Winners and Losers

Winners and Losers

Elizabeth is caught off-guard when her name is announced during the awards assembly.

“And the winner of the Science Achievement Award is Elizabeth Pontrello!” I was shocked. My jaw dropped open and stayed there. Everyone was clapping and looking at me. Luckily, Dr. Schankz, the principal, leaned into the microphone and added, “Elizabeth, come on up here and accept your award.” Otherwise, I was sure I’d still be sitting there in the bleachers with the applause ringing in my ears.

I was careful to shake Dr. S’s hand with my right hand and take the plaque with my left. Someone made me stop to pose for a photo. Augh. I hated how I looked in pictures. At least I’m wearing my new low-rise jeans from Old Navy, I thought, as I tried to recover from the camera’s blinding flash and make my way back to my seat.

Marty poked me with his elbow and grinned when I sat back down next to him, heart pounding. “That was embarrassing,” I whispered and tried to figure out what to do with the shiny plaque in my lap.

Just then, Marty’s stomach growled loud enough for everyone to hear, and giggles spread through the stands. Marty pointed to his watch. Ten minutes until lunch. “Just in time!”

Since it was Friday, we got to sit wherever we wanted in the cafeteria. Marty and I were the only ones at our table, so far. Marty had pizza sauce on the side of his face, and I was just about to give him the signal when Joey – who’s only, like, the most popular boy in school – walked by and said, “Hey, look! Pizza Face is sitting with his brainiac girlfriend!”

Everybody looked up. Joey looked around and made kissy noises all the way to his seat. There was so much laughing and commotion that the principal had to turn the lights out to quiet everyone down. Only I wasn’t laughing, and neither was Marty. I looked at the clock, but I couldn’t look at Marty. Three minutes until recess. Sigh.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Why Can’t Ricky Read? (Wiley Demo)

Why Can’t Ricky Read? (Wiley Demo)

Chapter 7: Teaching Students with Disabilities
Does Labeling Students with Disabilities Help or Hinder a Teacher’s Work?
After reading this case and the above section in your Introduction to Teaching textbook, respond to the following prompts in your journal:

  1. Describe the difficulties that Ricky is having in school. Does he have a high incidence disability or a low incidence disability? Provide a brief description for each category.
  2. After reading this case, do you think that Ricky’s special education label leads to inequities? Why or why not?
  3. How does Ricky’s disability affect his learning in the classroom? How does it affect his social acceptance?
  4. How can Ricky’s teachers build a general education classroom in which Ricky is fully included? Provide three examples.

Chapter 7: Teaching Students with Disabilities Does Labeling Students with Disabilities Help or Hinder a Teacher’s Work? After reading this case and the above section in your Introduction to Teaching textbook, respond to the following prompts in your journal: 1) Describe the difficulties that Ricky is having in school. Does he have a high incidence disability or a low incidence disability? Provide a brief description for each category. 2) After reading this case, do you think that Ricky’s special education label leads to inequities? Why or why not? 3) How does Ricky’s disability affect his leaning in the classroom? How does it affect his social acceptance? 4) How can Ricky’s teachers build a general education classroom in which Ricky is fully included? Provide three examples.

Ricky is embarrassed as he reads aloud in social studies class.

“All right folks, sit down and listen up, because I’m only going to say this once.” The bell rang, and the newly minted 6th graders quickly scattered toward their seats and began arming themselves with pens, pencils, and notebooks from their backpacks. Mr. Thompson, their first period social studies teacher, strode confidently to the front of the room.

“In case you folks haven’t figured it out yet, you’re not in Kansas anymore. This is middle school now.” Mr. Thompson’s baritone voice boomed from the front of the classroom. He pulled himself up to his full, imposing, 6-foot 2 height, brushed his military “high and tight” haircut back with his left hand, and continued. “I don’t believe in wasting time on any ‘getting to know you’ activities, I’m not interested in making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and I’m not here to baby sit you.

Mr. Thompson

“My job is to teach social studies, and your job is to learn it.” Mr. Thompson drove his point home with an emphatic punch on his spotless desktop.

This isn’t like elementary school at all, Ricky thought. It wasn’t just the difference of having six teachers instead of one, or of having three times as many kids in one building, or the fact that you could buy soda at lunch. No, it just felt different, somehow. Different in a way that he didn’t have the words to explain. What was the word his mom had used? “Business.” Yes, middle school was more like a business than elementary school. Actually, right now it seemed more like the Army, and Mr. Thompson seemed like a drill sergeant. Of all the teachers to get on the first day of the first period of his middle-school career, it was Ricky’s luck to get Mr. Thompson – generally acknowledged as the toughest teacher at Spencer Middle School.

