Your Contract Is Invalid

I object to the use of the word “contract” in the context of kids and schools. Specifically, there are two instances in which “contract” is being misused at the expense of the child: Behavioral contracts, and homework contracts.

When used like this, “contract” is reduced to “a document that must be signed,” and typically imposes conditions and penalties SOLELY on the child. The child has no recourse, nor the option to decline participation.

Behavior contracts are little more than dictations of a child’s ideal behavior and the penalties to be imposed if that ideal is not met. Sometimes there might be token mention of expectations of a teacher’s conduct, but never any mention of penalties that could be enforced against a teacher for failure to uphold their end. (And why should there be? We all know in practice it would be incredibly difficult, likely impossible to hold the teacher accountable for any lapses in good behavior.) The contract is typically drafted in the spirit that the child is suspect from the start. Worse yet, failure to sign the document (both the child and the parents) results in penalties against the child’s grade. What if the parents disagree with some of the conditions? Is there an option to make amendments?

Instead of calling this a “contract” (because it ISN’T a contract, by definition), these documents should be renamed something more fitting of the actual contents. “Notice of Conduct Expectations” is a little long-winded, but much more appropriate than a misleading “contract.”

Homework contracts are even more ludicrous and flagrant in its misuse of “contract.” I don’t even see any conditions or penalties listed (or at least, I didn’t when they were foisted on me in school). The only element that made these “contracts” was that they required a signature. Otherwise, it was simply a collective of worksheets. Having browsed through the TeacherWeb postings on West Heritage’s directory, it appears these absurd “contracts” are still being flung about.

“Contract” is not an appropriate name for this document type. “Quota,” on the other hand, is perfect. “Quota” specifies that such and such work needs to be performed in a certain time frame.

Teachers, do yourselves and everyone (especially your students) a favor and read up on the definition of contract. By naming any document that requires a signature a “contract,” you are distorting its meaning and sending a message that contracts are for adults to use to control children without the latter having any option for meaningful input in the matter.

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The More Things Change

So I went flipping through the teacher pages at the West Heritage official site and I find out that they did away with Kindergarten Graduation.

Let me guess. Budget cuts? No, it’s been replaced with “Fun in the Sun” day… which already existed in the past and was for all grade levels– we just called it “Sports Day” instead. In a way, it’s not unlike the “Sports Festival” events you see in Japanese schools!

But still… killing off K-grad?! I really do want to know when and WHY this happened. It can’t be because of test scores because it’s the freaking last day of school. Is it because of low parent attendance? That doesn’t make much sense either, if it’s soliciting parent volunteers.

I don’t know. It does look a little weird to get all bent out of shape over k-grad, but at the same time it’s weird to kill off something that’s traditionally marked the transition into “general population” elementary school.

Oh, West Heritage. Just when I thought you were actually capable of being normal. Never change!

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Lunchtime Part 2: Silence is Golden

Oh, hello. For some reason I wandered away from this lovable trainwreck. Let’s do something about that.

Today we visit the impossible feat that is the imposition of Silent Lunch. I am unhappy to report that West Heritage was not the only one to try pulling such unnecessary policing of the lunchroom– other schools here and there have since attempted a Silent Lunch policy, often resulting in immense backlash from students and parents alike. Even today there are still reports of schools trying (and failing miserably) at mashing the mute button in the lunchroom. An elementary school in Iowa City is but one example of bizarre behavioral micromanagement as part of its PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports). You should read the rest of that blog, too, as it’s a sobering look into the continued stripping of any kind of joy and dignity from school.

Anyway…

When I went to West Heritage, upon entering the first grade we were shuffled into “general population” for lunch time. Our cafeteria doubled as the indoor stage, and we had these huge white fold-out benches. It was kind of a lop-sided arrangement since on one-side of the room the benches were looooooong, but the other side’s were much shorter and probably a more reasonable length. And for some reason, it was decided not only to isolate everyone according to grade level, but also INDIVIDUAL CLASSES.

