How Are Students Placed In Classes?

Have you ever wondered: how are students placed in classes? How are they separated? What are the factors that are involved? Do the teachers do it or does the principal do it? Can I as a parent have some say in the matter? What about new students?

In all likelihood, you child’s school has a process just like every one of the schools where I’ve worked. At the first school where I worked as a teacher, there were 5 grade level teachers. At this school, the teachers did the bulk of the work in sorting the students into classes for the following school year. Starting in May, we completed a grouping card for each student in our class. These were color coded (pink for girls and blue for boys–yes gender stereotyped colors, but simple for everyone to recognize), 4×6 index cards that included information such as: overall ability level, special needs (ie. Special Education, Gifted, or ELL–English Language Learner), allergies, wears glasses, overall behavior, degree of parent involvement, names of other students from whom to be separated or placed with together, special interests/talents, and space for the current teacher to write any additional information that may be helpful to the next teacher.

Then in June, the teachers at each grade level met to place students into two classes for the following grade based upon a number of factors: student’s personality (and teacher style), individual needs, gender, and balance in ability level and behavior concerns. Teachers typically avoided placement of twins/triplets, members of the same family, as well as any students who may have had difficulty getting along with each other in the past. In my opinion, teachers are best equipped to do placement as they know the students within the school setting and usually know their teaching colleagues in the next grade level. It is a challenging task with the ultimate end goal being two heterogeneous, balanced classes. Then the principal would look over the lists one final time for any adjustments (typically letting us know of any changes) and kept them in her office over the summer.

This has been the process that I’ve also seen at a couple of the other schools where I worked.

The most difficult part of the placement process is that even after classes are created, things change over the summer–families move out of the area, parents/guardians decide to move to a different school, new families enroll, teachers resign and new ones are hired. Each of these factors could easily lead to an imbalance in the classes that were originally and tentatively created.

For example: The fluctuation of student enrollment, could potentially lead to a very imbalanced class. For example:

• One 2nd grade class with 15 returning students and 10 new students.
• The other 2nd grade class having 24 returning students and just 1 new student.
• Imagine then that the class with 10 new students was 8 female and 2 male.
• Imagine what that does to the balance of gender in that class.
• It also throws off the ratio of returning students to new students, which is critical to the culture of that classroom as returning students tend to be readily acclimated to the positive school culture and expectations of the existing school students.

If this type of situation were to occur, those two classes would need to be re-balanced for the long-term success of those classes. This could potentially happen even after school has started.

At the various schools where I’ve worked, I’ve never posted class lists until a few days before school started. My main reasoning for this was because of the ebb and flow of enrollment which often occurs all the way through the first couple of weeks of school. So I would delay the release of class lists until the last possible moment so that it’s hopefully as final as a class list can be. I think it’s worse to release class lists early and then have to move a number of students around AFTER they’ve already come to know what class they were going to be in. In the past, I’ve found that is much harder on students and frankly it’s not critical to announce class lists that early especially knowing that enrollment changes up and even following the first day of school.

Ultimately, the goal for each school is to create balanced, heterogeneous classes, which makes for the most productive learning environment for all.

I’m preparing two separate posts about whether parents should be allowed to choose their child’s teacher. I see both sides of the coin on that one. I’ll also write about the middle/high school process as it’s a bit different.

When does your child find out which teacher they will have for the following year? When would you like to find out which teacher they’ll have?

What Happened to Field Trips?

Have you ever wondered, “What ever happened to field trips? Do kids still go on field trips?”

When I was a teacher a long time ago, we took our third grade students on several field trips throughout the year. From what I can recall, there were around 5 total, including a big day trip to downtown Chicago, which was the culminating trip for our Chicago unit. (At the time, the history of Chicago was a required part of the curriculum in Illinois.) This field trip was a lot of fun because we took the kids to the Sears Tower (now, sadly, called the Willis Tower) and a bus tour of the city. Although as a teacher I wasn’t a big fan of field trips, simply because they are hectic, I felt they were a value add to the kids’ learning experience.

The fellow grade level teachers and I planned the field trips (where to go and when) together and then ran it past our principal for approval, almost always without any objection. Since our school district was in a fairly affluent area, there typically weren’t any issues with field trip cost or frequency.

Nowadays, field trips are not as often nor as common. There are a few reasons that come to mind.

