Friday, April 20, 2007

Are We Too Old School?

A post from the discussion about people who left for private school got me to thinking about another issue. What about kids, their dress and their behavior? Someone mentioned how on a tour of AS#1, they saw behavior they didn't like. When my older son first went to Eckstein, I was very surprised at how some kids dressed and behaved.

What did I see at Eckstein? A lot of girls with pajama bottoms, midriffs or, worse, visible thongs. Baggy pants on the boys (which, of course, induced laughter in me because of the odd way the boys have to walk to keep them up). Eckstein does have a dress code which does get enforced. (Principal Campbell has a set of oversized, ugly tees for the girls who have problems covering up. Not much fun to wear one of them all day.) I also heard a lot of mouthiness from kids which really surprised me. I know now that Eckstein is pretty normal and actually not half as bad as some other schools. (And if you don't have a middle schooler, just wait.)

Here's where the old school part of me comes in (or maybe just the old). When I was in school, we did not talk back to adults. Any adult, not just teachers. We did not attempt to just walk away when an adult was talking to us (and let me say, nearly all kids I have encountered in middle and high school try this). We did not argue about what we were going to do next in class or moan (at least outloud) about homework. So when I first went to Eckstein as a volunteer and tutor and encountered students who did this stuff, I was shocked.

Okay, so what's happening? Is it parenting? Could be, although I have wonder if half these kids would pull this stuff with their parents. (Although someone has to be paying for the clothes so at some level parents have some responsibility.) One thing I discovered is this about schools and teachers; there may be a dress code, a code about Ipods, cell phones, etc. but is it enforced? Nope. Many teachers have come to the conclusion that some battles are not worth fighting about or they don't want to be considered a pain. So, at Eckstein, even though there is a no headphones rule, many teachers allow kids to listen to music either while either doing silent reading or doing individual work. Some teachers will call kids on their dress and others just don't want to be bothered or more likely, just don't want to get into it. So you have kids getting mixed signals and more likely to push the envelope simply because there is no across-the-board enforcement.

Here's another example. In most elementaries, there are sponges on the tables and kids have to clean up after themselves before they can go to recess after lunch. However, this ends in middle school so at Eckstein, at least, it can look like a hurricane after lunch. This may be because they don't have enough adults to tell kids, "Pick up after yourself." The few adults there have enough to do just monitoring behavior in the cafeteria.

At Eckstein (and likely most other middle schools) there is a no hat rule. No hats, no bandanas, no chains on the pants and no sunglasses. So my son gets to Roosevelt and yes, they wear hats, bandanas and sunglasses. I asked one teacher about it because I would think it might bother a teacher to not be able to see a kid's face. She said she just didn't want to fight that battle and some kids do it when they are having an off day and don't want to look at anyone.

(I thought about this issue of seeing someone's face with the Virginia Tech tragedy. The shooter frequently wore sunglasses to class and would not speak when spoken to. It certainly made his professors uneasy and I have to wonder how long he had been doing it. Since high school?)

I remember touring Salmon Bay and noticing a lot of gum chewing. Surprising because it normally is not allowed at most schools. I asked about it and was told by the principal that it was a teacher decision. Frankly, it put me off.

So, what is too old school? Is it too old school to want kids to dress as though they are at school and not at home in their rooms? (And if you don't think a 15-year boy sitting behind a girl with a pink thong isn't distracting, then what is?) Should students be required to show their faces in class? Why would a teacher not send a student out who is swearing? Is there a gray area in schools among allowances for teen angst, teen oppositional behavior and just bad behavior? Who decides? The teacher? The principal? And if your child is at an alternative school, does that mean alternative behavior?

I don't know the answers. Like a lot of things involving parents and schools, we bring our own set of experiences and expectations to the table. Clearly, things have stood out to a lot of your during school tours.

What are your expectations about behavior in schools?


Anonymous said...

We toured Denny and noticed the gum thing. Not just a problem in class, but the walkways between buildings were absolutely spattered with flattened gum blobs. We kept silent but some other parent on the tour muttered something loud enough for the tour guide (a high-ranking school employee) to hear. He said something like, "Well, I challenge the kids, if you don't like that, when you come here, change it." Uh, no. It's up to the adults to set some rules. That and several other factors led us to choose another school where the expectations seem a little higher and the kids a bit less out of control.

Anonymous said...

One side of me understands the concept of picking your battles. An example would be to ease up on things like hair and clothes but definitely stand ground on things like behaviors that affect other people.

For most people, I don't think incivility will flourish merely over the chewing of gum, but there are people who find it rude. It makes them uncomfortable. The same with wearing headphones. Chewing and isolating with an MP3 make at least some of us uncomfortable in classroom or a workplace, where it used to be assumed that common courtesy meant nothing that would bother even one in 30.