Well, shit. You might as well have just gone to assigned seating at that rate. Partitioning by grade level I can SORT OF understand (preventing inter-grade aggression, but at the same time disallows siblings from eating together… though I would imagine at the time it was considered uncool to eat with your siblings), but by class? What if you had a friend that was in another class? Too bad for you. Don’t even try to turn around and talk to the table behind you, the LUNCH POLICE (“proctors”) wouldn’t have any of it. If you were a lonely nobody and just wanted some space from your annoying classmates, the proctors would side-eye the hell out of you.

Oh man, the proctors. The PROCTORS. See, in a reasonable lunchroom, their role would be simply to be on standby for assisting with opening milk/juice carts and other packaging and to, you know, perform SOME moderation… and by that I mean “keep the kids from murdering each other.”

Ours… well, we called them the Lunch Police for a reason. And police they DID. They went way beyond blocking lunch trading, they went as far as to DICTATE THE ORDER IN WHICH YOU ATE YOUR FOOD.

What.
WHAT.
It’s my lunch, it’s all going to end up in the same place anyhow, what the hell is your business telling me I have to eat my sandwich first? If this were a five-star restaurant, MAYBE you’d have an argument there, but this is a freaking elementary school lunchroom. It is not your place to impose what you consider to be “proper order of food consumption.”

ARGH.

And then, of course, the constant, CONSTANT demand for silence. Oh man, that was a losing battle from the start. Every day, between shaming kids for choosing to eat their chips ahead of the sandwich (and funny, I only recall the brown-baggers getting policed this heavily, they generally left the hot-lunch’d kids alone), we were all being admonished for TALKING TOO DARNED MUCH. The best parts was when… I think her name was “Mary?” She was this middle-aged woman with thick sunglasses and short, graying curly hair and perpetual resting frowny-face. A truly joyless person! I swear she existed solely to suck the fun out of everything and to shame children for existing. She would lecture us for “having no respect for our elders” just because we wanted to chatter during lunch. The cafeteria wasn’t even that loud, it only felt that way because it was rather tiny and all these kids crammed so close together gave the impression of being excessively loud.

Still, the proctors felt like it was their moral duty to shut everyone up, and they would go through all these bizarre and futile efforts accomplish their mission. Turn the lights off? The kids would scream in panic. They’d try to block kids from leaving for recess because their class’s table was too noisy. (Ah, the failure of “collective punishment” at work…) Their excuse for trying to mute lunch was that the noise level was too much for the kids in the classrooms next door. And to that, I say “blame the contractor,” because only an idiot would design things so that the cafeteria doors opened up to route all the noise point-blank at the adjacent classroom. Also, blame the fool teacher who kept her classroom door open during lunch hour. No one to blame but yourself, there!

SIGH.

You cannot impose silent lunch, especially at the elementary school level. It’s not going to happen. When the teacher demands silence and obedience in the classroom, and recess is shrinking to the point of being nonexistent in some places, that leaves only lunch as the only sanctioned time for free socializing. And it’s not exactly “free” if you’re arbitrarily partitioning kids off by grade level and even class. (I would really like to hear the rationale behind assigned seating at lunchtime. Please tell me it’s something other than “preventing hurt feelings.”)

Oddly enough, the attempts to mandate silent lunch fell apart at the end of fifth grade, as more and more often we were being forced outside while the cafeteria was being converted for usage for end-of-year events. I imagine the proctors could have pulled an excuse out of their butts if they wanted, to, though. West Heritage was surrounded by houses. The proctors could have argued that silent lunch would prevent noise complaints… which was rubbish since odds are, the adults who lived in those houses would be off at work.

Still, I wonder if the West Heritage that exists now has learned anything from its origins? Does it still try to impose a silent lunch policy? Does it still send its proctors in to police food consumption down to the potato chip? I would hope not, but in the recent trend of schools punting “learning by play/socialization” in favor of “MUST RAISE TEST SCORES OVER 9000” and “ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE,” I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Lunchtime Part 1: The Golden Lunchpail

Today’s post/memory dump is brought to you by a Jezebel.com article about a school that could possibly top old West Heritage in the WTF department as far as lunchtime practices go. Per the original article, the school punishes students for making a mess of the cafeteria by taking away the hot lunch options for a week.

