2/11/2014

Teaching Tuesday: Good Schools Have

When Ironflower started kindergarten, it was a common (now banned) practice for the parents to wait in the hallway where the kids lined up, at least for the few minutes until the para-educator got there. Since she was in afternoon kindergarten, this meant that I got to observe the third graders returning to their classrooms from the lunch room.

It freaked me out.

Not only were the kids not in line, they were talking. There would just be this big group of chattering, happy kids surrounding the teacher as they walked down the hall. I had never seen anything like it.

My students had to be in a straight line in the hall. They had to be silent. They had to have their arms folded so that they wouldn't touch each other. The worst was trying to get them to do that after lunch or recess (Kansas law dictated that recess and lunch could not follow or precede each other, which really just wasted a lot time with lining up twice as much and finding something not too time-consuming to do between the two), when they were all hyper and happy. Making them walk around like prison inmates always cured that. It sucked.

If you have a choice about where your kids go to school, or are moving and looking for new schools, please visit the school if you can. Preferably around lunch time. A good school isn't just about test scores. It's about the attitudes of the staff and students, it's about opportunities, it's about the culture of learning.



  • No problem with prospective parents wanting to visit
  • Students who can walk through the halls without having to keep their arms folded
  • Actual student work on the walls, not cutesy pre-made bulletin boards. Or even worse, nothing. 
  • Recess. Recess is vital to kids' well-being and districts who don't realize that are way, way, way behind the times. 
  • Art, Music and PE. The broke, urban district I taught in prioritized these classes; I think it's one of the reasons that it's one of the more successful urban districts in the country. 
  • Classrooms that are neither eerily quiet nor chaotically loud
  • Staff members who can manage kids without yelling at or speaking over them
  • Plans in place for disasters. It's horrible to think about, but it's even more horrible to think of tragedies that could have been prevented or lessened with disaster drills/plans in place. Think of it as just a step beyond the fire drill.
  • Grade level teachers who work and even possibly teach together. In first and second grade reading, for example, you can have a massively wide range of abilities. Last year, Lovebug didn't have a reading group for a while, it was just him meeting occasionally with his teacher - he thought he was in trouble. It was just that no one else in his class was on the same reading level, but I guarantee that with 3 other first grade classes, there were other kids in the grade on his level. Why have each teacher try to manage 7 or 8 levels in their room instead of mixing kids up into appropriate levels for the reading period? I don't know. 
  • Parent volunteer opportunities that are genuinely helpful. I student taught in an urban district in Portland, then did a lot of subbing and long term subbing in a Seattle suburb. We didn't necessarily have a lot of parent volunteers, but the ones we did have came in to help with actual, important tasks - correcting papers, working with individual students, cutting out the construction paper shapes needed for a math lesson and so on. In Kansas City, we very rarely had parent volunteers, except on some field trips. And then there's here, where there are a ton of volunteers that photograph everything and do elaborate crafts, but (despite there being legions of former teachers and tons of smart people) never get to do anything academic. It seems silly and wasteful of resources. 
  • Options for when the copier breaks down. I think worksheets can have their place, but if that's all the kids do? If that's all you see in the hanging in the hallways? If that's all you see kids doing? Then there's a problem. No one should be too upset if the copier breaks down for a few days.
  • No open positions. The positions in good schools fill up fast, because people actually want to work there. 

33 comments:

Masshole Mommy said...

In our schools there is no talking in the hallway at all. If the kids are caught talking or whispering, they lose recess time.

Emily Stephens said...

When we visited my son's current school for the first time, I was so impressed with the manners of all the children! They were all respectful and courteous. Also, instead of the teaching telling me what the class does during the day, she asked the students to.

I'm so happy with the school we found - it is a perfect fit for our family!

(Terry) My Journey With Candida said...

When I was in school, we always talked in the hallways. It was a place to socialize. I like manners, but sometimes being strict doesn't make for happy kids.

Beth said...

Sounds like a lot of things to think about. We opted out of public school, but good tips for parents who choose public education :)

Nicole said...

I completely agree with you, especially about recess! My son is in 3rd grade. Since Kindergarten, he's gotten a whopping 15 minutes of recess each day. That includes the time it takes to line up, go outside and come back in. If a child so much as blinks the wrong way, recess is ripped away from them. They have to walk like good little soldiers and NEVER EVER talk in line. I despise his school and can't wait to get out of this district.

Triplezmom said...

@Masshole Mommy - Now that I think about it, I hate that rule. Wouldn't it be better to teach them to talk quietly?

@Emily - That sounds lovely! Visits done right.

@Terry - I don't remember the rule in elementary school, but I know we did in middle school.

@Beth - I hope it can help someone out!

@Nicole - That sounds awful. I'm so sorry. Though some schools have gotten rid of it entirely, so I guess it could be even worse.

Ashley B. said...