Mr. Thompson continued with the normal classroom routines of taking roll, stating class rules, and previewing the year’s curriculum. “All right folks, let’s get the show on the road. Open your social studies textbooks to page 7,” Mr. Thompson instructed. “We are going to play a little game I like to call ‘BUMP.’ Cara, you will begin reading aloud the first paragraph. When you are done that paragraph, say ‘Bump to…’ and name another student in class. No one knows who you will bump to next, so every student had better be paying attention. That student will read the second paragraph and then bump to a third student, and so on. Make sure you bump to someone who has not yet read so that everyone gets a chance.”

Ricky’s pulse began racing a mile a minute, his palms became clammy, and his face went ash white. Ricky was not a good reader. No, that was an understatement. Ricky flat out stunk at reading, and he knew it. He had been aware of his reading problems ever since kindergarten when the rest of the class had mastered the entire alphabet before Ricky had learned even six letters. It had been catch up ever since: special education teachers since second grade, untimed tests throughout elementary school, extra reading practice at night, and even an individual reading tutor one summer hadn’t really helped him make up any ground. Last year, as a fifth-grader, Ricky had still stumbled over most of the longer words in the textbooks and had experienced trouble answering those terrible comprehension questions at the end of each lesson. His only hope of not being embarrassed during this “BUMP” game was to lay low and hope that no one called on him before the end of the period.

“I bump to Joey,” said Georgia, a pretty girl who had flashed a brilliant smile at Ricky when he walked in. Joey Wells had been Ricky’s best friend at Miller Elementary School. They’d been like brothers since the first grade – sleepovers, baseball games, swimming. You name it, they did it together. In fact, Ricky thought, Joey was the only one in this class who knew how truly awful he was at reading.

Unfortunately, over the summer, Joey had begun hanging out with the “cool crowd” and had stopped returning Ricky’s calls. Ricky’s mom had said not to worry – that this was a phase a lot of middle-schoolers went through. Ricky didn’t know anything about phases, but he was hoping that, being old friends, Joey wouldn’t bump to him. However, deep down, Ricky had an unsettled feeling that something bad was about to happen.

“I Bump tooooo . . . hmmmm let me see,” Joey always had loved the spotlight, Ricky thought. Mr. Thompson arched his eyebrows, a warning to Joey to dispense with the silliness.

“RRRICKY!” he announced quickly with a sneer and an evil grin.

Oh my god, Ricky thought. I don’t even know where we are. Frantically, Ricky began searching in his textbook for the correct paragraph to read. He had been so anxious about reading out loud that he hadn’t kept up with the class. Ricky buried his head deeper into the textbook as heads began to turn.

“Ricky, what’s the problem, son? Don’t you know where we are?” asked Mr. Thompson.

“No, I can’t find it, Mr. Thompson.”

“Have you been following along?”

“No, I . . . I mean, I mean, well, I’ve been trying to, yes,” Ricky stumbled.

“Well then, if you have been following along, you shouldn’t have any problem finding your place, should you?” Mr. Thompson continued. Chuckles began to break out around the room.

“No,” Ricky muttered. Ricky bent his face farther down and balled up his fists under the desk as he began to fight back the tears. This was far worse than any nightmare he had ever had about middle school. Ricky was mortified. He felt like burying his head in the textbook and disappearing.

Georgia, the girl with the pretty smile, leaned over and pointed, “We’re right here.”

Ricky looked at the word—it was one of those long ones that seemed to constantly stalk him. He made an attempt to sound it out, “Dem, dem, dem, oak, dem-oak…”

“It’s democracy, you idiot,” whispered Joey. A group of boys in the back erupted in laughter.

“Joey, get out of my room and go directly to the office!” commanded Mr. Thompson. “I’ll expect to

Ricky Harris

see you sitting outside of Dr. Barnett’s office after class. I will not tolerate that type of behavior in here. Susan, why don’t you start at the next paragraph.” Joey slowly got up and sauntered toward the door, obviously relishing the “bad boy” image he had been so carefully cultivating since summer.

With a supreme effort of pure will, Ricky made it through the remainder of the period without crying. When the bell rang to end class, he tried to slink out of the room without being noticed. But, as he furtively made his way through the throng of students bottlenecked at the door, one of the boys who had been sitting in the back of the room brushed past him and, with a sneer and chuckle, whispered, “Retard.”

Ricky’s mom, after seeing the F on Ricky’s social studies test, e-mails the special education teacher, Mrs. Hardy.