On the bigger issue of talking back to a teacher, or for that matter another student, I definitely think our colure is ruder than it was 20 years ago.

Lots of schools like to talk about community. I think a big part of building any community is mutual respect, along with the natural consequences that follow when you refuse to practice it. I think new students need to find security in the enforcement of mutual respect from day one, especially when they enter a large middle school.

I worry about the cumulative affect of little battles not waged that lead to a general climate of disrespect. While things like gum chewing and headphones might not bother some of us, I think they're among the signs of rudeness in the mixed company of a classroom. Part of the classroom experience should be preparation for the wider world and how we’ll treat others when we walk out that door. WenG

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm really old school. I am disturbed by all of the behaviors that Melissa outlined, especially the disrespect to adults and other students. When our son was in 3rd grade there was a student who, when frustrated screamed at the teacher and called her a bitch. The teacher would just roller her eyes and shrug. Is it fair though, for all of the other 3rd graders in the class to witness this type of assault? This year (6th grade), my son has a child in his class who has breakdowns and throws books, pencils, slams doors, curses at the other students in the class right in front of the teacher, and absolutely nothing is done about it.

But how can you expect respect when you don't demand or enforce it. Teachers are being called by their first names, kids wear hoods, earphones and thongs at school. Look, school is a place to learn. You can have fun, but your first priority is to come prepared to learn. As for sunglasses (luckily, I haven't seen this yet) they can be worn to hide red, puffy, stoned eyes, not to mention that it is utterly disrespectful in class.

But, we certainly can't just blame the schools. Parents are buying those thongs, and sunglasses??? And, my sons best friend is allowed to curse in his home, even at his mother!!! We had an incident at school recently where a child was sent home for starting a fight at school (beating up another boy). I asked the mother if he would have consequences at home. She said "no, I think he has had a hard enough day already. If I punish him it causes ill feelings at home. I prefer to let the school deal with what happens during school hours" My parents had a different philosophy. I was much more scared of my consequences at home than I was of any consequences that a teacher or principal could give me. It all adds up to a generation of disrespectful kids, and adults (parents and teachers) that turn the other cheek. I am curious to see how this generation of kids with permissive parents turn out. I hope Columbine, and Virginia Tech are not a glimpse of whats to come.

Anonymous said...

The behavior does not just have to be accepted. When we looked at Catholic schools, we noticed that children were much, much better behaved. There was no swearing, and the occasional time that it happened, students were sent to the office and there were severe consequences. Kids wore uniforms, which of course, eliminated the hood/hat, baggy pant, spaghetti strap issues. (I'm not a fan of uniforms, but I can see the benefits in this day and age of anything goes). Teachers were called Mr. and Mrs., classrooms were near and tidy, no gum chewing, and definately no sun glasses. Period. We ultimately chose to stay in public school, but I regret it every day.

Dorothy said...

Where is Sidney Poitier when you need him?

I think you are right about some things, but some things are different these days or we just notice them more. Choosing battles can be reasonable or it can be a cop-out. How much support do teachers have if they want to raise the bar?

My kid, who attends Eckstein, says it's not that bad. But he only goes half day and doesn't have to deal with lunch. He did get hit in the neck with a rubber band in class one day. The perp got bucket duty; is that cleaning the cafeteria?

I've volunteered there once a week all year and haven't seen anything too shocking or intimidating. Certainly nothing like the stories I am reading about here. (is that why they always have a waiting list?)

Chewing gum? Listening to music during quiet reading? Both of these can actually be very helpful for kids to learn. One thing I hated (for my son's sake) about elementary school was the mistaken notion that doodling was a sign of disrespect and therefore not allowed. Doodling allows him to focus and pay better attention to the speaker. He is not alone in that characteristic. Where I taught, gum chewing was allowed at the discretion of the individual teacher. I allowed it if they were quiet about it. If it got loud enough for me to notice, I just brought the trash can down the aisle without saying a word and away it went. But I taught relatively well-behaved kids. As for having chewed gum left on all surfaces, eww, the school really ought to draw the line at that.

As for talking back and "expressing themselves?" Well, some, I think, is healthy. Much harder to be a victim of some sicko or succumb to peer pressure if you are used to speaking up and not blindly conforming to authority. (And don't the academic standards say we want them to think and ask questions? Create their own answers instead of just learning the algorithms taught by adults? (sorry, the former math teacher in me made me make the obscure sarcastic dig)) How to teach kids to hold their ground and speak out without also being disrespectful? While still maintaining academic achievement? That's our job as teachers and parents.

So they argue about what to do in class or about homework. It's our job to say "yeah, I know you don't want to, but you are going to." Acknowledge their pain but maintain authority and move on. Compromise and be flexible sometimes if the situation warrants. Good teachers can and do handle that well.

I remember when my kid was in co-op preschool on the same campus as Hale. Wow, those high school kids looked scary! But now that my kid is that age, they don't look so bad.