The article itself is the tip of the iceberg; where normal internet practice says to NEVER READ THE COMMENTS, the comments are exactly where we want to go this time, as we are treated to a variety of WTF tales of the shenanigans that went on in the lunchroom.

As much as the proctors at West Heritage were so easily butthurt about talking during lunch and tried SO HARD to impose Silent Lunch, they were even more drama queeny over littering. But, see, it’s more reasonable to pressure kids into picking up after themselves and maintaining some sort of standard of cleanliness in the environment. Where it got tacky, though, was when the administration introduced the Golden Lunchpail Award (Golden Lunchsack for the lower grades).

The Golden Lunchpail came about with the monthly student achievement assembly, and always came at the end. Like the whole “Star of the Week” crapfest, Golden Lunchpail itself was flawed. Putting aside the “you should not need to reward kids for cleaning up their eating space” thing, it did not have a reliable means of tracking who was most deserving– likely proctors, who were already having their attention tugged in several billion directions as is. (Remember, this was the early 90’s, so it’s not like they could have taken out their iPhones and snapped pictures of each class’ table as evidence.) Thus, there was always the risk of bias and faulty memory at play. Also? The Golden Lunchpail was some kind of candy. It would never, EVER fly today because today’s culture would again throw a fit about using food as a reward in a school environment. Not to mention, the candy wasn’t even good– it was always the crappy Sweet Tarts that nobody liked but that teachers could stock for dirt cheap. Sheesh.

If anything, the token Golden Lunchpail itself was the only appealing part about the program. It was literally a plastic lunch box covered in gold spraypaint and fabric paints and glitter. Same goes for the Lunchsack– literally, a paper bag with gold spraypaint and glitter. Oh, West Heritage, you tried so hard!

The Jezebel post also prompted me to comment on another exercise in futility: communal punishment at the grade school level. My advice on the matter (taking into account that this blog is written by a former student as opposed to a trained educator): DON’T. The theory behind punishing an entire class based on the actions of a few is that the innocent ones who must endure the punishments would shame the guilty. This does not work with young children, who likely will not understand the concept until… perhaps late adolescence? They would not know how to (tactfully) shame their guilty peers in any method short of those that would probably violate the rules, thus extending the cycle of punishment. At best, you’re training the well-behaved kids to be distrustful and paranoid of their peers, and at worst you’re setting up some of the most vulnerable kids for some hardcore anxiety issues down the line; meanwhile, the naughty kids continue as they are, unphased by the consequences of their actions. Again, communal punishment is USELESS on a grade school level.

*ahem*

Next time, we tackle the raison d’etre for this blog: Silent Lunch.

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THE BUS: Lolfarts and Knights

When I was at West Heritage, there was a bus, but I didn’t get to ride it because it was for the kids who lived too far from the school (and as of 5th grade and beyond, not far enough to be absorbed into East Heritage). I was not a bus virgin, though, as I did get to take a bus to the four preschools I got shuffled around to (something to do with brute-force correction of a speech impediment before the district either gave up or decided they’d done all it could and I could be sent into normal Kindergarten). And, of course, there were field trips! Each grade level got at least two a year. I know, right? Considering how broke California is, that sounds almost lavish by today’s standards.

You learn very quickly about Bus Culture. Silent Lunch? Screw that, try enforcing a Silent Bus policy. Now, I get that there’s a reason to discourage excessive chatter on a bus (safety, being able to listen for the train) but wow, do tensions ever run so high on the bus, and you are guaranteed to encounter two groups of scary people. First you have the (unfortunately underpaid) bus drivers, who are already on edge and thus tend to be very very shouty and easily butthurt by the second party, the bratty little kids (in my experience, these have always been boys) who do it for the lulz. I am hard-pressed to recall teachers riding on the same bus as the rest of us for field trips, but rather, the parent volunteers would do so in their place, because I’m sure if the teachers rode on the bus for the field trip they would have surely ended such shenanigans. The parent volunteers, of course, didn’t have the authority to do squat aside from gently suggest we take things down a notch, and the drivers didn’t have clearance to boot disruptive kids during field trips for obvious reasons.