(Two weeks later at Ricky’s home)

Watch “Why Can’t Ricky Read?” Scene Two

Ricky silently turned the key, opened the door, slid the key slowly back out of the lock, and gently tiptoed up the stairs.

“Ricky, is that you, honey? How was school?” Mrs. Harris’s perky voice broke the silence.

Ignoring his mom’s inquiries, Ricky sprinted upstairs, launched his backpack across the room, slammed his bedroom door shut, and flung himself onto his bed.

A moment later, Ricky heard a knock at the door. “Ricky honey, can I come in?”


“What’s wrong, Ricky? Is there anything I can do?”

“You wanna know what’s wrong, mom? I’m stupid, that’s what’s wrong. I’m a retard. I got an F on the test that we studied for all week. An F! If I get an F when I try my best, why bother trying at all?”

Ricky’s mom cautiously opened the door, walked over, and sat down on the bed next to him. “Ricky, I don’t ever want to hear you say that you are stupid again. We’ve talked about this with your teachers and the school psychologists before. You’ve got a higher IQ than most kids your age. Some kids aren’t great at art, some have difficulties in music, some in sports, and you just happen to have a difficulty in reading.”

Ricky and his mom

“Yeah, well the difference is that if you stink at art and music in middle school you don’t have to take them, mom. They’re electives. But in everything else that I get graded on, even math, I need to be able to read – and I can’t!!”

“But you need to understand that this isn’t your fault, Ricky.”

“Why don’t you try explaining that to Joey and the other kids, mom? I’m sure they’ll totally understand and stop calling me retard.

Mrs. Harris became visibly angry. “Are they doing that again? I thought Mr. Thompson took care of that on the first day of school.” A note of concern rose in Mrs. Harris’s voice.

“Oh, they know how to do it without getting caught.”

“I’m going to call Joey’s mom about . . .”

“No, mom! Don’t you see? That will only make it worse. Then I’ll be a momma’s boy and a retard. I prefer just being a regular old retard.” Ricky’s attempt at humor was not lost on Mrs. Harris.

“Well . . . OK Ricky. But I don’t like it. If this happens again I’m going to call Joey’s mom straightaway—with or without your permission. Now let’s see that test. Maybe Mr. Thompson will let you do a makeup.”

Ricky immediately shoved the test at his mom, and said, “See, you raised a moron.”

An F had been boldly scrawled across the top of the test. Underneath, a terse note from Mr. Thompson said simply, “Ricky, did you do the reading?”

Before Mrs. Harris could say anything, Ricky said, “Mom, can we talk about this later? I just don’t want to think about it right now.”

Mrs. Harris’s eyes softened. “OK we’ll talk about it after dinner. I need to go pick up your sister from soccer practice. Can you start the water boiling and put the spaghetti in at 5:00?”

“Sure, Mom.”

Late that night, long after Ricky had gone to bed, Mrs. Harris sat down at the computer and wrote a long e-mail to Janet Hardy, Ricky’s special education teacher.

See Ricky’s social studies test below:

Mrs. Hardy, the special education teacher, and Mr. Thompson, the social studies teacher, discuss Ricky’s problems.

Watch “Why Can’t Ricky Read?” Scene Three

“Hey Mike, can I come in for a sec?” asked Janet Hardy as she leaned in the doorway to Mike Thompson’s room.

“Oh, hey Janet. Yeah, what’s up? Where have you been hiding?” Mike Thompson looked up from the pile of social studies homework he was grading.

“You know special ed, Mike, its paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. I feel like I’ve barely gotten to see any of my kids this year. And it gets worse every year. Anyway, I’ve come about Ricky Harris, from your first period. I got an e-mail from his mom this morning. She said Ricky is devastated about his F on last week’s social studies test. She also said a bunch of former “friends” have taken to calling him “retard” and “idiot” in the hallways. He’s crushed and doesn’t want to come to school anymore. God, how can middle-schoolers be so cruel at times?”

“It’s the nature of the beast, Janet. Kids this age can be horribly cruel. But I thought that I had nipped that “retard” business in the bud. I’ll keep a closer eye out for it now.”

“What can we do about his F, Mike? Would you consider a make-up?” asked Janet hopefully.

“Janet, we’ve been working together for three years now. You know my policy – no make-ups. If you look at Ricky’s test, it’s like he didn’t do one page of the reading. He needs to study harder next time.” Mike’s brow furrowed as it always did when he was making a point.

“Well, Mrs. Harris said Ricky has spent an average of an hour a night trying to read the social studies textbook since school began. An hour a night just on social studies, Mike! You know the kid’s in LD in reading, right?”