Anonymous said...

RE: Melissa's statement about sunglasses in class

" I asked one teacher about it because I would think it might bother a teacher to not be able to see a kid's face. She said she just didn't want to fight that battle and some kids do it when they are having an off day and don't want to look at anyone."

Since when, in school, do kids have the right to not look at anybody?? This is the problem. We give kids so much freedom, and choice, and self gonvernance, that we are actually doing them a diservice. I think kids still need good solid ground rules, set, by responsible adults who see the big picture. No sunglasses in class. Wear them before school, after school, at home, at the mall. Not at school. Why would a school, teacher or parent not want to address this???

Brita said...

Melissa's timing is perfect. The Student Learning Committee of the Board is in process of reviewing the student discipline policies. Take a look at them on the website and let me know if there are specific district-wide policies you would like to see changed, subtracted, or added.

Some of the interesting questions--

What is the role of family? of school?
What rights should students have?
What behaviors are symptoms of a more important problem?
How do cultural expectations factor in--we have about 100 languages spoken in the home and many diverse communities represented in our schools

The Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook is the code of conduct. Take a look at it--staff have revised it in recent years but not sure how much input families and students had.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brita and Melissa,
What a great topic. I definately agree with you Melissa, that behavior at school has grown to be a huge concern for those of us who consider ourselves "old school". I think disrespectful behavior in general has become something that parents and consequently the schools tend to accept, and it is not doing our children any good. I personally don't allow it at home, so when my children go to school and are exposed to it, it bothers me. It influences them and makes my job as a parent all the harder. My children went to alternative schools for awhile, and quite honestly, I thought it was much worse there, than in the traditional schools that they are in now. I understand that some cultural considerations have to be respected when discipline policy is made (no hats/hoods in class, but tubins are OK for religeous purposes), but I hope that otherwise discipline issues will be addressed appropriately. Here is what I would like to see.

Cursing in class should result in a consequence, not just a mild reprimand or a shrug. It is offensive to some children, and they should not be subject to hearing it in a place they are not free to leave/walk away (in class).

Physical violence should result in severe consequences. I know there is policy in place now, but it is not enforced. Many incidents are over looked or at worst the child is sent to the office, and talked to by the councelor or principal. That's not enough for physical violence. Our schools have such a low suspension/expulsion rate, and I thought it was because they are so safe and nice, but it's not. It's because bad behavior is ignored and overlooked so often.

I agree with Melissa that it's all of the little things that add up to the big picture of disrespect. Chewing gum, wearing earphones, sunglasses, inapropriate clothing, vandalism.

Parents are to blame for the current state of disrespect among children, but the school has the right and the obligation to enforce a code of conduct in class. I'm truly scared after the recent incident in Virginia. My son came home and said there were two kids at his school who he thought would be capable of doing someting that violent.

The other issue that I see, is inconsistency among schools. Some schools do a much better job of upholding rules and consequences than others. When my son was in an alternative elementary school he would walk down the hall and kick lockers and kick the front door open, and he and all of his friends would laugh about it. We spoke to him about these behaviors often, but the school did nothing about it, so it went on. All the boys did it, and nobody seemed to care?? He is now at a traditional school, and his teacher would never tolerate such a thing. So my last suggestion is to hold all schools/kids to the same standards, including alternative schools. Just because they have a different approach to education, does not mean they do not have to uphold behavior expectations.

If parents are not willing to monitor and teach their children how to behave themselves, and fit into society, then school has a bigger job. But a job none the less.

classof75 said...

Chewing gum? Listening to music during quiet reading? Both of these can actually be very helpful for kids to learn. One thing I hated (for my son's sake) about elementary school was the mistaken notion that doodling was a sign of disrespect and therefore not allowed. Doodling allows him to focus and pay better attention to the speaker. He is not alone in that characteristic. Where I taught, gum chewing was allowed at the discretion of the individual teacher. I allowed it if they were quiet about it. If it got loud enough for me to notice, I just brought the trash can down the aisle without saying a word and away it went. But I taught relatively well-behaved kids. As for having chewed gum left on all surfaces, eww, the school really ought to draw the line at that.

Agree strongly with above

If disrespect for where they attend school is a problem & I agree that the custodian should not be made to pick up after children making delibrate messes- then as many school wide clean up days as necessary should be instituted,students need to learn what goes into caring for their environment, and that can go for their immediate environment, not only streams and rivers.

My oldest attended private school
They had class meetings, run by students, and behavior may have been one of the things addressed. When students aren't taught to monitor themselves, they tend to push until they see where the boundaries are.

My youngest attended public alternative school for 6 years and now a public comprehensive high school.

In the alternative school, there were great numbers of parents involved.
While the teacher can't be eyes everywhere, the kids seemed to react favorably to someone seen as a "mom or dad" and would correct their behavior.

