacher is setting themselves up for a big fall too. This can't all be blamed on a past teacher. At least that wouldn't fly in my school.

    That said, if you want to deal with this and you are certain about this I'd start by going back to that teacher and trying to talk to them about co-planning. This would require that you treat them as an equal rather than someone who doesn't get it. I would personally approach this from a 'we teach the same course' perspective rather than 'colleague y wants me to talk to you.'

    If you have a union and they offer mediation I'd bring them in to mediate planning of the course.

    In my case if the union couldn't handle the issue then I would write a formal complaint to the P and give a copy to the teacher.

    I don't know if this helps any at all. I'm sorry you are in such an awkward position.
     
  8. CanukTeacher

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    Although I understand how frustrating this must be I'm thinking that she may have felt ganged up against when these 2 'buddy-buddy' teachers came to 'tell her' how to teach the course. I have no idea what your dept is like so I'm speculating but I know cliques can make things that seem simple much more complicated. We definately have cliques :(
     
  9. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    I am the Department Chair in a department which has many lazy teachers. I have four teachers who if they didn't have tenure would be booted out the door. Each one of them is a disgrace to teaching. All of them do absolutely no essay writing in their honors classes, none. They say they don't want to deal with cheating. I have another whose HONORS US History quiz was 15 matching questions and 2 recall short answer questions. Another's Sociology class had two quizzes and one project over the course of the trimester. Our law teacher shows movies and then on the tests asks them to recall who said the quote even though it has no value to the law.

    Now lets discuss the expectations in the Honors Western Civilization class that I teach. We established that students would do 3 essays per trimester and we would get to the High Middle Ages. Well only 2 out of the 4 teachers in my department did this. They haven't told me they have not, but I know. It really angers me. We agreed as a teaching team on these expectations and they do not live up to them. Errgh.

    In regards to a textbook, I do not use one for my Honors Freshman class. I give them readings to complete, though. A textbook isn't necessary, but completing readings absolutely is.
     
  10. CanukTeacher

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    Well I guess accoding to Brandon's definition I'm a lazy teacher but the Ministry of Education in Ontario wouldn't agree. In fact, they've applauded my approach.

    So I still think this is very subjective. I also think that the whole concept of 'agreeing' in a department is pretty tough when the DH starts with the opinion that a chunk of his department is lazy. That is why I suggested to SD that tone is so key in talking to his colleague. Saying "I'd like to work together" while sending off the vibe "I think you are a bad teacher" doesn't typically lead to much progress.
     
  11. Muttling

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    Dec 9, 2009

    In my brief experience, leadership in teaching is exceptionally poor.

    You have two real options......

    1 - Start a battle and fight it out. Let me know how that goes for ya.


    2 - Keep your head down, take pride in doing your job RIGHT, and make quality suggestions to the department head. If your job is department head then you should go after underperformers in a constructive way and embrace good suggestions. As a department head, you should set performance goals with easily measured expectations and rewards/consequences. If your job is teacher, then make sure your classes perform.

    It's so silly. Teachers do well until they are asked to lead other teachers and then they flounder. A Principle should ask a lot of his department heads and reward them for it. A department head should do the same of the teachers.

    It's basic command. Leadership fails when you don't hold subordinates to high expectations and your leaders to even higher expectations.
     
  12. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    It seems to me that your job description is simply asking for trouble.

    Why does the department chair need a liason?? You know how it is when kids play telephone; the message always gets lost in the translation.

    If teachers have a complaint, they should take it to the chair. If he has a response, he should take it to them.

    You're in the position of hearing all the complaints, yet having no authority to do anything about them.
     
  13. Brendan

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    The way in which I handle grading is different from yours. I don't like your system, you don't like mine. However, if you were in my department you need to follow my guidelines. Giving tests with absolutely no writing on them is lazy if you don't want to do the grading. Bottom line.

    I observe all my teachers on a biweekly basis and the majority of them do a great job. However, the four coaches whose classes are next together do not. They do the absolute minimum in teaching. They don't do any performance based assesments, no writing assignments, no trimester exam or project, no higher level thinking questions, and absolutely no creativity. The kids show up, they go over the homework, then the teacher reads off notes to them, and they watch a movie. Yup thats lazy teaching.
     
  14. Muttling

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    You ROCK!!!!!!


    Last year, I was lucky if I even passed my department head in the halls once a month. (His classroom was on the opposite end of the building.)