1. Field trips are costly. Depending on the locale of the field trip and whether or not a bus needs to be chartered, the cost per child can run between $8-20. For charter schools and smaller districts that do not have their own buses, the cost for the transportation alone is often a large percent of the total field trip cost. Couple that with the actual entry fee for the destination, the cost can balloon up quickly. Our kids go to a small pre-school that doesn’t have buses so the last field trip they went on cost $25 each–$15 for the entry fee to a strawberry farm and $10 for the bus. Fortunately, they don’t go on trips that often, because as you can imagine, it can become cost prohibitive.

2. Field trips take too much (instructional) time. Usually the field trips we planned for our students took a bulk of the day. We would normally plan to leave school at around 9-9:30 and return around 2:30-3:00. If there are around 5 field trips per year, that quickly adds up to around 5 (lost) instructional days. At least, that’s how some look at it.

3. There seems to be a perception that field trips do not have a high ROI (return on investment). These days some schools are making the school days longer, cutting out the arts, PE and field trips (all the “peripheral stuff”) in order to add traditional instructional time. While I don’t necessarily disagree with that approach completely, I believe that field trips, if planned in alignment with what’s being taught, can be a very powerful learning experience that cannot be replicated or emulated through traditional classroom teaching.

Some instructional leaders and education policy makers say that there isn’t any time for field trips when students aren’t meeting standards. Again, carefully planned out field trips that are correlated to what students are learning in the classroom can become the most meaningful learning students experience. What better way to understand all the history of Chicago than to visit the historic Water Tower and see for one’s self the vastness of the Windy City than from the observatory at the Sears Tower? What better way to learn about and appreciate art than by visiting the Art Institute of Chicago?

So, yes, instructional time is limited, and I’m not a fan of going on a field trip just because it’s a “fun” thing to do. However, a field trip can be fun AND an incredible teaching/learning opportunity if planned and executed thoughtfully. How awesome is that for kids?

Does your child’s school have field trips? If so, what is your thought about them? Is there a reasonable return on investment?

How Important Is It to Learn a Second Language?

The past few days have been busy due to the holiday and because as of late, I have been engrossed in watching Korean dramas that stream for free on Netflix. Watching Korean dramas got me to thinking, how important is it to learn a second language? Or maybe more appropriately, I should say how important it is to learn a second language.

Thirty some odd years ago when I was a native Korean speaker entering the school system in the U.S., there was no value add for knowing Korean or any other foreign/world language. In fact, my school teachers discouraged my parents from continuing our Korean language development and insisted that we solely speak English in order to help my English language skills to develop quicker. Back then, it made all the sense in the world. We lived in the U.S. and therefore, we should speak English. Nonetheless, my parents were relentless in their belief that although we lived in the U.S., we were still Korean and should learn the Korean language and embrace Korean culture. There was no ESL (English as a Second Language) program at our school so I learned English through the proven teaching method called “sink or swim”. (Forgive my sarcasm. )

 

Times have changed. With the advent of the internet and the über connected society in which we now live, it is not only an advantage to know a second language, but depending on what on wants to do in life, it is in some ways a necessity. We live in a global society and global economy, and though I am sure there are some that would argue that everyone should learn English, there are many countries that require children to learn the native language plus English. So again, the U.S. must embrace world languages and the importance of learning another language in order to compete. Here are some thoughts on what we can do to help children develop a second language:

1. Start early, and by early I mean pre-school, if not sooner. Even exposure to the sounds of different languages will help a child develop the ability to make those sounds. There are so many age appropriate DVDs such as the Little Pim series that are engaging.

2. At the latest, start in middle school. Most middle schools offer a world language now. Some schools may have GPA requirements, so that’s something to look into ahead of time.

3. Be persistent. If you speak a second language, consistently speak that with your child as well as with others who speak it. In this way, you will model for your child that you value the language for yourself as much as for your child.

4. Use technology, i.e. the plethora of iPad apps out there. There are a good number of apps that help teach vocabulary and the basics of various world languages. One developer that my son likes (for Chinese–Mandarin) is 2Kids.

5. Keep it fun. This can be tough sometimes because learning a language isn’t easy. However, one very fun part of knowing a second language is the ability to use it with one or two people who understand it and others don’t. When I started learning Spanish in middle school, my friend and I would mix in some Spanish when talking on the phone so our parents couldn’t understand. There are also language camps, particularly in the summer, which is a great resource.

What language(s) do you speak? If you could learn another language, what would you choose to learn?