“What? No, Janet, I didn’t. And frankly, with all the other paperwork I have to do around here, I don’t have the time to read every file on every kid that I teach – I’ve got over 150 kids this year! Why didn’t you tell me before?”

Janet Hardy

“Wait a minute, I flagged all of the students who had an IEP and put the list in your box last week. I haven’t had a second to come talk to you until now.”

Mike Thompson let out a big sigh. “Well, I must have missed it what with all of the other junk we get sent from the front office. But what could I do anyway? I’m not a special ed teacher or a reading teacher. It seems every year I get more kids who don’t have the basic reading and writing skills required in middle school. We keep socially promoting these kids and lowering our standards.”

“Mike, this kid’s drowning in here. His mom said he was mortified when he tried to read out loud in your class. He needs support. He shouldn’t be reading out loud, for one.” Janet looked accusingly at Mike.

“Look, Janet, I felt really bad about that. I didn’t want to embarrass the kid, but how did he get to middle school without being able to read? I mean, I know a lot of folks think I’m an old-school, hard-nosed teacher who doesn’t care about the kids because I don’t give make-up tests and I don’t give out all As. But, I’ve worked in the real world, Janet. We’re doing these kids a real disservice by spoon feeding them until they graduate and then letting them fall on their faces when they hit reality. I believe that the more teachers expect of kids, the higher they will achieve. There’s research to back that up, too. You know, that self-fulfilling prophecy called the Pygmalion effect. Anyway, Ricky should have never been promoted to middle school with his reading skills. Don’t they have a special program for kids like him?”

“Actually, no, Mike. The trend is toward total inclusion nowadays. Every kid that can possibly be instructed in the general education setting should be. There’s also research out there showing that kids who get pulled out of their regular classes for special ed fall even farther behind. Anyway, Mrs. Harris asked me to set up a child-study meeting with all of his teachers for next week. How’s Tuesday morning at 7:30 for you?”

“I’ll be there,” Mike responded in a weary voice.

Click here to see Ricky’s IEP

A child study meeting is held. Everyone offers a different solution.

It’s 7:40 a.m. in the school’s office conference room. The following people are present for the Child Study meeting: Mrs. Harris, Ricky’s mom; Mr. Thompson, the social studies teacher; Mrs. Hardy, Ricky’s special education teacher; and Ms. Booker, the reading teacher.

Mrs. Hardy: Thank you for coming, everyone. I know Ricky’s mom has to be at work by nine, so let’s get this meeting started. Mrs. Harris, why don’t you begin by telling us about your present concerns?

Mrs. Harris: (a little nervously) Well, I guess I’ve been concerned about Ricky’s reading ever since the first grade. But all through elementary school Ricky’s teachers told me he was doing fine. They said he was well liked by his friends and teachers, he was a hard worker, and he was pretty organized. And because of all of his strengths, he was able to compensate for his reading problems. They told me he would probably always be behind in reading, but that other kids were much worse off than him. His grades were always good. The social studies test is the first “F” he ever received. He feels just awful about it.

Mr. Thompson: Well, Mrs. Hardy, I understand your concerns. Ricky is a really nice boy and he tries very hard in my class, but I don’t think he’s ever been challenged until now. I get kids every year that have been spoon-fed throughout elementary school, and then when they get to middle school, they don’t have the skills necessary to do middle school work. We can’t lower our standards. If we don’t challenge Ricky now, he will really suffer in high school. Believe me, Mrs. Harris, it’s sink or swim there.

Mrs. Hardy: Well, Mike. I agree that we can’t lower our standards, but we also need to give our students with learning needs a ladder to reach those standards. I think Ricky needs to learn some comprehension strategies and study skills. If we can get him using these strategies independently, he will be able to comprehend what he is reading. And, like you said Mrs. Harris, he’s got so many other strengths that he can use to compensate for his reading difficulties.

Mrs. Harris: (a bit irritated) But that’s just it. I’m not an educator, but that’s exactly what I’ve been hearing for seven years now. Ricky’s got a lot going for him. Ricky has excellent behavior. Ricky will be fine. But, I am the one staying up with Ricky every night until eleven o’clock doing homework, and let me tell you, Ricky can not read that textbook. I don’t care how much compensating he does, my boy simply can’t read!

Mrs. Hardy: Mrs. Harris, I understand the frustration you must feel. Susan Booker, our school literacy specialist, has given Ricky some reading, writing, and spelling assessments. Susan, can you tell us what you found?