( I also think teacher conduct is important, when teachers are too casual and seem to have lower standards, it can be confusing for kids when they need a mentor for structure- as can be a problem with some teachers who don't seem to understand themselves , what is "alternative"?
Alternative isn't casual drug use, alternative shouldn't be no guidelines, alternative doesnt mean being their pal)

In the comprehensive high school, teachers are not only seen as role models in the classroom but outside.

Students are often taught- subtly, that inappropriate dress and behavior is not only a sign of disrespect of others, but yourself.

Some districts don't even allow hoodies and such- but I do agree that part of classroom participation is not hiding behind a cloak ( or sunglasses)

Anonymous said...

I pick my kids up at Washington Middle School twice a week, and while I certainly notice a lot of rowdiness and "attitude" going on, I haven't seen anything very terrible (am pretty sure I have not seen any thongs). Some of the kids are loud and talk back, and don't always look completely pleasant to deal with, but I haven't seen anything that's as bad as what I remember from my own school days, for the most part. Most of the loudness seems to be perfectly cheerful.

I suppose my feelings are influenced by my having been utterly miserable in Seattle middle schools myself (I was at Madrona and Meany), and seeing that my daughters are far more comfortable and happy there.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

That is true. Despite a huge increase in disrespect to adults, I think violence has drastically decreased. I have a son in middle school who has never been in a fist fight. And, when I just asked him if he'd ever witnessed one at school he said no. Maybe it's because the school tolerates a lot of horsing around and goofing off. I think being allowed to horse around a bit at recess (elementary), kids get some of that natural boy testosterone/aggression out in healthier ways. IE they don't have to fight. Though there is some verbal bullying, my son says he has never witnessed any physical bullying. So, at least on the physical front, I think we have made tons of progress. At least compared to when I went to school.

Anonymous said...

Someone started this off by saying they toured Denny, and there's more to Denny than gum blobs on a guided tour. For one thing, a parent here in West Seattle told me that Denny is now academically a good choice compared to Madison.

But the neighborhoods around there are still pretty tough. I remember reading in the past few years in the paper about police and others trying to stop planned meetups between groups of black and hispanic students on game days at the nearby stadium.

A recent story in The Stranger talks about students and crime at Denny and how some people in White Center and South Park are dealing with it. The story is about two competing gyms and their student boxing programs:

The Gloves Come Off

Roughly half these kids are never going to make it through high school, no matter what. But Denny is a bright spot for many kids, and could be brightened up a lot more if the School Board and administration really put some effort into it. It's worth it and those kids are worth it. Not everybody lives in NE Seattle.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I hope I didn't give anyone the wrong idea about my feelings about Eckstein and/or teenagers.

Eckstein is very good school, full to the brim with bright, high energy kids who are mostly just being kids. It is a big switch for many kids to no longer have recess so lunch does tend to be loud and noisy but I never saw any fighting. (Eckstein also has a lot of outlets for energy during lunch like a small rock wall, outside access, game room and library.) The girls are just trying to look like the girls on the OC or The Hills; I wanted to look like Susan Dey or Marcia Brady.

I have no beef with teenagers (I have two of them) except that, from my own experience, kids today are a lot mouthier to adults than any kid was "back in the day". I also did not mean to say kids should not express their own thoughts and ideas in class. I tutored an LA class at Eckstein and was amazed at how bright and thoughtful kids could be in expressing themselves. I think many (if not most) teenagers today are so much more sophisticated, savvy and have many opportunities open to them (especially because of the Internet) than I ever was.

But they are still kids who need guidance and consistency and adults to be adults.

classof75 said...

I don't think social and academic as well as economic challenges are restricted to any particular neighborhood. In Seattle or anywhere else.

For example-
homes in the area around my childs alternative school in North Seattle- ( 2005)are selling for $336,000- median price per sq ft $236

Homes in the Seattle Central district are selling for $400,000, median price per sq ft $295.

Obviously one neighborhood is more desirable and has a higher price tag, although availability is similar.

IMO- community and parents are what matters- if the parents cant step up then we need the community supports to be there- but I don't think the schools should be the only or even the main place where children get guidance and structure.

And for petes sake, given the districts fumbling the basics like math and reading for all schools & students, why would we leave other fundamentals like appropriate conduct and values up to them?

Sorry I was thinking the problem with the gum was at Meany
but re Denny- how is Jeff Clark doing?
He was a good fit for his previous building- but I think it was his decision from what I hear to go to Denny-
middle school is a challenging time- which is one reason why I like K-8 schools- particulary with looping or mixed grades so teachers have students for more than one year.
I have seen a great deal of growth when students are allowed to be the "teachers" or the older ones in teh classroom- as well as when they are challenged by older/more accomplished students

Students whose younger sibs attend the school may see their peers behavior with a more critical eye, and take more responsibility towards their job as role model.