Monetary Donations For Public Schools

One school district where I worked had 12 schools K-12. Between those 12 schools, especially among the 9 elementary schools, there was a sizable socio-economic divide. A few of the schools were Title I (a federal program that entitled lower-income populations to additional funding), while other schools in the district were incredibly affluent. In fact, a few professional athletes’ kids attended those upper echelon schools within the district.

I happened to be the principal at one of the Title I schools, so our parent club, while incredibly supportive, was not able to provide any monetary support. You might be wondering, “Why would a parent club provide monetary support?” Well, in this day and age, with the budget crises at the state and federal levels of government, funding is cut nearly ever year. As districts tighten their belts and trim any remaining fat in their budgets, district officials have to make very difficult decisions about what to cut. Cuts are never popular, but without funding, there aren’t any alternatives. Fortunately for this district, they had a well-established education foundation. Through the efforts of the ed foundation, the district benefited nearly $750,000/year. Although those funds are not guaranteed each year since it depends on what funds are raised, it is a big contribution to a district’s annual operating budget.

At another very wealthy school district where I worked, their education foundation raised $1,000,000 annually. Again, this is a tremendous help to the district’s annual operating budget. Through this funding, the district was able to maintain its music program.

Monetary donations for public schools is not a new concept. PTA’s have been asking parents to join and pay a membership fee for as long as I can remember. Nowadays, however, I have several concerns with monetary donations.

1) In many schools, especially in upper and upper middle class neighborhoods, parents are asked to fork over a monetary donation and I’m not talking $50-$100. These monetary donations are often upwards of $500-$1000 per family. I supposed compared to the price of sending a child to private school $500-$1000 per family per year is not that bad. But don’t families already pay property taxes in nice neighborhoods so that their children can attend a strong local public school?

2) The monetary donations do not seem to be as voluntary as they used to be or should be. Some schools post the names of families who have already donated, passive-aggressively pressuring those who haven’t yet donated.

3) In some districts, the employees are asked to give as well. I’m not sure that makes sense. Aren’t the employees the ones who should benefit from the monetary donations? It’s like asking a patient who needs a blood transfusion to draw his own blood and give it back to himself.

4) In some districts, each school’s PTA is allowed to raise funds for their own school. In some districts where there are Title I schools as well as affluent schools, is this equitable to all the students in the district? This is the problem we had in my former district. Those that already had, got more and those that did not, were left with less than. The practice of allowing each school’s PTA to raise funds for their own school left the district in a contentious state.

5) I’m 100% supportive of a community education fund. I think it’s a great way to help raise additional funds, but I think the fundraising should happen with businesses and the chamber of commerce rather than hitting up families of students who attend the schools.

6) Many affluent areas have ed foundations and PTAs who fund raise and are thus able to make large annual contributions to their local public schools. What about the less affluent areas, urban areas, and the downright poor? This cycle of the rich get richer is perpetuated in education. I’d like to see the same sort of ed foundations set up for these types of areas as well to level the playing field a bit.

 

Does your school or district ask for a voluntary monetary donation request? If so, how much do they ask and what are the funds used for?

Should My Child Skip a Grade?

One of my nephews, whom I will refer to as Thor (because he loves the movie character), was born at the end of September. His older sister, whom I will refer to as Rachel Alexandra (because she loves horses), was also born at the end of September. Neither of them made the September 1 cut off for Kindergarten in their public school district. Both tested for Kindergarten readiness in the month of May after they turned four, and both were accepted to start a year ahead of schedule. My sister and brother-in-law decided to start Rachel Alexandra early and to start Thor on schedule.

Fast forward two years. Rachel Alexandra is not only able to keep up with her grade level peers (who are all a year older) but also has been and continues to participate in the accelerated academics program. Thor is well above his grade level peers both academically and in physical stature and participates in the accelerated academics program. He is a little bored academically at school. My sister and brother-in-law can’t help but wonder if they made the right decision by not starting Thor early given how well he has been doing in school. And now they are considering the possibility of Thor skipping a grade also known in education circles as grade acceleration.