Mrs. Booker: Sure, Janet. Mrs. Harris, I have been assessing Ricky in language arts since he got here. According to these tests, you are right. Ricky is not a sixth grade reader. His difficulty with fluency and decoding simply prevent him from understanding the material. My recommendation is for Ricky to begin intensive, one-on-one remedial reading instruction. He needs to firm up his knowledge of basic spelling patterns, learn how to decode multisyllabic words, and improve his overall reading fluency. The good news is Ricky has excellent listening comprehension. When I read passages aloud to him, his comprehension was over 90% through the seventh grade level. You’ve got a bright boy, Mrs. Harris. I think that the reason Ricky can’t comprehend what he is reading is because he can’t decode the words. Frankly, I’m wondering about dyslexia.

The meeting goes on for the next 45 minutes, everyone offering up differing opinions about what to do with Ricky. However, nothing is decided and the committee decides to reconvene next week.

Click here to see Ricky’s reading assessment results

Click here to see another one of Ricky’s reading assessments

Click here to see Ricky’s spelling assessment

Click here to see samples of Ricky’s writing

Mrs. Harris drives home that night full of questions. “If professional educators can’t agree on a solution for Ricky, then who can?”

Mrs. Harris was confused, frustrated and angry. Visions of Ricky failing the state mandated tests, of not being able to play sports, of being teased in the school hallways, and of struggling through reading assignments haunt her on the drive home from work. Who is right? Should Ricky be held to higher standards, or taught study skills strategies, or does he need remedial reading? Or all of the above? And if professional educators can’t agree on what to do with Ricky, then who can?

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Whose Class Is It? – CM

Whose Class Is It? – CM

Dr. Wiley, the principal, meets with parents.

It is Monday, August 21, two weeks before the opening of school. Dr. Edith Wiley, the new principal at Cedar Street Elementary School, has been on the job since the last week in July. This is her first principalship; she had been team leader of the 6th grade teachers in a neighboring community while working on the doctoral degree she received three months ago. She is eager to get the year underway and get off to a good start. As has been the custom in the district for many years, parents receive notification of the names of their children’s teachers during early August. The notice has prompted this morning’s meeting with three parents—two mothers and one father.

Dr. Wiley opens the meeting by introducing herself and then asking each of the parents to do the same. She then says, “Thanks for coming in. Welcome to my first parent meeting. What can I do for you?”

Dr. Edith Wiley, Principal, Cedar Street Elementary School

Mr. Renfrew states the case for all three parents. “Thanks for meeting with us. We have a very serious problem to discuss. We have received notification of which teachers our children are scheduled to have; all our children are scheduled for Miss Lowry’s class. I’ll get right to the point. We are unalterably opposed to having our children in Miss Lowry’s class.”

Dr. Wiley calmly listens without commenting.

Mrs. Whitehouse says, “My older son Ralph had Miss Lowry for fifth grade and has hated school ever since. He’s in the tenth grade now and he still resists getting up in the morning to go to school, doesn’t like to read, and has to be dragged to do his homework. Miss Lowry is the cause of my son’s problems; I do not want my daughter to face the same situation; in fact, she won’t face the same problem if I have anything to say about it. Dr. Johnson, a psychiatrist who has seen Ralph, agrees that being in a stressful situation was one of the causes of his negative attitude toward school. Miss Lowry bullied him and made him feel stupid. I won’t have it for Rachael! I trust that I am making myself clear. I don’t care how much effort it takes to move a child from one teacher to another. I simply do not want my daughter in Miss Lowry’s class.”

Mr. Renfrew concurs, “I agree with Rose; I will not have my son William in that class. There is another matter besides the way Miss Lowry treats the students. She does absolutely nothing with computers. From what I hear, all the other teachers have their students in the labs doing things with technology. I have heard that Miss Lowry never uses any of the new computers that are right there in her classroom, and she doesn’t even allow students to do projects using their own computers at home. I want William to be able to take advantage of these things. He has a computer at home and goes online all the time to find information. It’s criminal in this day and age for students and teachers not to use this stuff. ”

Mr. Renfrew listens to Dr. Wiley.

Dr. Wiley looks at Ms. Beauful, the third parent, who simply nods in agreement. Dr. Wiley thanks the parents for expressing their concerns and says, “I will certainly look into this matter right away. But I don’t know that I can guarantee moving three children without serious consideration. I trust you understand that.”

Mrs. Whitehouse notes, “Yes, we understand what you are saying, but we are too concerned about our children to let matters stand. I know that you’re new here, but we are quite confident that you’ll come to the same conclusion that we have. None of us can figure out why Miss Lowry is still here anyway.”