Being an introvert and one who disliked drama, I tried to get a solo seat where possible (even if we were assigned seats, as soon as the teachers went away people would shuffle about to sit with their friends), usually close to the front because all the naughtier kids veered towards the back. However, over time I would find that getting solo seats was a far easier task than avoiding the lulzmakers. I could find at any time my daydreamy gaze out of the window seat rudely disrupted by some punk-ass kid behind me putting up his feet behind my head. Creepy. Of course, as soon as I would kindly ask that he, you know, NOT DO THAT, he’d continue doing so anyway for the lulz.

Sigh. Well, at least it wasn’t like in that one preschool bus that had seatbelts… and some jackass would hit me with them. No, really. Why the driver didn’t do anything about it, I don’t know.

Today’s post is brought to you by this piece of roflcoptery and I can tell you with reasonable certainty how things escalated to this point. It’s not about how easily butthurt we have become over the years, or how we should just let people fart… it’s more about stupid kids doing stuff for the lulz. In this case, the farter was already pressing the driver’s buttons, and breaking wind leads to exasperated driver hitting his limit and either turning the bus around (yes, I’ve seen this done… though not at the elementary school level and not during a field trip) or delaying departure so he can summon a proctor/administrator to remove the little brat from the bus. I’ve seen similar blowups like this happen. Farting is nothing new (though novel!).

Well, since we’re talking about buses, may as well follow up on field trips and such since I mentioned that earlier. As much as West Heritage tried to dress these up as being educational or at least culturally-relevant, that was totally bullpucky– they were thinly-disguised excuses to GTFO for some fun. Surely, there was learning to be done, except it wasn’t of the sort you’d find in books or classrooms. Of course, we still had to deal with the daily pest that was the poorly-named Daily Oral Language/Journal doubleteam, but once that was in the can, we were shuffled to the front gate where you’d see this train of buses, 3 or more. You could fit roughly one class on a bus, exceptions for the combos since they tended to have higher populations.

Really, despite my dislike of obnoxious lulzmakers, I actually preferred the bus rides and the extended lunches over the actual field trips themselves. The rides let me, again, space out and watch the world go by and I could get away with not having to small-talk it up with my peers. The exceptions were if I could get a solo seat near the front of the bus, where the parent volunteers (and rarely, teachers) tended to congregate. I wasn’t really interested in chatting it up with them unless they started the conversation, I suppose it just felt… safer to sit near them.

Field trips tended to be all-day affairs and as such, teachers silently lumped all the recesses together into one big lunchtime after the actual event before heading back to campus. The buses would all pull into a large park or playground and unload everyone, the teachers and parent volunteers would distribute the brown-bag lunches (I’m pretty sure all the permission slips made it a point to state that you had to brown-bag it) and for the next 70-90 minutes it was happy hour.

What was the most WTF field trip? (Because, you know, this is Weird Heritage, so it was always WTF.) To this day it would still have to be first grade, Medieval Times of Buena Park. (Except we didn’t get the food. Likely a cost-saving measure. Still, boo!) It was so obviously a thinly-veiled connection to the medieval era unit in social studies, but, dammit, it was fun. And for the record, West Heritage was Team Black and White Knight. (I can’t remember if our at-the-time de facto rival Windrows Elementary was in attendance, but someone had to root for Team Green Knight.) I’m considering a return trip with the full package, later this year… that could be a fun little blast from the past, no?

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The Music of Our Day

This is more of a fun, YouTube-y post than me flailing and WTF-ing over why things were so weird.