Some of you may find yourselves in a similar predicament and are wondering what factors to consider when making this decision. Here are four key elements to consider:

 

1. ACADEMICS: Kindergarten is the age/grade with arguably the widest range of ability. Take a moment to read this post if you haven’t already. If your child is a solid learner (read: responsible), motivated, and has shown consistent mastery well into the next grade level standards across all the content areas (ie. not just in Math), s/he may be a strong candidate to benefit from grade acceleration. Subject matter acceleration is very common and is often embraced by schools, while the practice of skipping a grade is not common place. If your child excels in one subject area, ask about skipping just for that subject. This is fairly common for mathematics especially from fifth grade on.

2. SOCIAL WELL-BEING (MATURITY): Does your child demonstrate maturity above and beyond his peers and/or years? Does your child tend to do better with older kids and feels just as comfortable if not more comfortable with older kids than grade level peers? Research has shown that students who skip a grade are more socially and emotionally satisfied than before skipping a grade. If your child does not exhibit social maturity at this point in time, it may not be the right time to accelerate. However, it is worth revisiting again in a year or two because children mature at different rates, although in my professional opinion, I would not recommend grade acceleration after fourth grade.

3. PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: This isn’t really a big factor given the other three, however, I still felt it is important to include it. How does your child’s physical development compare with students in his/her current grade and those in the grade above? Would you child stick out like a sore thumb if s/he were to skip a grade? Is your child one of the older kids in the grade? (ie. as in my nephew’s case)

4. PARENTAL AND FAMILY SUPPORT: If you haven’t read this post about the developmental assets, take a moment to read it. Without strong parental and family support, skipping a grade may end up being anything but beneficial to the child. Alternatively, with strong parental and family support, the student has far better odds of succeeding.

WHOM TO ENGAGE IN THIS DECISION-MAKING PROCESS:

 

1. TEACHER(S) (PAST AND PRESENT): If you’re considering the jump, engage your child’s current teacher as early as December, especially if you have been thinking about it for some time. Ask for input from previous teachers as well because they can help provide another perspective and will help you to see the longitudinal picture across a couple of years.

2. SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: The principal is actively engaged in the decision-making process as most districts have paperwork and procedures in place. So it would be best to have the initial discussion with the principal soon after speaking with your child’s current teacher. The principal will be able to walk you through the process. Also, unlike holding a child back, in which case the parent usually has the final say, the final decision regarding skipping a grade lies with the school officials.

3. CHILD: Discuss the idea with your child (if you haven’t done so already). Ask him/her if s/he’s interested? How s/he would feel about making new friends? Does s/he has any fears about skipping ahead? How would s/he feel about being the youngest (and possibly smallest) kid in the grade? How would s/he feel about possibly not being the “smartest” kid in the grade?Is s/he motivated for the challenge and ready to work hard?

4. OTHERS: Ask the principal, teacher, and friends if they know of any other students who have skipped a grade. It would be helpful to hear a firsthand testimony from those students and families about their experience.

CAVEAT:

While there is plenty of longitudinal research that supports the positive results of grade-skipping–academically and socially, it isn’t for every child. Just because a child qualifies (by all measures) to skip a grade, doesn’t guarantee success. Each and every child is unique, and thus it is very important to engage in a thoughtful decision-making process with a team.

Reflections of a Newbie Mom Blogger

Tomorrow will be the one month anniversary of educationmom.com, my “professional” (ha ha) mommy blog. I’ve actually been a prolific blogger since 2007 with over 1,800 posts. I really enjoy my personal blog because it serves more as a journal for me and my family. Something that I can go back to and read and laugh and cry and look with wonder at pictures of our kids through the years. I love it.

After much prodding for years from My Man, I decided (more like finally relented) to launch educationmom. After one month of writing, learning about SEO, installing plug-ins, and visiting a lot of other mom blogs and mom communities, here are my thoughts on being a mom blogger.

1. I could not do any of this without the support of My Man. He is my most loyal reader and honest (but kind) critic.

2. Blogging professionally for an anonymous audience is hard. It’s much easier to blog personally because I know all the readers–friends and family. Hopefully as time goes on, I’ll develop a relationship with more readers so that I can better serve them/you.

3. I can’t help but wonder if it’s worth it. My mission is to help moms/dads/parents/guardians be better informed about education and understand the perspective of the school. Since I’ve been on both sides of the fence, I see and understand both sides and have a lot of knowledge about education. I feel like this gives me a unique perspective. However, I’m wondering if there is even the demand for this type of perspective.

4. The blogging world seems saturated already. There are sooooo many mom blogs out there. Is there really room for another?

5. I put in about 30 hours a week for the past month working on this blog. With little to no feedback, it makes me wonder if anyone gets anything out of it.