More heated discussion ensues, after which Dr. Wiley again thanks them for coming in and says that she will get back to them after she explores the matter further. She is thrown off by the tone and content of the meeting. The three parents rise, express thanks, and leave.

Mrs. Whitehouse, Mr. Renfrew, and Ms. Beauful discuss the meeting afterwards.

Watch the parents talk about class placements and Miss Lowry. (dialupOR broadband)

Dr. Wiley meets with Ross Austin, the assistant principal.

Dr. Wiley closes her office door after the parents leave and mutters to herself, “Whew! What a way to start off with parents. I wonder what’s with this Miss Lowry. She certainly seemed nice enough during my interviews last spring. I need some information.” She telephones Ross Austin, the assistant principal who has been at Cedar Street Elementary for 13 years—10 years as a teacher and the last three as the assistant principal. “Ross, I need to talk with you.”

Ross enters her office and sits down in the chair near the window. “What’s up, Edith? You look a little puzzled.”

“Ross, I’m more than a little puzzled; tell me about Miss Lowry.”

“So you want to know about Florence, huh? I don’t know where to start. She received district tenure in her first assignment, but I think every principal in town has a story or two about her. She’s taught in five of the elementary schools, you know. And from what I understand, she usually starts off well in a school, then about the third year or so, students start complaining about grades, harshness, a quick temper, impatience. Around this time, she usually requests a transfer. When she applied for a transfer to Cedar Street Elementary, I advised Mr. Bowen, who was principal then, not to take her, but he didn’t want to go through the trouble it would have meant to turn her down. So, five years later, here she is.”

“Hmmmm. And here we are,” sighs Dr. Wiley. She tells Ross of the meeting with the three parents, the manner in which they left, and their demands that their children be removed from Miss Lowry’s class. “Is it true that Miss Lowry doesn’t ever use computers?”

Ross responds, “I’ve never seen her use them. She takes the position—which she’s stated several times in faculty meetings—that some kids spend too much time at home with technology and that what they need in school are basic things like books and writing and so forth. She can be quite a tiger on these matters.”

“Whew,” says Dr. Wiley, “What do you think we should do?”

Ross is flattered that she is including him. The previous principal, Tom Greene, had rarely sought his opinion on similar matters. He muses to himself, “Maybe we’ll become a real team.” He says, “Let me say one thing first. These parents are not crackpots. I know Mrs. Whitehouse and Mr. Renfrew; they’ve both had kids go through this school, and we never had trouble with them. In fact, they are generally helpful. I do remember a little talk I had with Mrs. Whitehouse when her son had Flossie as a teacher. But that was Miss Lowry’s first year here; I had Ralph in general science and he was doing okay. I told her to give Miss Lowry a break; she hadn’t been here a half year at that point. So, this is not the first time this has happened. Last year and the year before some parents came in and requested their kids be transferred to another teacher.”

“What happened?” asks Dr. Wiley.

“Nothing much. I don’t think Tom wanted to ruffle Miss Lowry’s feathers, so he sort of put the parents off for a while. And they didn’t persist, so things quieted down. He did say that if he acceded to the parents’ request, it might lead to a snowball effect; everybody would want out of her class.”

Dr. Wiley queries, “Did he speak with Miss Lowry? Does she know that this has been a problem for several years?”

“Beats me. Tom wasn’t much for sharing either what he did or what he thought, so I really don’t know. I do know that while she was at Warner School, she was written up several times.”

“By the way, Ross, does anybody call Miss Lowry by her first name to her face? You’ve said ‘Florence’ and ‘Flossie.’ What do you call her directly?”

Ross chuckles and says, “I call her Miss Lowry, just like everybody else does. For some reason she commands that respect; you know, she’s an exceptionally intelligent person. I think she was Phi Beta Kappa in college; she has her masters degree from Harvard.”

Dr. Wiley reads files and makes a phone call.

The central office of the school district contains personnel files on all teachers in the district. Shortly after lunch, Dr. Wiley goes over to the central office and requests Miss Lowry’s file from the secretary. As she hands Dr. Wiley the file, Mrs. Roth sighs and says, “I see you’re getting to the difficult stuff early.” Dr.Wiley declines comment, thanks her for the file, and retreats to an office to read the contents of the folder.

