Category Archives: summer school

Summer School: Day of Reckoning

Final decisions were made this morning about which sixth-graders to promote and which to retain. There were only two retentions. One of them, unfortunately, was J-Boy. His poor attendance and his almost perfect record of failing grades for the entire year made it impossible to consider promotion, so we’ll be seeing him in sixth grade again in the fall.

C-Boy pestered me all week about whether or not he was going to be retained. He has an IEP and because I’m the head of our school’s special ed team, the decision to retain or promote was in my hands.

C-Boy was clearly worried, and Thursday I found out why: He had repeated second grade. When I told him there was a possibility that he could be retained again, he said, “Then I’m going to drop out.”

His comment made me decide against retention, although I said nothing at that moment. We have a high enough dropout rate in this district without giving kids excuses to leave school.

C-Boy was clearly worried, however, because today for the first time during the whole summer school session, he got serious about reading. We expected every student to read and test on enough Accelerated Reader books to accumulate at least nine points—and preferably 12— by the end of summer school. By this morning, C-Boy had reached only 33 percent of his nine-point goal.

Even though Co-Teacher and I were showing a movie related to the Holocaust and Number the Stars, C-Boy chose to read. All day long he read one book after another. (They were, obviously, short books.) As soon as he finished reading, he’d take the AR test. His lowest score was 80 percent. By day’s end, he had narrowed the gap between his achievement and his goal from 33 percent to 76 percent. Unwittingly, C-Boy had proved that he could do what was expected of him in the classroom, instead of just sitting there looking bored or dozing off.

C-Boy had too many deficiencies in his record to actually promote him to seventh grade, but the team agreed to place him in seventh grade—provided that he participate in mandatory after-school tutoring for the entire year. C-Boy got the news about 30 minutes before the dismissal bell. While he was not happy with the tutoring proviso, he was nevertheless relieved that he doesn’t have to repeat sixth grade.

And I’m relieved that we have probably prevented at least one kid from dropping out.

Summer School: Day 13

Two incidents stand out from today’s time with the kids, one heartrending, and one amusing. As I walked into the building early this morning, Co-Teacher, who was on duty in the cafeteria, saw me and said, “We have a problem.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“J-Boy showed up this morning.” (J-Boy had been sent home yesterday with orders not to return, after he hit another kid in the head with a ball of paper.)

“I’ll let Mrs. M know,” I said and went immediately to the library to find the summer school director. Mrs. M went to the cafeteria and escorted J-Boy to the library. (I’m not sure she even let him eat breakfast.) She filled out the appropriate paperwork to have our security officer transport the child home.

I couldn’t dwell long on J-Boy’s plight. I had some testing to do with N-Boy. We went to the library right after breakfast, so that N-Boy could finish the Functional Word Recognition Assessment of the Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Essential Skills. The warning/safety signs section contains 40 words and phrases such as danger, poison, police, wet paint and please use handrail.

After stumbling badly over some of the words and phrases, N-Boy looked around the library to see if anyone was listening, and then whispered to me conspiratorially, “It’s OK, you can tell me—there’s nobody here.”

I laughed—but didn’t tell him any answers.

Later in the day I heard that J-Boy was crying as he left for home with the security officer.

Maybe he had reason to cry. Maybe his home life is such that he wants to stay away as much as possible. Or maybe he wept because he felt like an abject failure for having gotten kicked out of summer school.

I think we’d better find out.

Summer School: Day 12

J-Boy lost his spot in our classroom today, along with his chance to promote to seventh grade. He’s turned in very little work over the last two weeks, and he’s often been out of his seat wandering around the classroom, despite repeated warnings not to do so.

Still, Co-Teacher and I have been reluctant to dismiss him from summer school. He’s a smart and likeable (but lazy) kid, who often makes poor choices—and today he made one poor choice too many.

The students were busy working on an assignment when, for some reason known only to him, J-Boy crumpled a sheet of paper and threw it at one of the other boys, striking him in the face—in full view of Co-Teacher. The victim yelled—and so did Co-Teacher.

“That’s it! Pack your things! You’re going home!” Co-Teacher shot out of her seat and marched J-Boy to the office.

At day’s end, as we escorted the students to the buses, I said to Co-Teacher, “I kind of hate to see J-Boy go.”