    In 2 years, he's never observed in my classroom much less given me feedback or suggestions.

    He's a very senior and exceptionally good teacher, but is more of a department coordinator than a department leader.
     
  15. CanukTeacher

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    I still think this concept is very subjective and SD may not like the way this other teacher teaches but unless he has research based evidence to support going after this teacher (if that is what he wants to do) he may end up in hot water himself.
     
  16. CanukTeacher

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    But Muttling does your DH get a class to work on department head responsibilities? I'm pretty sure Brendan does.
     
  17. Muttling

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    No he doesn't and that is yet another part of the problem of leadership that I see.


    My department head is resentful of his duties as head since he doesn't get any extra pay or time for doing it and gets not recognition/ consideration other than the title. Therefore, he does the absolute minimum required and is resentful of doing that.

    It's a pretty screwed up chain of command. He only has 5 teachers under him and we're on block scheduling. Surely he could find time to observe each of his subordinates once a semester.

    Going up the chain of command, it really comes from the principle's approach. He doesn't require it or even ask any of his department heads to lead/ mentor their subordinates. All our observations come from administration and they frequently speak of how much of their time it occupies. They don't delegate and they don't communicate an expectation of leadership to their department heads.

    As I said in an earlier post, I'm really unimpressed with the system of leadership that I see in my brief experience at teaching.
     
  18. CanukTeacher

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    See our DH's don't do this but if they did I'd grieve it. Not because I'm a "bad" teacher (actually with the exception of A & E I think Brandon would actually like how I teach more than my DH :)) but because in Canada that isn't part of the DH's job. That is the P's responsibility. Now on the other hand observing other teachers and having them observe me is something I am totally into but we do it as equal partners in learning rather than as a boss/employee type of thing. So unless where you teach observing your department is part of the job description I wouldn't hold it against your DH. That said, if you would like feedback, find some like minded teachers who want to observe each other and get to it. I find it to be a great learning experience.
     
  19. Muttling

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    Is a department head to LEAD his/her department or to be a coordinator that simply makes sure the meetings are done on time, the resources are allocated, funnels requests, etc.

    We obviously have different expectations of a person who is a "head" in an organization.


    As for observations, I am all about them as well and I learn a lot from other teachers. However, I have to seek that out myself as you mentioned. The VAST majority of teachers won't do that as it is not required of them by the leadership.

    Leadership is not about getting people to accomplish something they would do on their own. It's about getting people to accomplish things they wouldn't do on their own.
     
  20. CanukTeacher

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    Definately what a DH does varies by region, district, etc. I definately expect my DH to lead but their job is not to evaluate their teachers. If part of your DH's job description is to evaluate (as is clearly the case at SD and Brendan's schools) then yes they should come observe you. But in my school that is definately NOT part of their job (nor is it allowed). In my district, their job is to create a community of educators working on a common mission - they do this by discussing course options for the department, encouraging collaboration, developing curriculuar together, etc - but they are not 'above' the teachers in the hierarchy when acting as a collaborator. They DO make final decisions about things like what courses are going to be taught and they have a say in who teaches what. They will help 2 teachers resolve an issue when they are teaching the same course and they do check in with teachers about how things are going and provide council if they see a problem but they don't actually evaluate. However, generally when looking at things like what the focus should be in a course, what the exam should look like or what the focus of projects they are just one of the teachers. They have areas where they are experts but so do most of the teachers at the table.
     
  21. Brendan

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    I am the Social Studies Department Chair for the district. I teach two classes per day and have three department chair periods. On top of teaching two classes I am responsible for evaluating and observing all history teachers in the middle school and high school, supervise curriculm planning for the entire district, handle purchase orders/textbook selection, work with the elementary teachers on hands-on topics, and I am the direct supervisort of History teachers when it comes to academic policies and their teaching. It's my job to make sure they are being effective teachers and following the curriculm. If I wanted to I could make all the decisions alone, but I do not. We vote on everything.
     
  22. Muttling

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    Canuk - What you describe is coordination more than leadership. You are a leader in your classroom, you establish expectations, set goals, and measure performance against those. You also help and aid your students to succeed in that area, this is what a leader does. If you do not assess individual performance and provide performance feedback, you are not leading. You are simply a part of the pack which is how you describe your department head. When everyone is equal, no one is going to give constructive criticism or take real steps to make a marginal performer improve.