See Florence Lowry’s TPAI Full Review from last year below:

See an observation from one of Florence Lowry’s previous lessons below:

She learns that Miss Lowry has been teaching in Clark County for 25 years. Over the years, she has taught in five of the district’s elementary schools. She has been in Cedar Street Elementary for the past six years. Active in the teachers union, she never misses the annual statewide teachers’ conference, has earned an advanced degree, and is willing to serve on any committees. Her personal statement reveals that she believes in the quality of her teaching and generally resents any questioning of what she does by students, colleagues, administrators, or parents. She never misses deadlines on reports, keeps careful attendance records, and avoids controversy whenever possible. There are two “write-ups” on Miss Lowry, each of which points to recurring issues of outbursts in class, occasional failure to return student work promptly, mild resistance to authority, and general resistance to technology. Also in the file are 10 observation reports on her teaching, all quite vague, but generally positive. There are also reports on the test scores of the classes she has taught; all compare favorably with district averages. However, something about the scores gives Dr. Wiley pause. She photocopies them to study later.

See a comparison of scores below:

When she returns to her office, she phones Miss Lowry and hears her voice message. “I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m away on vacation until August 23rd. Thanks for calling and leave your number.”

“Hmm,” thinks Dr. Wiley, “August 23rd, huh? That’s two days before the staff development meetings begin. According to the contract, teachers are supposed to be in the building preparing their classrooms three days before these sessions. Let’s see; today’s the 21st. I probably won’t be able to talk with her until the 24th.” She leaves a message for Miss Lowry to call her when she returns.

Dr. Wiley and Miss Lowry talk on the phone.

On August 24, Miss Lowry calls Dr. Wiley. “Hello, Edith, this is Miss Lowry. You wanted to talk?”

“Oh hello, Miss Lowry. I trust your vacation went well.”

“It was okay. I just took too much schoolwork with me, and I really couldn’t enjoy the beach as much as I would have liked. I’m sure you remember those busy days from your own teaching experience.”

“Yes, indeed, Miss Lowry, I remember them well. I want to meet with you to discuss an issue that has arisen. Can you come in tomorrow morning?”

“I guess so, but I’d really like to know what the meeting’s about. I don’t like to come to things unprepared.”

Dr. Wiley responds, “Very briefly, it’s about issues that a few parents raised with me at a meeting last week.”

“Oh, dear,” says Miss Lowry. “These things are so tedious. I suppose they’re afraid that their children will have to work too hard with me as their teacher. I’ve been through these episodes before.”

“Let’s hold on any more particulars until tomorrow. How’s ten o’clock?”

Miss Lowry responds, “Ten o’clock will be fine. See you tomorrow,” and hangs up.

Dr. Wiley and Miss Lowry meet.

Miss Lowry arrives the next day at exactly 10:00. The two women exchange a few pleasantries about the summer and Dr. Wiley’s adjustment to her new job. Dr. Wiley comments, “We missed you at the breakfast on Monday.”

Miss Lowry ignores the remark.

Watch Edith and Florence during their first face-to-face meeting. (dialupOR broadband)

Miss Lowry closes by restating her position on home computer use. “I’m sure you’ve heard that I do not allow students to turn-in projects completed using home computers. It’s true…There are just too many students with no computer access to allow the others to have such an unfair advantage. I simply won’t do it.”

Click here to see data on student computer access.

With nothing more to say, Dr. Wiley ends the meeting and asks Miss Lowry if it would be alright if she visited her class the following week. Reluctantly, Miss Lowry agrees, cautioning Dr. Wiley that the first week of school would not be the best time to visit with all of the disruptive “set-up” and activities that are inevitable.

“Well, why don’t we choose a day now so that you have plenty of time to plan?” Dr. Wiley tries not to sound too pushy.

Miss Lowry, clearly agitated, sighs, “Okay, Edith, I am planning to introduce the scientific method on Wednesday.”

“Great. If you could drop off your lesson plan for that period by Monday afternoon, I’d appreciate it.” Dr. Wiley wonders if she’s gone too far with this request.

“Fine,” snaps Miss Lowry, lips pursed. “I’ve got to get back to my planning now, if you don’t mind.” She stands and gathers her things.

See Miss Lowry’s lesson plan below:

Dr. Wiley reviews her observation notes and contemplates her next step.

Dr. Wiley didn’t think she would resort to formal observation procedures so early in the year, but with Miss Lowry’s attitude, and the parents breathing down her neck, she wanted to be thorough.

See Dr. Wiley’s observation notes using the Kounin system below:

Staring at her observation notes, Edith wonders how she might use the information she gathered about student behavior to respond to the concerned parents, not to mention give feedback to Miss Lowry. Though she observed no “serious misbehavior” during Miss Lowry’s class, she is concerned that she observed very few students who were “definitely in.” However, nine minutes of data are not much to go on. Called out of the class for an emergency, Edith had not seen much more than Miss Lowry’s introduction.