“So do I,” she said.

However, unless Co-Teacher has a change of heart and intercedes for him at tomorrow’s teachers meeting, J-Boy’s fate is sealed: He’ll be in sixth grade again next year.

Retention isn’t the end of J-boy’s life, of course, and something good might come out of his having to repeat sixth grade. Yet I can’t help but wonder what else we could have done to ensure J-Boy’s success in summer school and his promotion to seventh grade.

Summer School: Day 11

The students are getting restless—too much pent-up energy, and no way to release it except by mouthing off, so it was no surprise that the following exchange took place this morning:

Student: You got a pencil?

Me: No.

Student: I need a pencil.

Me: I thought you had a pencil. What were you using?

Student: My nose.

These kids are just a year or two younger than I was when I gave my first smart-ass answer to an adult’s question. The summer I was 14, our family had just moved from Vermont to a small town in Kansas. Jobs for young teens were scarce, so my dad bought a new lawn mower, hoping that my brother and I could earn some cash by building a yard-maintenance business.

I was always on the lookout for shaggy lawns, which meant potential new customers. I knocked at the door of one house with a particularly jungly front yard. A stunningly beautiful woman answered. “I was wondering if you’d like for me and my brother to mow your lawn,” I stammered.

“How much do you charge?” she asked.

“We can negotiate the price,” I said.

“Let me ask my husband.” She left me standing at the door while she consulted her spouse. She returned a couple of minutes later with another question: “Are you going to use your lawn mower?”

“No,” I retorted, without thinking, “I’m going to use my teeth.”

“All right, wise guy, that’s not what I meant. Are you going to use your mower or ours?”

Amazingly, Sue and Art Lewrenz hired me to mow their lawn for the rest of the summer. Sue must have known that adolescents often open their mouths without thinking, and she must have been in a generous mood that day, willing to overlook my transgression.

As a middle-school teacher, I’m called upon to overlook transgressions daily. Choosing my battles, I ignore a lot of smart-ass remarks. It’s good for the kids, good for me, and good for the health of our classroom community.

Summer School: Day 10

Co-Teacher and I had a project left over from last week that we decided to try today: writing acrostic poems. These kids are no strangers to acrostics; they’ve written them throughout the year. After we gave them a list of proper names from the story, they went to work. Or tried to.

While they were pondering what to write, I dashed off four of my own:

Insists that Annemarie
Read a
Story about
The kings and queens
In olden times.

Was not in the hands of the
During the war; the
Enemy did
Not care about Sweden.

Inge did
Go to Sweden with
Ellen and the Rosens.

Everywhere by a Gestapo car.

OK, OK, the last one is rather grisly, and I shared it only with Co-Teacher, not with the kids. However, I can’t help but think that most of the boys would have relished it, precisely because of the implied guts and gore.

While I scribbled my acrostics, the kids tapped their pencils and stared into space. Most of them ended up stringing together discrete words from the story, like this:


Maybe their lack of creativity was because today was Monday. Or maybe it was because these kids are just plain sick of school (they got only a one-week break between the end of the school year and the start of summer school) and their brains are malfunctioning.

Despite the poor quality of most of the acrostics (it didn’t help that they wrote them on black construction paper in pencil so that I have to squint to read them!), T-Girl’s creation “worked.” You can see it in the photo.

Yeah, she could have improved the placement of the lines on the paper, but I’m not going to be too critical. After all, she’s a kid who usually complains about every assignment (“That’s boring! I don’t want to do that!”), but today she jumped into the project willingly and completed it quickly.

Maybe this is the heart of today’s lesson: Creativity can blossom when you stop complaining.

Summer School: Day 8

Kids’ stomachs are bottomless pits, so it was no surprise when this exchange took place in our classroom at least two hours before lunch:

S-Boy: What’s for lunch? I’m hungry!

Me: Recycled food.

S-Boy: Barf?

Me: Yeah, barf on toast.

Satisfied that some kind of lunch would be offered at the appropriate time, S-Boy went back to work.

Summer School: Day 8

Because the summer school director needed to consult with me about the fate of some students this morning, I was late for my first-period class. No problem. My co-teacher had taken charge and introduced the lesson. As I entered the room, she was reading aloud to the students from Number the Stars:

Annemarie looked at the Rosens, sitting there, wearing the misshapen, ill-fitting clothing, holding ragged blankets folded in their arms, their faces drawn and tired.