6. I have a lot of ideas for blog posts, but I like getting input from others about topics beforehand. It helps me get a broader understanding of issues and then helps me formulate a responsible, informed post. One way that I do that is by posting on some of the mom community sites on the web. Problem is many of those sites don’t allow you to post your blog or any other outside URL. The other problem is a few of the moms on those sites can be brutal in their answers to questions that are posted, which isn’t really helpful. So I’m pretty much done with that.

7. I’m glad I decided to stick with writing under a pen name and keeping my family anonymous. Through years of working at schools, I’ve met my fair share of crazy parents and it appears to be no different on the web.

8. On a positive note, I’ve had over 1800 page views during my first month, which is about 58 views per day. I guess that’s not bad for the first month.

9. I’ve also “met” some pretty cool people through the blogging networks. Some have been really supportive and others silent enough to hear crickets. I’m thankful for those who have gone before me and have offered insight, suggestions, and are willing to help those of us who are new and learning.

10. Having said all that, it’s only been a month. (No, patience isn’t my strongest characteristic. I’m a school administrator–I like to see results. :) ) And I own this URL for at least a year. And if even one person found something helpful here, then it’s worth it. I didn’t go into education to make a lot of money. I love it because it’s altruistic, helps people, and most of all, I still believe education is the great equalizer. So…carry on I say!

Thank you to everyone who has liked my Facebook page and/or subscribed and has shared about my blog with others! You support means the world to me, and I am grateful.

Should I Hold My Child Back a Grade (aka Retention, Flunking, Repeating a Grade)

One of the toughest questions that parents ask me is, “Should I hold my child back in the same grade?” As such, I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, and the various professional experiences I’ve had with students and parents/guardians helped shape my views on holding kids back a grade.

One of the books in the reading program that I used as a teacher is called The Flunking of Joshua T. Bates. At first, I wasn’t sure this was a good book to read since it was about…well…the flunking of Joshua T. Bates. Joshua is a student who finds out that he has to repeat third grade. Despite the less than happy theme of this book, it turns out to be a genuine story about the struggles of repeating a grade and the success this student finds with the help of his caring teacher.

Reminiscing about this book and the school year rapidly coming to a close got me thinking about all the decisions that have to be made towards the end of the year. Helping a parent make the final determination about whether or not to retain a student in the same grade is probably the least enjoyable responsibility as a principal.

As a principal, I keep close tabs on students who are at-risk and generally not performing up to grade level starting right in August. When new students transfer in, the first thing I look at is their cumulative file, first for their attendance record, then for their academic report cards, and then for any discipline records that may have been included. For kindergarten students, I look at any student who scored low on the kindergarten assessment. I have conversations with these students’ teachers and check in from time-to-time to see how the student is progressing. I want to ensure that the students have any additional support we can provide at school as well as any support parents can offer at home. Then by January, I ask teachers to let me know of any students who are really struggling. which eventually leads to the students who may be candidates for retention. By this time, these students receive heavy-duty intervention in every effort to prevent retention.

Let me clearly state that I am NOT a fan of retention. Whether the parent suggests the idea of retention or I/the teacher broach the possibility, I always state that up front to parents even before a conversation about retention begins so they understand that for me, it is the last resort. During my 12 year administrative career, I’ve wholeheartedly supported one retention. I’ve also strongly but unsuccessfully lobbied against retention with five or so parents.

 

Retention is usually brought up if a student is:
1) Immature for his/her age and needs time to develop.
2) Significantly behind in mastering grade level standards (often based on test scores and/or grades).

From my personal experience, which is admittedly completely non-scientific, I have rarely seen a positive outcome from a student retention, especially when students are retained in a higher grade level such as middle school. About 50% of the time when I had a middle school student with discipline issues, I’d find evidence of a retention in his/her file. The other problem is, the retained student doesn’t necessarily do better. Some people may believe it’s some sort of silver bullet, but the reality is, it is not.

When a decision is made to retain a student, I believe that the best grade to do that is in Kindergarten and if at all possible and it’s agreeable to the parents, have the student attend another school. One of the kindergarten students I had was able to do this with, the parent contacted me the following year and said that moving schools was a good idea.

Students who have special needs, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or a 504 plan (often students with health and medical issues that require modifications but do not qualify for special education otherwise), are a completely different situation. In my opinion, they should almost never be held back. His/her IEP or 504 should be able to meet any modification needs for the student to be successful.