It is truly so hard to find decent schools who don't expect the world of young children. I pulled my son out of a school because they were horrible. He is now in a fantastic school and I could not be happier!

mail4rosey said...

I wonder why the state wouldn't let them have recess and lunch one right after the other.

I was in an elementary school for a day one time (visiting guest) and saw a teacher screaming (at the top of her lungs and for a long time) at a line of Kindergartners. I was shocked. She stopped the line right in front of the principal's office, for effect or coincidence I do not know. It stuck with me... I felt bad for the students. You could tell it was the norm.

MikiHope said...

I don't really remember grade school any more but I remember we always had PE every day--inside if the weather was bad outside. The only time we had to line up was at a fire drill! Needless to say this was and still is an extremely good school district from K thru 12th grade!

AMBER EDWARDS said...

I didn't realize Kansas had a state law about recess and lunch being together in the schedule. that is odd.

I love your list on how to spot a good school. My school hit about half of those. I'm not 100% happy with my school, but when I compare it to the other schools in our town, ours is still the best out of the other choices.

Amberlee said...

I agree. You should definitely visit the school you put your children in. I am very paranoid about where I am putting my children!

Lawna Noe said...

My son will be starting kindergarden this year. I am going to put him in the same school as my oldest went to kindergarden at.

Theresa Mahoney said...

Our schools encourage us to come to lunch or to the classroom to participate. We actually have something called 3 for me, where they want each parent to spend at least 3 hours a year with their child during the school day each year.

becca said...

my son's school have always been really good and son enjoys going. Plus they have no trouble with parents coming in and viewing the class in progress

Sarah-Louise Bailey said...

I remember changing schools and going around all the new ones as I got a choice - still to this day I don't know if I picked the right one - it can be so daunting walking around. Great list of things to look out for. x

amanda ripsam said...

Its hard for me to talk in person to my kids teacher because they don't allow other kids to hear about concerns parents have for their kid it's a privacy issue apparently so we have a communication note book and we exchange emails.

Vinma said...

My son just started Kindergarten...I am yet to learn and process the rules of his school. Your post is the first real glimpse to that world. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Pam said...

I used to teach elementary school and I hated the no talking rule as much as the kids! I could see being quiet in the hall to not disturb other classes but the no talking in the lunchroom and hall bothered me.

Jennifer Williams said...

I used to hate seeing the children lined up and forced to be quiet and a lot of time is wasted on that. I had one teacher ask for a conference because my oldest was disruptive during their play practicing - he was four and they practiced for 3 straight hours - I would be restless too.

Jennifer Williams said...

I used to hate seeing the children lined up and forced to be quiet and a lot of time is wasted on that. I had one teacher ask for a conference because my oldest was disruptive during their play practicing - he was four and they practiced for 3 straight hours - I would be restless too.

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

I think there are times for quiet and times not. After lunch when most everyone is in transit, talking is fine! If a class is moving through the school during school hours, they should probably be quiet so as not to disturb other classrooms.

Amber Nelson said...

Those are all good things to expect of a school.

Casa Vilora Interiors said...

Our schools here in Katy TX are pretty good and have a lot of procedures in place. Everything is pretty organized.

Coolmoms Cooltips said...

so, I think teachers are heroes. I can't see myself doing any of the rules or no rules now.Not sure all things evolve for the better, but as we educate our pride and joys, we do rely of crazy school rules and teachers for a mind full of goodness.... teachers rule

Pam said...

I worked for the second largest school district in the US for almost 25 years and I have seen schools managed many different ways. I do think that having very few open positions is a good indication of good things going on at that school.

Tough Cookie Mommy said...

These are definitely some of the qualities of a good school. Unfortunately, the reality in some schools is much different sometimes.

Aisha Kristine Chong said...

I can't remember in specific how things were during my grade school days but it was a lot of fun - they have strict protocols but the students still felt free in a way, learned and enjoyed ourselves.

Melissa Pezza said...

In our school, the kids can't talk at recess or no recess! Also no talking at lunch-crazy right?!

Ronnie E. said...

I was raised similarly in school. We had to be quiet and walk in a line, we had a line leader as well. We learned to be polite and know our place.

It's a huge difference with what I notice happening in schools here in Israel. The children here are rambunctious and disorganized, loud and rude - because the teachers allow it. Drives me nuts.

Katherine Phillips said...

This is a great list. Unfortunately many schools where I live have done away with recess. Now both my kids are in middle school and there are no breaks there. Would be great if they had free time to just be kids.

Michelle Garrett said...

Interesting list! I love going to the schools and seeing the children happy and laughing while they are learning.

Amanda Love said...

Great list. I checked out my kids school before they attended. My kids were in private school and they weren't happy. They are now in public school and I'm a few dollars richer because I now save my tuition fee.

Amanda Love said...

Great list. I checked out my kids school before they attended. My kids were in private school and they weren't happy. They are now in public school and I'm a few dollars richer because I now save my tuition fee.