Twelve Notes About Summer School

Today was the first day of the second session of summer school.  Twelve notes about this summer so far:

  • On the first day, I asked kids to write down a few hobbies and interesting things about themselves so I could learn their names better.  One boy put down for his first hobby, “smoking.”  A girl wrote one word: “lesbian.”
  • One boy put down “tattooing” as a hobby.  I can’t help but notice just how many kids have tattoos now.  They’re not small, either.  Maybe a quarter of the boys in summer school have large tattoos on their arms, and it’s long since become very common for teenage girls to have lumbar tattoos.  These aren’t amateur tats done by friends in their bedrooms, these are professional store-bought works.  Clearly, they’re getting these either with parental approval or money, or at least without opposition.  What are these parents thinking?  Permanently scarring the body of a teenager?  How do they think this will affect them in life, already setting the bar of acceptable behavior that low?  If they’re getting tattoos at 15, what do they think their children will they be doing at 25?  Volunteering to read to blind orphans at the hospital? 
  • On the first day of class, I noticed two kids who spent their down time between assignments doodling in their notebooks.  They drew mushrooms and one girl decorated a graffiti-styled “420,” a popular reference to marijuana smoking.  She also had a 504, which isn’t surprising–I’ve come to believe that much of America’s special education, therapy, and remediation for teens is just treating their drug use. 
  • When I asked students to write interesting things about themselves for first day introductions, several put down their ethnicity. I ask students this kind of thing more often than not, and I’ve never had a student note that they’re white. A few have written that they’re black, but they all clearly did it as an ironic joke about our culture’s obsession with race (as their peers would then say, “Really? No kidding!”). However, I’ve had tons of students–including several just today–who wrote down “I’m Hawaiian” or “I’m Filipino.” For some reason, Pacific and Southeast Asian ethnicities seem to elicit this strong, vocal pride in a way that others do not. Perhaps it’s because the specific geographic origin isn’t as easy to discern visually with these groups as it is with, say, a black or white person? Hispanic students also convey this sense of pride, but not by answering this question “I’m Hispanic.” Maybe that, too, is too obvious? Hispanic students tend to advertise their pride in more specific terms than broad ethnicity; for example, it’s very common in Las Vegas to see the rear window of trucks decorated with the names of states in Mexico (Jalisco, Chihuahua, Veracruz, etc.), presumably the state of the family’s origin. Certainly, it’s very rare for any white person to communicatepublic identity like that—I’ve never seen a car with Greece, Germany, or England on the window! Is this all due to political correctness, something else, or a combination? One thing is for sure: our students are well versed in the unwritten rules of acceptable and unacceptable ethnic pride.
  • In the first session, I had three students from Boys Town.  I knew who they were because each day I had to fill out and sign a form regarding their behavior and homework.  They were three of the best behaved students in the class: the girl was very talented and mature, one boy (who was also the one who said his hobby was smoking) wasn’t very bright but paid attention and worked hard, and the third boy did pretty well, but was very slow and had the handwriting of a five year old.  After the first few days, I emailed his parent and suggested he be tested for special ed.  Frankly, I’m pretty sure he had fetal alcohol syndrome.  The second boy actually came into class this morning, not realizing, apparently, that he was signed up for a different class this session.  I have to admit, I’m curious why each of these three kids ended up in foster care.
  • Another kid came in who was so severely slow that he never really had a chance to pass.  He really should be in special ed.  He could barely write, and had zero comprehension of anything we did–the few things he turned in were little more than random scribbles.  How did he make it this far in school?  Summer school was just a waste of his time.  It probably didn’t help that he missed two days during the first week.  Another boy started the new session today who is also obviously very mentally deficient.  Try as he might, he couldn’t understand or finish anything today.  Even his speaking is very poor, to the point where other students noticed (and, no, he’s not an ESL student–English must be his first language).  He even made a random outburst of embarrasing personal information and couldn’t understand why everybody was uncomfortable.  Who’s sending these poor kids to summer school? 
  • The most interesting student in summer school so far was a kid who was told by classmates he looked like “the guy in Ratatouille.”  He said on the first day that he worked at night delivering newspapers to hotels, and that was why he was so tired.  After he slept through a few assignments, I emailed his mom to find out what was going on.  She said his story about working wasn’t true, and that he had ADHD and had a 504 for accommodations.  I replied that our school didn’t have a copy of the 504, but that he could have some make up work for partial credit.  From that day on, he would continue to do substandard work, be confused when his grades were low, and beg for make up work.  He also hunched over in his seat, squatting with his feet on his chair, as often as he could.  He didn’t pass. 
  • When I ask students to write down three hobbies on the first day, I used to joke that they shouldn’t put “chillin, hangin out, and kickin it,” because they all mean the same thing–nothing.  I thought this was clever, but it quickly became clear that students took these labels seriously and, once I’d mocked them, couldn’t think of anything else to put.  That greatly distresses me about the way young people spend their lives (or at least the way they perceive it), but at any rate, I don’t make that joke any more.  The result is too sad. 
  • I have four absent students today.  Invariably, at least one will show up tomorrow with an excuse and expect to be excused from all of today’s work.  I have one or two students miss the first day of school every summer, which is awful if you remember that each day of summer school is meant to equal five or six days of regular school work.  I know in many colleges, students are dropped from a class if they miss the first day.  That’s a great idea. 
  • Next school year, for the first time in my career, I’ve been assigned all honors classes.  It occurs to me only now that one benefit of this change is that I will probably not see any students I’ve already known again in summer school.  I hate when that happens—they have to hear all my same jokes again, and they usually don’t improve their behavior or work. 
  • A student just asked me what time we get out of class. I said, “A quarter after twelve.” He said, “12:25?”
  • A success story: I have one student this summer that I also had during the last school year.  She failed because she constantly played around and rarely did her work.  Someone must have read her the riot act because in the first session of summer school, she stayed quiet as a mouse, did all of her work, and earned an A.  One kid, at least, has learned the relationship between hard work and achievement. 

2 comments on “Twelve Notes About Summer School

  1. Sounds like you are experiencing the results of mainstreaming kids. I know some people think its helpful but I’m not so sure especially when you know they would be better off in another class that worked with them at the level where they could be successful.

  2. Jennvan, yes, exactly. Care to guess how many of any given school’s discipline problems come from mainstreamed special ed kids, especially those in special ed for their emotional problems? Of course, we’re not supposed to talk about that because it’s mean…

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