If you have concerns about your child’s success in school and are considering retention, here are some things to consider:

1. Maintain constant contact (and as early in the school year as possible) with your child’s teacher. Get a copy of the district paperwork early, and look it over carefully. (The decision-making process for retention can be lengthy as it involves many parties.)
2. Ask if your child is receiving any additional support at school (interventions) and if not, ask if s/he can.
3. Ask if your child may have a learning disability and if s/he can be tested. (The process that leads up to special education testing can be lengthy.)
4. Consider your child’s grade level. I’d strongly discourage retention past 1st grade.
5. Consider your child’s emotional state and how s/he would handle a retention. How does s/he feel about it?
6. Will your child be able to catch up academically and/or in maturity level if given an extra year?
7. Do your research and try to find a parent or two who have retained their child. While every child is different, it’s good to get input from those who have been there.
8. Would you consider moving your child to a different school? How does s/he feel about it? Is your child quick to make friends and will s/he miss her/his peers?
9. Have you exhausted every support measure at school before making a final decision to retain your child? The final decision is yours as a parent.
10. The last question to consider is: What’s worse– social promotion (passing a student along to the next grade even though they are not keeping up) OR retaining a student (and facing the social stigma of “flunking”)?

At the end of the day, you (the parent/guardian) have the final decision, and the weight of the decision is yours to bear. A child cannot be retained without parents/guardians signing on the dotted line, which in my opinion is as it should be. As a parent, given the choice for my child, I’d choose the former, WITH targeted support in place for my child’s learning though every means possible, because I’m not convinced that every child’s story of retention turns out as well as The Flunking of Joshua T. Bates. It is after all, fiction.

How Much is an iPad App Worth?

Modern Mom blogger, Andrea Benton, posted an article titled Why Parents Should Pay More for Educational Apps. While it’s probably not the best lead in title for someone like me (read: frugal), it still piqued my interest so I read on.

In her post, Ms. Benton cites three main points:

1) Apps cost money to make.

2) Think of apps as a long-term investment.

3) The “One and done” mentality meaning, once our kids have played them they move onto something else

Here’s what I would add in support of Ms. Benton’s position as you consider how much an iPad app for kids is worth:

4) The old saying, “You get what you pay for”, definitely holds true in the case of apps. The difference between a $1.99 app and a free one is often noticeable. And typically the difference between a $9.99 app and a $1.99 app is even greater.

5) Install the AppShopper for Apple products. It costs $.99, which you will easily earn back with your first discounted app purchase, and sometimes it’s free! You can search for apps that are currently on sale and/or add apps to your wish list and receive notification when they go on sale. You can also view the price history and deduce whether it will go on sale for a lower price. The App Shopper has a 4.5 star rating with 185 reviews.

6) Look for app discounts and freebies at…wait for it…Starbucks. Yep. Starbucks has free iTunes downloads for music and apps, which they change out every few weeks or so. Look for the business card sized hand outs on the sugar/milk/straw counter. We check our local Starbucks weekly and fortunately one week the free app was the iPad version of the Monster at the End of This Book, which normally costs $3.99. This is smart marketing for the app developer because if your child likes this app, it is a perfect lead into the next app, Another Monster at the End of This Book, which costs a dollar more at $4.99.

7) Install the lite version of an app first. Many apps (smart marketing) will give you a lite version for free so your kid can try them out, and if they get hooked (and you see value in the app) then you can purchase it. If not, you haven’t spent any money on the test drive. Some apps also allow you to purchase levels, one at a time, which is another great option and you could use that as a carrot for your child or as a reward.

Our son’s favorite iPad app currently is Motion Math: Hungry Fish. It’s free for the first level (Wave Reef Addition). You can set the difficulty level, which is great because as your kid learns and master his/her addition facts, you can up the ante. This app allows you to add the next levels (different math functions such as subtraction) for $.99 at a time or buy the entire package for $6.99.

Graduation for Fifth Grade, Really?

In order to bring some meaningful traffic to my blog, I have been participating in online mom communities like Mamapedia and Modern Mom,. It’s fascinating to me the questions that people have about all sorts of topics. Today, one such question got my attention:

“What is the proper etiquette for gift-giving? Do you give gifts for a 5th grade graduation party?”