    Brendan - I hear statements of leadership from you. You take personal responsibility for the performance of your department and keep an eye on individual performance. You don't have to be a dictator who makes all the decisions themselves to be a good leader.

    There is a HUGE difference in the culture of what you two describe.
     
  23. CanukTeacher

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    Yes in Canada the role of the department head is to facilitate. The role of the admin team is to lead in the traditional sense of the word. I do believe my DH leads too, but in a different way. If you look at the literature on leadership there are lots of variations on what leadership should look like. The style of leadership you subscribe to is one - the multiple ways it works in my neck of the woods is another. There is a big difference but I would disagree with the implication that leadership that does not involve evaluation is marginal or ineffective. And that's about all I have to say about this topic. I'll agree to the idea that we have very different ideas about what a department should look like and be happy that I found a district that I can thrive in for the next 25 years :) I'm glad others have found their 'spot' too, even if it is different from what I would want.
     
  24. Brendan

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    Canukteacher,

    I just want to point out that even though we have different grading policies and philosophies I do not think that makes you an ineffective teacher in your school where that is the custom and policy. However, it is not okay to do it in my school where we are mandated to take at least one grade per week by the admin. Just wanted to be clear on that one. I'm sure you are a great teacher even if your grading system is much different than mine!
     
  25. midwestteacher

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    I think we have teachers that don't even bother to do the bare minimum. We have an Econ teacher that shows videos all the time - Indiana Jones, etc. Several kids have asked to be moved into his class in January because "everyone says they don't do anything in there." He also takes his kids down to the lab all the time to play on the computers because they don't have anything to do. Another teacher comes into my room 1/2 way through the class period wanting some videos to show because "we don't have anything to do". He has been taking my videos without my permission so I am going to start locking them up. He was also told to update his webpage because it had been blank for two years. He copied my class rules and procedures and put them on there along with his class schedule. Some of my rules don't even apply to him, but he copied them word-for-word. One of them states that students are not to enter the office or the storage closet at any time and he doesn't even have an office or closet in his classroom - but I do. I think he actually got on my computer and copied my rules sheets to a flash drive and then just cut and pasted them. I have since put a screensaver password on my computer.
     
  26. catnfiddle

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    Soccer Dad, any updates on the particular problematic situation? It truly does sound like you're being stuck in the middle, which is unfortunate. I hope this doesn't thrash a friendship!
     
  27. Soccer Dad

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    Actually Catnfiddle, I do have some news to report. My dept. head and I got into a fight yesterday. It wasn't really a fight, but I certainly got her ticked off--which, in all honesty, was my intent. I told her that it wasn't part of my job description and had she asked nicely for me to HELP her out in this situation, I would gladly have done whatever I COULD to ease the tension. I spoke with my good friend and told him that he put me in an awkward position--one that I didn't belong in. He agreed, apologized, and that was it. Now, the other teacher got gist of all this (this was big news in the dept...) and told me that if I had something to say to say it to her face...so I told her that I think she's an intelligent person, blah blah blah, but that she needs to talk to next year's teacher AND he needs to speak to her. I went on to explain that cooperation is the most important thing when you're teaching a course that goes into the following year. She agreed.

    So I left early today because of a Dr.'s apt. but I hope they talked or made plans to talk because you know it's a bad situation when the kids can pick up on the tension--which they did!
     
  28. Soccer Dad

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    Oh, and I should mention that I strongly DISLIKE her not entirely because she shows movies, but because of her superior attitude and that she told me she was teaching history because "it was the easiest to get certified in." Which explains her totally unethusiastic "approach" to history.

    It just bothers me to no end when kids enter a history class with a teacher that doesn't motivate or show enthusiasm! It's a history teacher's job to get kids interested in history, not give them a study hall to do their hw in as a movie is played.
     
  29. looneyteachr

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    do you collaborate within same-subjects? like do all the history teachers plan together - common benchmarks? common exams? common projects? this may be a nonconfrontational way to get the slacky teacher in line
     
  30. Soccer Dad

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    Looneyteachr, that's what we're SUPPOSED to do. And many of us do do that. However, some teachers don't. The idea was to make it fair for all students in the same track--Regents, Honors, or AP. This was done because a HUGE, blown out of proportion "scandal" started two years ago with the grading used for the valedictorian and the salutorian so now all Regents U.S. teachers, for example, are supposed to use the same grading techniques, give the same number of quizzes, tests, etc.

