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Career Questions

Q:  I’m in my second year of teaching middle school.  The first year was rough, but I feel that I’m finally getting a handle on classroom management and the curriculum. 

My principal just told me he wants me to coach soccer next fall since I played it in college. I know we talked about my coaching when I was hired, and I actually would like to coach at some point in the future when I feel more confident of my classroom skills.  Right now I feel as if I’m barely keeping my head above water, and I just don’t know how I can prepare for every day of class and coach, especially when school starts up in the fall.  Any ideas?

A:  May principals try to avoid giving new teachers coaching assignments for exactly the reasons you stated:  You’re just getting a handle on what you were actually hired to do, which is teaching.  Sometimes, however, the principal just doesn’t have any better options.

If you haven’t already done so, you should talk to your principal about your concerns.  If he is insistent, nonetheless, that you coach, you have time to prepare for the fall.

Soccer  One of the great things about teaching is that you only have to do the first year once.  You will be surprised at how different the second year will be in terms of class control and lesson planning.  Through trial and error last year, you learned something about what works and what doesn’t.  

Having played soccer in college, you know the game and how to modify the drills.  In addition, working with kids on the playing field can actually improve your classroom management skills and enhance your reputation among the students.

Middle school seasons are usually short.  You have time over the summer not only to plan your fall curriculum, but also your practice sessions.   You may wish you didn’t have to think about all of this over the summer, but you will be glad next fall you did.

Oh, yeah, one more thing:  Coaching middle school soccer is a lot of fun (and I speak from experience).  Make sure everyone gets to play.

Farewell to Valedictorians

Valedictorian  The student with the highest average as a high school junior decided to attend a year-long college program during his senior year.  At the end of that year he still expected to be named high school valedictorian, despite the fact that had not taken a single high school course nor attended any high school events during his senior year.  The girl with the second highest average had stayed for her senior year and expected to lay claim to the title.  The kids and their parents fought it out at the board level.  It wasn’t pretty.  In the end the boy won (his guidance counselor, it turned out, had promised him he could still retain the honor even if he left).  The result was a surly valedictorian speech, an angry salutatorian speech, and a new board policy.

The valedictorian honor has become fraught with myriad difficulties besides determining if “residency” matters. Once reserved for the student with the highest GPA, the valedictorian title can now be awarded to several students.  In Jericho, New York, for example, seven seniors laid claim to the title and instead of giving speeches, did a 10-minute skit.  “When did we start saying that we should limit the honors so that only one person gets the glory?” asked the principal.  It was a rhetorical question, of course, but here are a few answers:

…when college admissions became more competitive and everyone needed an edge

…when grades for AP and honors courses became weighted

…when parents began pressuring teachers for grades and concessions

…when grades became so inflated that lots of kids can now graduate with a GPA over 100.

Jericho wasn’t alone in naming lots of “valedictorians.”  In Colorado, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district named a total of 94 students “valedictorians.” 

Some schools have abandoned the tradition of naming a valedictorian entirely and no longer rank students according to GPAs.  Instead, members of the senior class choose their graduation speakers regardless of grades.  Other schools use different designations to honor many students with high GPAs, graduating them “summa cum laude,” for example.

I don’t want to take anything away from the high school accomplishments of these hard-working kids.  But when there are 10 “valedictorians” out of a class of 54, as there were in Lyons, Colorado, you have to wonder, at the very least, if anyone there checked Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word.






Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.