As an educator (and a mom), I’m a big believer in celebrating accomplishments: earning a good grade on a long-term project, making the honor roll, placing first in the spelling bee, earning a letter in a sport, being chosen to design the cover of the yearbook, so on and so forth. However, I am having a hard time with all of the various graduation celebrations these days. Pre-school, Kindergarten, Fifth grade, Eighth grade, High School, College and beyond. It’s overkill. I know for some kids, maybe Eighth grade is as far as they will get, and I’ve worked at schools like that, but is this really what the U.S. education system has come to that we now celebrate the completion of Fifth grade? Fifth grade. Long ago when I was a kid, we didn’t graduate from Fifth grade. We completed it and then moved on to Sixth grade. There was no hoopla.

At one school where I was the principal, they held a Fifth grade graduation ceremony. Although I was appalled, I didn’t cancel it, because the school community valued it, and the practice was a part of the school history. I think a class trip at the end of the year would be appropriate to celebrate the moving on to middle school. But a graduation ceremony? No.

As a parent, I would not want a graduation ceremony for my Fifth grade child either. I would certainly recognize and celebrate the successful completion of Fifth grade as I would for each grade, but in my opinion, a true graduation celebration occurs at the end of high school, at the end of college, and hopefully at the end of graduate school.

So to quote the words of one of my favorite wise men on Sportscenter, “C’mon man!”

What a Teacher Really Wants, Not Another Mug

During the course of my career as a teacher and school administrator, I’ve received my share of memorable gifts from students. And one of the first things I learned as a teacher is to appreciate each gift, regardless of what it is; although honestly, that didn’t keep my teacher friends and me from having a little fun with some of the more unusual gifts we received. Since most of the gifts were given to us on the Friday before the winter holiday break, the other grade level teachers and I agreed to wear any and every gift that was wearable on that day. We did this every year. One year, my colleague pinned on a 2 inch long, 1 inch tall rhinestone “JESUS” brooch and tried really hard, albeit without any success to put on the pants that a student had given her. They were dark green jeans. I put on a pair of the biggest gold-plated hoop earrings I had ever seen along with a vest (the kind that buttons up the front).

All kidding aside, if you’re going to take the time and money to purchase a gift for your child’s teacher(s), I’m guessing you don’t want it to end up being the white elephant gift that gets passed around the most at the next staff holiday party. In order to avoid this, here are the top 6 ideas for gifts for teachers and staff, and please remember, gifts are a thoughtful gesture meant to express your gratitude. They are completely voluntary.

6. More recently, a room parent will ask families to contribute $5-10 to a class gift. I love this because it’s an easy way for families to give a token of appreciate to the teacher and the students can get a nice gift on behalf of the whole class for the teacher.

5. A plant like an orchid. They’ll last longer than flowers…that is unless the teacher has a black thumb like I do.

4. A new book for the classroom library. Teachers spend so much of their own money for supplies so to receive a new book that all of the students can use is useful and will save the teacher some money for him/herself.

3. Movie tickets–You can purchase a pair at Costco or Sam’s Club for about $15 or go to the movie theater and get a gift card, although this will cost you more.

2. Gift cardsTarget, Starbucks, Gas, Amazon.com, Local grocery store, etc… Something practical.

1. If your child is old enough, have him/her give the teacher(s) a handwritten note on a nice store-bought or homemade card or stationary. These were always my favorite to receive because I could keep them forever and read one on a less than stellar day. It helps to know that I made a difference in a kid’s life as his/her teacher or principal.

Here are a few thoughts on what not to get your child’s teacher.

6. In the words of Randy Moss, NFL player, “Straight cash, homey!” Don’t give your child’s teacher cash. They cannot accept it. (Or at least they shouldn’t as most schools have policies against receiving cash gifts.)

5. Clothing. Unless it’s something sentimental. At one of the schools where I was the principal, a parent, who went to Chicago on a business trip, bought me a Chicago Cubs division championship t-shirt. (I’m a huge Chicago sports fan.) That was incredibly thoughtful and despite the fact that it was a size XL (way too big), I cherish it to this day. That being said, no clothing. Especially no themed clothing, like a Christmas sweater with a big reindeer on it.

4. Another mug. Maybe for a first year teacher, it’d be ok. But otherwise, don’t do it.

3. Jewelry.

2. Perfume.

1. Anything that’s been used and/or purchased at a garage sale. Unless it is a stack of kids books that would be useful to the classroom.