    It's certainly complicated, but I think it's great--our scores have gone up on the Regents--which I credit to this.

    And I've tried many times to work with her on the curriculum....she wants to do it her way and the dept. chair isn't doing anything about it.
     
  31. Brendan

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    We are trying that, oh yeah, but I was reading over our football coach's lesson plans and he just decided to skip over the first unit, Judaism. This is GREAT! Way to go Coach. There is no correlation with the lack of information in the textbook about the topic and you skipping over it, is there?
     
  32. Soccer Dad

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    Not to mention the fact that some people may take great offense to that and read further into it than they should...which would, in effect, cause you and your dept. greater stress and attention than necessary.

    Here in NY, it'd go on News12 t.v. I'm not kidding.
     
  33. Brendan

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    It's great this guy makes more than I do as a department chair teaching 2-3 classes (and he only teaches 2) and he does absolutely nothing. He's gotten unsatisfactory evals since I can remember, yet he is still here. Yay, tenure!
     
  34. Ron6103

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    Well, at least you now know you're not alone. We also have a coach in our department (please don't view this as bashing all coaches... just this specific one) who does very very little. His kids read the textbook section(s), complete a worksheet or two, and take a test (from the book company).

    He doesn't even know the curriculum.... I asked him what unit he was going to cover next for World History, and his response was "I'm not sure, whatever chapter is next in the textbook". Fantastic.

    As much as I hate to say it, I think all we can do for the most part, is grin and bare it, and hope someone with more authority than us decides to actually do something about it.
     
  35. Brendan

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    My principal is aware of the situation and told me that its not worth the trouble, AWESOME! This year we had to give him a non-elective class and I feel for those poor freshman!
     
  36. Muttling

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    I feel quite fortunate with our coaches.

    They're really good teachers and they also back others to the hilt. If I have an athlete that isn't doing his work, I just tell the coach and that kid is getting a rough practice at the minimum.

    Our basketball coach has told of number of my students that he cares more about what they do in my class than on the court and he'll throw them off them team if they're not doing their work.
     
  37. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    That's how it is in my school too, Muttling.

    The coaches, particularly those who teach, are our greatest allies.

    Have an athlete who is acting up??? GIve him a 15 mintue detention. Then write a note to the coach explaining why he's late for practice.

    He'll be running laps till his feet fall off.
     
  38. Historyteaching

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    Dec 11, 2009

    [/QUOTE]
    I observe all my teachers on a biweekly basis and the majority of them do a great job. However, the four coaches whose classes are next together do not. They do the absolute minimum in teaching. They don't do any performance based assesments, no writing assignments, no trimester exam or project, no higher level thinking questions, and absolutely no creativity. The kids show up, they go over the homework, then the teacher reads off notes to them, and they watch a movie. Yup thats lazy teaching.[/QUOTE]

    This is what we call in my area....a coach-teacher....not a teacher-coach.

    AKA..they are more concerned with coaching than being a teacher, they are merely in a classroom to keep their coaching position. Unlike some who teach firstly, then may coach a team to a) gain more money, b) they like to see students do well in teamwork, c) make themselves more marketable (yet still have first priority to teach)
     
  39. Soccer Dad

    Soccer Dad Cohort

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    Dec 11, 2009

    I must say that I respect the CURRENT coaches at my school. However, five or so years ago, I can remember a particular incident when I was asked to allow a student to pass for the quarter (first) as the county championship game was that first week of November and given school rules, the athlete was ineligible. I said no. The coach then took the issue to the principal who backed him. I said no because he didn't just fail with a 60, he failed with something ridiculous like a 30 and to get that in my class, you have to either skip every class or to do absolutely nothing. My motto is if they do the homework/classwork, they pass the quarter with a 65 no matter what.
     
  40. Historyteaching

    Historyteaching Cohort

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    Dec 11, 2009

    A former student of mine told me the other day..that one of our coachs said "PE is much more important than learning English"

    Uh..I agree physical fitness is important..but, they need to read to be able to ..put together the equipment at home..know where to sign the gym membership...
     
  41. Muttling

    Muttling Devotee

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    Dec 11, 2009


    I teach math and I tell my kids that english is THE most important subject. Math, science, and health are important, but communication is EVERYTHING.
     

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