Sunday, November 8, 2009

What Does the Survey Say??

Its hard to fathom how quickly this year is going by. Can you believe that Thanksgiving vacation begins in a little more than two weeks? Quite honestly, August 19th feels like yesterday to me. The 6th graders move around like grizzled veterans, the 7th graders seem to grow taller every single day, and the 8th graders mature by the minute. I often wondered growing up how my father taught for so many years (this year is his 37th and final), but I realize now just how quickly the years go by when you are teaching. Because things move so quickly, and we have so little time to stop and think about "how things are going" until holiday breaks and summer, I decided to survey some advisee groups. As all of us know, one of the great things about middle school students is that they will tell you how they feel about things. Its refreshing and sometimes humbling (i.e. a student asked me last week "if I forgot to shave today...guess they do notice those things:)...), so I was confident that I'd get some candid answers from the surveys.

The "survey" that I had the advisee groups complete was simple and completely unscientific in nature. I gave the students two boxes, one asking the "thing(s) they like the most about middle school at PDS" and the other asking the "thing(s) they like the least about middle school at PDS." 31 students ended up completing the survey anonymously, and, surprisingly, the answers were very similar.

The two things most often cited in the "like the most" category were the length of lunches, and the caring nature of their teachers. This is not surprising because the 8th graders take great pride in having the annex as their "private" dining area, and they truly make the most of the extra time to socialize, hang out, and play. Since this is my first year in middle school I have nothing as a basis for comparison, but this 8th grade class seems like a tight-knit bunch who enjoy hanging out with each other, and who, for the most part, treat each other with dignity and respect. Its amazing how this changes when they move into upper school where the 9th and 10th grade classes always struggle with identity issues and 11th graders are overloaded with stress. Its not until 12th grade where each class regains its respective identity.

The "caring nature of their teachers" shouldn't surprise anyone who knows and loves PDS. This is a SPECIAL group of teachers who are committed to supporting our middle school students through the emotional roller coaster know as middle school. Because of the "in between" nature of middle school, I'm convinced that middle school teachers never get the amount of credit they deserve for leading young people from lower school to upper school. When I asked a teacher over the summer to describe middle school, they said it was "the bridge between lower school and upper school...but keep in mind that its a SUSPENSION bridge...that isn't very sturdy most of the time:)" I'm happy to hear that our middle school students appreciate the professional staff that supports them.

The two things cited consistently in the "like the least" category are the dress code and the amount of homework each night. I can honestly say that I've learned a lot about the many subtle, yet important, differences in women's dress, and I've spent a significant amount of time discussing the dress code with girls. The biggest "problem" that many girls have with the dress code is that they cannot wear t-shirts or blouses that look like t-shirts. The challenge with any dress code is that the "line" needs to be drawn somewhere, and this is where the line is at PDS. The point I've made to the young ladies who've asked is that "allowing girls to wear t-shirts would create an additional challenge to the boys' dress code, because the boys are required to wear a collared shirt." The girls' dress code has more "freedom" as it stands, and adding t-shirts to the list of approved dress for girls might provide proof to the boys who say "girls can wear whatever they want..."

As for homework, I'm not surprised that it makes the top of most lists. I can't think of anyone who ENJOYS homework, but that doesn't mean that there isn't real value to doing work after the "official" school day ends. Some subjects (i.e. Math, World Language) greatly benefit from nightly practice, and I can't see a positive scenario that doesn't include homework in these areas. The challenge is that many of our middle schoolers have jam-packed schedules where they are literally doing something for 14 hours a day. I wish that there was a way to support the large percentage of our students who are talented in so many ways and committed in so many productive areas. As we all know in all areas of life, its very easy to add something new, but its hard to take something away. There is no better example than our different levels of government. It doesn't matter where you stand on the political spectrum, but we can all agree that government spending is constantly increasing regardless of what political party is in charge.

Thanks again for reading. I'd love to hear what you think about the "best" and "worst" things about middle school at PDS. Feel free to e-mail me or put a note in my mailbox if you don't feel comfortable posting a response. Have a fantastic week,

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