What? What was that dissonant note?

Instead of saying misshapen, Ms. L had said “mis-happen.” (I knew that a mishap could occur, but I didn’t know that something could “mis-happen.”)

She kept reading and I didn’t say anything. It’s one thing to correct a student who mispronounces a word, another to correct a colleague—especially in front of students. Besides, I’m the only one who flinched; nobody else noticed anything amiss.

My co-teacher may not be perfect, but neither am I. Until I was 28 years old, I thought remuneration was “renumeration”—and that’s exactly how I pronounced it (much to my mortification in retrospect).

I’ve mellowed a lot over the years. Much of my abrasiveness has been worn away. I now know that extending even a little charity to others goes a long way toward building harmonious relationships. More than anything else, I want to be working with my fellow teachers and not against them.

Summer School: Day 7

The students were moving from one task to another, some of them (the ones who desperately need glasses) taking positions at tables close to the board. I was gesticulating to make a point when J-Boy walked in front of me—and my flailing hand whacked the tip of his nose.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah,” he said. (Not that he would have admitted to being injured—it’s a guy thing.)

“Are you sure?”


“Because I don’t want blood spurting all over the place.”

J-Boy smiled, still rubbing his nose.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “this is the first time ever in my career as a teacher that I have hit a student—and J-Boy is the lucky guy who got the first hit.”

The students cheered and applauded—even J-Boy—and then we all went back to work.

Sometimes the best way to handle life’s disruptions, disappointments and deadly assaults is with levity—because if you can’t laugh, you’re dead.

Summer School: Day 6

As we read—quickly—through Number the Stars, we preview each chapter by looking at a list of comprehension questions. One of the questions for Chapter 8 asks students to give (and, presumably, support) their opinion:

Why, when his sister and nieces were visiting, would Uncle Henrik spend the whole night on his boat?

After reading the chapter, the students attempted to answer the question. Their answers were varied, ranging from fanciful (but amusing) to thoughtful. The former included:

So he won’t be in a house with all ladies.

He probably doesn’t want to be irritated.

Because he was scared of them and he could not let his sister push him around.

Because he don’t get along with his sister and his nieces don’t like Henrik.

Among the thoughtful responses were these:

So he can get things ready for taking Ellen to Sweden, and get there for a safety [sic] trip.

The soldiers might steal his boat.

…so he could keep an eye out to see if it is safe to go to Sweden…

Hearing the sea slap against the side of the boat.

I think it’s worth returning to the question tomorrow and asking the students to point to evidence in the text that supports their position. (“Specifics!” I can hear my high school English teacher saying. “Give me specifics!”)

How else are they going to learn to think?

Summer School: Day 5

My co-teacher and I had our electronic grade book open as the students lined up to be escorted to the bus. B-Girl rushed over to our desk and asked eagerly, “What do I have in math?”

“You?” I said, feigning disappointment. “About a 20 percent.”

“No way!”

“How do you know?” I said.

“Because,” B-Girl replied, “I believe in myself and I can’t get anything less than an 80 percent.”

“Well, you have a 93,” I conceded. (It’s the highest math grade in the class at the moment.)

B-Girl exudes self-confidence. She doesn’t get everything right, but she tries—hard—and when she makes a mistake, she tries to figures out what went wrong and attempts to fix it. She’s not afraid to ask questions when she doesn’t understand, and she is rarely off task.

I wish all of our students were like B-Girl.

Instead, we have A-Boy, who falls asleep in class—every day. Today was his last chance to stay awake in summer school, and he blew it. The director sent A-Boy home with a note to his parents, saying that he need not return tomorrow and that he will be retained in sixth grade next year.

We have K-Boy, who catches on to new concepts right away, but prefers not to participate in the guided practice portion of the lesson. Alas, when it comes time for independent practice, K-Boy is woefully unprepared and has to ask for help again and again.

And we have C-Boy, who usually neglects to bring his Accelerated Reading book to school, and, as a consequence, must sit out the entire SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) period staring into space or dozing.

What does it take, I wonder, to turn students who are indifferent to learning into students who hunger for knowledge so fiercely that they will not tolerate any impediment to their progress?