Mar 5, 2010

In Which I Rant Again

There was a kid in my class first semester. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Brilliant, but autistic. He excelled in class, even with the language barriers that autistic children have. (Thinking in pictures tends to slow down the speaking, social "niceties" are relatively meaningless, plays on words often don't make sense because of very literal thinking, etc.) He had a few quirks, for instance he would be reading his textbook chapters ahead of the class, but if I called on him, he knew exactly what we were doing and could provide an answer. He even did unthinkable things. He would volunteer to act in our stories! He would volunteer silly answers to our story lines. He would even, sometimes, smile. Great kid.

He switched classes at the semester. And now, he is failing.

His new teacher recognizes that he is brilliant, and that he knows all the information. But she is still failing him because he hasn't turned any of the assignments in. She wanted to know how he did in my class. Are you kidding me? He was the ace! She is concerned. He has an IEP, and he is failing, so what should she do?

I took the time to explain some of the little things about autism. That's great. The problem is, she doesn't see how that has anything to do with his missing work. So, I told her to talk to his counselor, or his special ed teacher.


We have a CHEETAH here, and we're going to fail him because he is refusing to walk nicely with the elephants. We're just going to reinforce the idea that he is different, and wrong, and he cannot succeed in life.

Am I really so out of touch with reality? Am I really so different than the rest of the academic world? The other teachers in my department are all about the all mighty homework assignment. This, they say, will prepare the kids for the rigors of college, for the rigors of life.  OK. Sure. But, not all the kids are going to college. Not all the kids will study languages in college. They say, try missing deadlines at work, see where that gets you. Fine. Except, we tend to pick our professions because of our personal quirks. Math is hard for me, I mean I can do it just fine, but I have to spend a lot of mental energy making sure the numbers don't move around the page, and that they stay the same. I'm "good" at math, but it isn't fun for me. I didn't go into a career where math is a strong prerequisite. I cannot stand staying still, and being boxed in. I didn't go into a career where I am sitting in a cubicle or an office all day. I stand up, I walk around, I get to talk a lot. I get to interact with people. So, my ability as a student to sit still and be quiet actually had no bearing on my future ability in a career. And you know what? I still refuse to do work I deem boring or unnecessary. So, I've missed a few deadlines in life. Nobody has fired me for it, I still have a 4.0 in grad school. I have learned to pick my battles. But please, don't make me feel like I am wasting my time. I have too little of it to waste it on useless stuff. Which is why I refuse to waste my students' time.

Again, this kid, this wonderful, brilliant, funny kid is going to fail, and he is going to have all of society's messages reinforced by his teacher, simply because he is not doing work that is a waste of his time. He doesn't need the practice. He just needs to fill in the blanks in a spreadsheet to prove to a calculator that he can do the work like a good little robot. *growl*


  1. Calling the assignments of the other teacher a waste of time is not productive. It takes all kinds and if there are some that have jobs that require deadlines to be met then teaching those habits (considered good by the way) is not a waste of time. I do agree with you however about that particular student. He is autistic and his future job will have nothing to do with what is normal for everyone else. (Hello) The other teacher should be a little less inflexible. Have you tried to get him back into your class?

  2. I absolutely feel your frustration. I have always had a hard time assigning homework in the FL classroom because my students usually got home and got really confused and didn't do it. Plus, if they did get confused, their parents couldn't help them with it. Plus, if I assigned the HW "correctly," I would explain the homework and then give them a few minutes to work on it to see if any questions come up. Then, the next day, we would spend 15 minutes going over the homework. So that's 20 minutes out of my 43 minute period spent on homework that isn't effective (at least it's never been effective in my classroom). Of the 20 strategies shown to be successful in brain-based learning, worksheets are nowhere to be found...hmmm.... So why are we assigning it? Are we assigning it to help them become productive members of society? If so, then why does it hurt their FL grade if they don't turn it in? Not turning in HW does not have anything to do with how much FL they know...

  3. Are you in the minority of teachers in your department using TPRS? If so, how does that work when students switch classes. I'm new to TPRS, but am hoping to use it as my predominant teaching method next year. However, no one else in my department uses TPRS. Thoughts?

  4. Jennifer---I read your WHOLE blog! Thank you so much for your honesty and sharing with anyone. I think you have made many good points about TPRS/teaching philosophy which I have cut and pasted to share with my colleagues.

    Sharing your struggles and triumphs has helped me, once again, to see that I am not alone!

    Mil gracias.
    Brad Nelson
    Champlin Park High School
    Champlin, Minnesota


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