School and music go hand in hand more than you think. It wasn’t even about band. (We didn’t even get a school band until, what… 3 years after West Heritage opened. And I really wanted to join, because they’d have trained newbies!) Early on into West Heritage’s life, I’m pretty sure the soundtrack of the day was sourced from the Top 40’s station… in this case, 102.7 FM KIIS of Los Angeles for radio. In the mornings, if you weren’t watching cartoons, you were listening to Rick Dees. Oh, and for those of us who had cable, MTV actually showed honest-to-god music videos, VH1 hadn’t become a joke yet, and BET was a total newbie, just barely coasting into relevance.

At least… that’s how I recall it.

Of course, you didn’t dare mention ANY of this within a teacher’s earshot, especially the more conservative sorts because ROCK MUSIC IS BAD and we were all little kidlets who should still be playing the Wee Sing tapes (That’s “ee,” not “ii”). Or, at the least, these songs were often way too adult and grown-up to make any sense to us at the time.

You know how people say that it’s easier to remember things with a song, right? It doesn’t just apply for studying. As someone who was an unwilling shut-in and didn’t have my own TV until, what, 8th grade? I spent a lot of time with the radio during the downtime. Even now, if you were to play one of these, I’d probably recall something about this weird-ass elementary school to tell you about. This is by no means a complete archive, and much of the song names were sourced from the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Archive (bless them, encoding their previous episodes for streaming if you are so inclined to flog yourself with your childhood soundtrack).

Here’s one to start with (in chronological order of relevance):

(1991) Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

What we consider today’s classics was yesterday’s radio/MTV spam. This was part of said spam. And now we elevate it to almost hymn status in our pop culture.
Of course, now with the internet, we are much faster at determining what is true music spam and what has potential… but we’ve become so used to hating everything that even our improved methods aren’t so reliable.

Continue reading

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On Standardized Testing… and Possible Bubble Kink

I grew up back when schools began flirting with high-stakes testing. West Heritage, being an experimental sort, was sure to take part in these shenanigans. Back then, the yearly tests were called “CTBS” (California Test for Basic Skills) and while they alone couldn’t determine whether or not you got to advance to the next grade level, they did factor into the process just a bit (along with grades and teacher opinion). For the most part, it was just a harmless end-of-year distraction… and also free juice and crackers at the start of the day! Yes!

mmm, bubbles

Tasty, tasty bubbles! I could fill these all day!

Me, I had this strange fixation on those bubbles. There was something arcane, alien about the process. The answer forms were printed on this funny paper with purple and green lines in places you normally wouldn’t expect to see them– I would later find that this was more to assist in scanning in the answers and meaningless to human eyes.

“Fill in these bubbles but not those.” Or sometimes they would ask weird questions like if my parents had went to college. At the time, I didn’t know too much about the demographic data collection phase, just that it was a weird ritual that took place right before the testing. Of course, as an adult looking back, I can sort of see why some would get a wee bit butthurt over asking for this kind of information (“how the hell is this relevant to the test?! WTF?!”).

So, what was my first encounter with a test form? Pretty sure it was Kindergarten, actually. Yes, I’m sure that was it, and it wasn’t even CTBS back then, either. It was less about academics and more about basic/life skills. I recall there was some unit on the test about basic personal safety– it stuck out because no test after that addressed such a common topic. First grade and onward, it was the usual English/Math nonsense– almost always English/language mechanics first. I recall that for several years, the test used the same damned two Sample Questions– one about the origin of “bubble” and another about ocean life that persisted on bubbles. Oh, you. I TOTALLY see what you did there, test-writing doods.

Some years, the school experimented with mid-year practice testing, thinking they could score points with the district if we came in at June with awesome test scores. Enter the “Scoring High” booklets. Oh lawd. Could you come up with an even hokier and suggestive name? Especially among the boys, who at the 4th grade level were just beginning to master transforming anything and everything into a euphemism? Hah!

