Thursday, February 09, 2006

You Can Lead a Horse to Water...

If Jerry Seinfeld was a teacher, he might lament: What's the deal with late work? Why isn't there a simple way to get students to do work on time. I'm not Jerry Seinfeld, but I am a teacher who is struggling with this dilemma.

"Procrastinate" is one of those strange words that a disproportionate number of Americans like to use. This is probably because we have become a nation of procrastinators. This explains the billions of dollars in credit card debt in this country. I can't help but wonder: is there a cure for this putting-off of important things, like homework and getting notes signed? Or is this epidemic, which afflicts most of my students, incurable?

In general, my late work policy has been working well, although it remains far from perfect. Currently, I penalize students 10 points (out of 100) for handing in an assignment one day late, 20 points for two days late, and 30 points for three or more days late. The result is that some students turn their work in on time, but many will blow off their work until the week before grades close, creating a logjam of late work for me to grade. The con is that kids lose points for late work, but there is no difference in the punishment between three days late and three weeks late.

I know some teachers do not accept late work. This is setting the bar very high. I have considered doing this, but fear that it would result in many more students failing my class. An alternative approach is not to assign homework, and many teachers in my school and elsewhere do not assign homework. But I feel homework is necessary for supplementing lessons and practicing for assessments, most notably the state test.

In the end, I guess there is no perfect system. I am satisfied with penalizing late work for now: but I hope my students begin to avoid these late penalities.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

White Men Can Jump

Hollandale, Mississippi was the site of a slaughter two weeks ago. Six intrepid employees of the school district, including Aaron Thompson and I, competed against Hollandale community members (aka street ballers) in a competitive game of basketball. Basketball is a beautiful sport, but the result of this contest was not very pretty.

Befitting our school, which seems to do everything on the fly (to put it euphemistically), the school team did not practice together before the big game. Around 200 fans showed up to watch us play together for the first time. Aaron and I started, along with brand-new English teacher Mr. McClaren, fifty-something year-old Principal Liddell, and two support staff members, including another fifty year old, Mr. Young. Our opponents were all serious ballers in their twenties and thirties, including three young men who in 2001 were members of the Simmons High team that won states. Not one of the teachers had played high school ball post-1974.

The much younger and much better community hoopsters got off to an early lead. They full court pressed us into embarassing mistakes and seemed to make every shot. They scored the first 12 points before Aaron got our team onto the board. The quarters were 13 minutes apiece, but seemed to go on forever. Occasionally, our students would shout encouragement to us during timeouts. My freshmen told me I needed to dunk the ball. In the third quarter, when we were down by about 30, I decided to take their advice.

I had the ball at the top of the arc when I noticed the right side of the lane was wide open. I learned later that Aaron had set a screen on one of the defenders to open this hole. Without thinking, I dribbled twice toward the hoop, leapt into the air, and threwdown a one-handed dunk. As I landed I could hear the crowd roar with approval. I thrust a finger skyward in a victory salute, and slapped hands with my beleagured teammates. I soon remembered we were still losing by almost 30, but the fact that I dunked in front of so many of my students made the loss less embarassing.

The next day, students I didn't even know were talking to me about my dunk. It was great. The funniest comment of them all came from senior wise-guy Derrick Martin. At lunch he approached me with a straight face. "I saw your game last night, Mr. Hebert."
"Oh? What did you think, Derrick."
"I guess that white men can jump."
In a school that is 100 percent black, I could appreciate the compliment.