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Give the Kids a Fresh Start

Every year at this time the middle school principal asked the elementary principals to send him a list of sixth graders who had had disciplinary issues over the past year.

Every year I refused.

His argument was that he could get a jump on behavior if he already knew who the kids were who were likely to cause problems.  My argument was that every kid deserves a clean slate when he or she begins a new year, particularly in a new school. 

Super-8-movie Kids change; people change.  I didn’t want the cards already stacked against these youngsters before they even entered middle school.  Eventually I took to destroying my discipline records for the sixth graders at the end of June on the off-chance that the middle school principal might report my lack of cooperation to the superintendent and I would be ordered to comply.  This way I could plead ignorance and I’d have another year to figure out how to protect the kids so they could have a fresh start.

Teachers need to be careful not to already color the next teacher’s perception of students coming into his or her class next year.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s appropriate and helpful for teachers to share academic issues with the next teacher.  Next year’s teacher can hit the ground running if she knows that Jack is a superior math student and needs to be challenged or that Stephanie made gains last year in reading but still doesn’t understand root words.  And every teacher should read her students' IEPs.  No excuses.

What’s not helpful or even ethical is to pass along comments like “Michael is smart but lazy” or “Keisha is a whiner about grades.”   Worst of all are the characterizations of an entire class as the “worst group of kids I’ve even taught” or “not even a couple of bright lights.”  I am not making up these comments; I’ve heard them.  One characterization I particularly dislike is describing a kid as “sneaky.”

I have sat in on lots of middle and high school group conferences with parents about their son or daughter.  Sometimes there is consensus about the child’s progress and behavior.  Other times, you’d think that no teacher had the same kid.  In English, he’s the first to volunteer and a strong writer.  In history, he’s a disruption with his jokes.  In Spanish he just doesn’t even try.  In art, he’s one of the best students the teacher has ever seen.  A child connects or doesn’t connect with a teacher or subject, so we can’t assume that what we see in our class is what everyone sees.  Sometimes it’s us.

So we say good-bye to our students this year, knowing next year will be a fresh start for them … and for us.  That’s what’s so great about school – you get to start over every year.  We want to be sure every kid gets an equal chance to succeed next year.

BTW:  If you love middle schoolers (like I do), go see Super 8. 

 

 

Comments

As an elementary principal I would meet with the middle school principal to discuss some of my "frequent flyers." My closest relationships were with kids who had discipline problems and in many ways they were my best friends in the student body. I tried to share with the middle school some of the key ingredients as to what made the child tick. They were grateful as they could make an effort to get the know these kids in a positive way before they showed up on the discipline role. They could also learn from my mistakes and save some of the trial and error effort trying to find out what works. I agree with the fresh start concept. I think the fresh start should be a daily or hourly option, not just once a year. Thanks for the thoughtful post and keep up the good work. Check DrDougGreen.Com for bite-sized self development for educators and parents.

Hey, Doug, I did check out your blog and I recommend it to my readers.
Liked what you did with your frequent flyers. It's about trusting your colleagues, isn't it?

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