Oh, here’s something fun, and I’m not sure if this information is even released back to you anymore; when you received your first trimester report card and the parent/teacher conference notes, you were also given the analysis for the previous year’s standardized testing. The numbers for the most part were gibberish and told us a whole lot of nothing– how well we performed nationally and, in a way, what our skill level in terms of reading and math. The cap was, of course, 12.0 in both (corresponding to senior-level), and I remember that after 3rd grade I always had a 12.0 for reading but my math level was more or less on par. Fun times!

But yes. BUBBLES. How I miss them. There was a certain tranquility to filling in those things… in some ways, it was an art. Or maybe I was so bored that I would find different ways to fill them in. And then there was looking over the answer columns after I was done with the test to see what kind of pattern, if any, may have formed in the mess. Bullpucky, I know, but human brains ARE inclined to search for some kind of pattern, after all…

If you really must know, I prefer the rounded bubbles on the STAR/CTBS forms rather than the rectangular ones on Scantrons. Scantrons are so boring in comparison.

And finally… if you’re really wondering, I don’t think students were made to sign any NDAs regarding our experiences with these end-of-year tests, and it’s not like I’m giving out answers– I don’t even remember half the questions anyway, except for the reoccurring sample questions, which were jokes about bubbles anyhow. Now if you’ll excuse me… my pizza got cold because I got too caught up reminiscing and writing this post. I should probably go fix that.

This blog is pretty fun, and I’m only a little under a week into this. Let’s see where else it takes us. I tend to get my topics from new teacher forums and ONTD_P posts about education. Ah…

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Introverts Not Welcome

This was the message that West Heritage ultimately carved into my very soul at the end of my stay. Between having misanthropic parents (well, it was mostly my mother) and being the nerdy, boring fat girl who played video games, I had accepted my fate of being alone, but my teachers just couldn’t deal with that.

Yes, the teachers were supposed to respect different personality types and learning styles. But in light of their “NO TALKING, EVER” rules and policies that hung over everything, at the same time they seemed to have issues dealing with those of us who just didn’t draw energy from socializing with the other kids. We were easy to deal with as far as classroom management went, but otherwise a nightmare– you couldn’t exactly slap us with “does not play well with others” penalties because we left well enough alone and weren’t mean to other kids, we just didn’t want much to do with them because it wore us out. These teachers just didn’t know how to deal with us. Our existence clashed with what they were taught was the ideal child– a noisy little thing that could be molded into an obedient (e.g. QUIET) student, except we were already quiet, but we had other needs that they weren’t prepared to handle. And they certainly weren’t equipped to deal with those of us who suffered from depression. (They tried to put me in the district’s drug prevention program, for lack of a better possible course of action. WTF? Granted, my mother refused to give consent for me to be examined by the school psychologist, so I guess the other possibility the teachers could fish out was that I was at-risk for becoming a drug user…)

For instance, a lot of us didn’t enjoy group work at all and tried to solo the assignments. Sometimes this was allowed, other times we were quickly shunted into a low-population group and told to chin up and make do. In my case, this rarely had a good ending– the reason I preferred to solo group work in the first place was because many of my peers were just little leeches who would happily shove the burden onto me and chatter away, which would get the group (including me) penalized. (Happily, in many cases the teacher was aware of this and would exempt me from punishment, but you don’t forget the first sting…)

The other time where it really didn’t pay to be an introvert was in the Computer Lab. There were only so many computers, so of course it was necessary to pair us off. BUT, you couldn’t keep friends together or else they would chatter… and then there was Yoshi over here; Yoshi, who is otherwise such a pleasant little girl even though she isn’t really interested in being around others so we’ll just give her the most obnoxious kid (almost always a boy), and surely she could put up with it.

For the record? No, actually. I didn’t appreciate being stuck with the king douchebag. They would either glitch D-Paint to make the puke brush (which, while funny, was useless and couldn’t be reset short of a system reboot), or would make fun of my short hair by forcing a boy’s avatar on me in Mixed-Up Mother Goose or randomly mash the keyboard to screw me up during my turn at Mavis Beacon. Petitioning the teacher or the Computer Lab moderator (a short, shouty Filipino woman who didn’t really know a whole lot about computers, now that I think about it) didn’t help as I was just handwaved off and told to deal with it– oddly enough, I was also always assigned to the very back of the room.

Things came to a head in second grade, when my lab partner was determined to get me to react in such a way that would get us both in trouble (he was always getting yelled at for talking and I was always getting exempt from punishment because I was in the clear and making some attempt to stay on task), so out of the blue he decides he’ll lay this extremely slobbery kiss on my cheek. Following my scream, that part of the lab fell DEAD silent, and when the teacher waded into the back to find out what happened… sure enough, my partner was the only one disciplined and I was assured I would be allowed my own slot for the rest of the year if I so chose. (Thankfully my best friend Lia in that class changed seats to become my lab partner.) Still, the social damage had been done: rumors were going around about my “making out” with the little punk and other such nonsense. Kids are so cruel. I’m just glad I passed this part of my life before homophobic bullying became commonplace, as I am sure I would have been branded a lesbian because of my short hair and boyish voice.

If I had the option to, I seriously would have done anything to be able to eat lunch in the classroom, especially in the years that Lia wasn’t in my class. Otherwise, it was either trying to inject myself into the already-established groups in the class partitions in the cafeteria (and being ignored) or trying to find enough of a gap where I could sit alone, only to have my space inpinged upon by the other smaller groups.  Sadly, eating lunch in the classroom was not an option because the teacher had prep work to do or business to attend to in the lounge and office.

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Boo of the Week

It goes by many names. Star of the Week. Student of the Week. Whatever. (Star was reserved for Kindergarten, the rest used Student, and in fifth grade a third tier, “Student of the Month,” was added.) I have a special, special hatred for this farce of an achievement, because it’s not really an achievement at all. Perhaps my opinions of this not-achievement are colored because I am an introvert.

It sounds like a nice idea on the surface. Congratulations, you have been deemed an awesome person and everyone has to kiss your butt for the week… for reasons you have NO BLOODY IDEA WHAT. The exact details varied between teachers and school level, though at minimum you’d get put on the spot in front of class and interviewed and a poster made about you just to show how much of an awesome person you are. Nobody is told how one unlocks this achievement (presumably to prevent gaming the system, but… these were small kids, our capacity for social engineering was pretty limited), but as you figure out as the school year goes on, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get it twice a year, even if you were the worst-behaved or worst-performing in the class. This is, of course, because teachers have to pick you at some point else some parent will make a fuss.

I hated being picked, in hindsight. I hated every moment of it. I couldn’t articulate very well, and I realize much of it was my otherwise-depression-laden childhood talking, but I did not enjoy the attention at all. Compared to my peers, I was EXTREMELY BORING– I was that fat kid who played video games but… really didn’t know much about anything else because my parents (or rather, my mother) hated people and never let us play outside, have friends over or go visit. What was there to say about me that could possibly make me interesting or likeable…?

Fifth grade was the worst implementation of Student of the Week. Our teacher was pregnant at the time, so of course the topics were always skewed towards things about babies and how long our mothers were in labor… um, ew. Were those details really necessary? On top of that, every Friday we were all made to write letters to the featured student in which we pretty much had to kiss their asses and such… and mine were all apology-fests. “We really don’t know each other, it’s not personal, I just don’t have anything to say, I’m sorry,” and the like, which was sure to get my letter excluded from the binder that was compiled and given to the candidates after the “Student of the Month” assembly. While you were guaranteed at least two shots at Student of the Week, this wasn’t the case so much for Student of the Month… and you couldn’t really compete for it as it more or less came down to all-out teacher favoritism in the end, veiled by factors like Holey Card and Daily Oral Language scores, classroom behavior and performance in P.E. I know I lost out because my interviews and letters were just super depressing and while the loss stung at the time, I’m actually glad I didn’t get picked because I was sure I would have had some kind of meltdown in front of the entire campus, and my teacher was already having issues trying to get my mother to not only give consent for me to be examined by the school psychologist, but to wrap her head around the possibility that I might be suffering from depression.

So, yes, much of my hatred for Student/Star of the Week was rooted in my stupid childhood drama, but I still hate the idea of propping some random kid up for the week. The cynical part of me that was born from this part of my life thought that such an exercise bred “Special Snowflake” complex and attention-seeking behavior.

As far as the rewards themselves, they were rather worthless– sure, a Student of the Week-embossed pencil was sort of useful, I guess… I would have preferred to eat lunch with the teacher to avoid having to deal with the nonsense that was SILENT LUNCH. (Actually, I’d prefer being able to opt into eating in the classroom and away from the general population all the time if I had the option to…)

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Bell Work and Daily Oral WTF

In 1st grade, and sporadically seen later on, there were these horizontal books that were nightmare fuel for us Eagles (the collective term for us kids… school pride, something something).  Sometimes we would show up and either on our way indoors or passed around immediately, we were given these yellow or orange books. (Between this and Holey Cards, I think a lot of us were permanently molded to associate those colors with petty nonsense involving low-level mathematics.) Yes, there really was a textbook called Bell Work that was intended solely as busywork fodder, “seat work” as it was called. After all, it was the accepted opinion that if you don’t stick us kids with this academic pacifier, we would, of course, start chattering, and this being West Heritage, talking was the ULTIMATE SIN. To paraphrase Barbatos Goetia from Tales of Destiny 2, “NO TALKING, EVER!”

So these books, about as tall as a half-sheet of paper, were filled with these randomized, lowball math problems. No context to these Bell Work assignments, just “here you go, do this and that and you’d better not talk!” I don’t know about you, but I was one of those who needed some sort of context to whatever you were about to impose on me. Alas, I was so intimidated by then-shouty Mrs. White that I didn’t dare ask why, but I’m assuming this was part of the whole ill-fated operation to impose silence upon the classroom.

The daily WTF didn’t end with RANDOM MATH PROBLEMS, either. Most of the time, we were actually greeted by either a dimly-lit classroom and the overhead projector, or some grammatical mess of a sentence scrawled upon the board that we were expected to copy down, correct and then rewrite again in its fixed form. I took issue with how many times we had to recopy each instance– it would have made more sense to only copy the initial mangled sentence, perform the edits on that, and then write out the corrected form. Personally, I would have been fine with solely writing out the corrected form– why waste my time doing copy editing on the mangled form when the original writer was never going to see it anyway? This daily exercise was only marginally more useful than Random Encounter mathematics (boo, “Bell Work”) since, after all, this is how you breed your next generation of proofreaders and copy editors… but my huge beef was with the name.

Why the hell was it called Daily Oral Language, when you were actually writing this stuff? There was nothing oral about it– any discussion didn’t take place until afterwards, in which we swapped papers with peers (the ultimate work-saver for the teacher and our first experience with crowd/outsourcing!). Why couldn’t this exercise have been named “Daily Proofreading” instead? Daily Oral Language. Worst busywork name EVER. And I had to deal with this crap until 7th grade!

Sometimes the above two were also coupled with the “Journal,” which wasn’t even a journal in the traditional sense. You didn’t actually get to write anything of your choosing, the “Journal” was more like you write verbatim the string of copy on the board, usually about something expected to happen that day or later in the week. Ah, another case of poorly-named busywork. It was more “write this statement legibly.”

Obviously I hated all of these, but I have since learned that if I hate something and was going to complain about it, I would be wise to have potential and workable alternatives in place. As someone who was slanted in favor of languages and visuals, I would have preferred to begin the day with reading or, better yet, being able to sketch a simple object. If you’re going to stick us with busywork at the start of the day, at least allow us to pick our poison.

I wonder what would constitute start-of-day busywork today, with things like the iPad and what-have-you making their way into classrooms. “Listen to this podcast and write the timecodes for when you hear these specific words” or something along those lines? Who knows. Actually, I might have preferred something like that…

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