Ross Austin pops his head in just as Edith is beginning to feel overwhelmed.

“How’s it going?” he asks.

“Ross, I’m trying to make sense of these observation notes for Miss Lowry, and I’m not getting very far. I observed a science lesson this morning, and I’m looking at her old records, but don’t really know what to make of it all.

“Surprise observations this early? Boy, you’re tough!” Ross chides.

“Oh, no. She knew I was coming. I even got a lesson plan out of her first!” Edith states proudly.

“Well, that was nice of you. Tom used to do all ‘surprise’ visits. You might learn more about Miss Lowry and her students if you just pop in.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Ross. I hate to start off on the wrong foot with Florence, but I think that parents deserve at least my best effort to get to the bottom of Miss Lowry’s reputation.”

Dr. Wiley decides to return to Miss Lowry’s class that afternoon. This time she will bring her laptop and use the TPAI Report in an attempt to capture everything that is going on in the classroom.

See Dr. Wiley’s TPAI Observation Report notes below:

Dr. Wiley slips out of Miss Lowry’s class a few minutes before the final bell of the day rings so she can supervise bus duty. On her way, she stops by her desk and finds two messages—one from Mr. Renfrew and the other from Mrs. Whitehouse. “Could this day get any worse?” she wonders.

Mrs. Rose Whitehouse, concerned parent

Once students are gone, Edith heads back to her office to review her notes. Looking down at the pink message slips crumpled in her hand, she almost bumps into Miss Lowry on her way into the office.

“Two visits in one day, huh, Edith? You really must enjoy my teaching!” Miss Lowry challenges.

“Oh, yes, I got pulled away the first time so I thought I’d come back…” Edith’s voice trails off. She is not prepared to meet with Miss Lowry yet. “Do you have some time tomorrow morning to discuss the observations?” Dr. Wiley asks, recovering her composure.

“It’ll have to be short; I have two committee meetings tomorrow,” Miss Lowry replies.

“Ok, how about first thing, around 7:15?” Dr. Wiley suggests.

“I hope we don’t make a habit of these meetings, Edith. I’ll be there, but I don’t think more talk about ridiculous parents will do any good.”

“Good, see you in the morning,” Dr. Wiley smiles, ignoring Miss Lowry’s last remark.

Dr. Wiley closes the door behind Edith and stares at the files and notes strewn across her desk. “Whose class is it, anyway?” she sighs.


Good, T, S., & Brophy, J (2000). Looking in Classrooms New York: Longman.

Watch Critical Perspectives from:
 Debbie Drown, Nationally Distinguished Principal

 Dr. Daniel Duke, Professor of Education, University of Virginia

 Dr. Rudolph Ford, Principal Richmond City Schools 

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Who’s in Charge?

Who’s in Charge?

Experienced teacher Emma Loring remembers her early challenges as a classroom manager.

Scene Photo

Emma’s classroom runs smoothly.

I gave Sharon a ride to the metro after school today, and on the way we chatted about how teaching is going for her. At one point, she looked at me admiringly and said, “You’re just a born teacher, aren’t you?” I had a good laugh at that one—and I’m still smiling.

It wasn’t always easy—and to tell the truth, it still isn’t. Face it: teaching is hard. Very hard. And some days are harder than others. Heck, some years are harder than others. But most of the time, I think I’ve got it down. Gone are the days when a student’s outburst could send me to the hall in tears. Yes, that happened a few times that first year, and it always left me feeling powerless and out of control.

If I’d had other options, I would’ve left the classroom behind. But maybe that’s not quite right; there was something in me, some tenacity, that kept me thinking and figuring and exploring. I’ve never liked giving up.

See, those first few years, I really, really wanted my students to like me. Now, I wouldn’t have put it that way then, but when a student gave me a hard time, I crumbled. If somebody said, “Your class is soooooo boring,” I’d go home wondering where I’d gone wrong and how to make it more fun—and scrap whatever plans I’d made to try something more “fun.” As if the choice were: like me or learn.

And that got me thinking: if I couldn’t take care of myself, well, I couldn’t expect my students to! That was absurd. So I began reading everything I could about classroom management, from Glasser to Kohn to Kounin to Dreikur to Jones. And so on. And not everything rang true. I tried different models, switching things up from week to week—probably confused my students more than anything else! But slowly, I began to hit my stride and figure out what works authentically for me.

When I started teaching, I thought I planned my lessons pretty well. And I did—for a novice teacher. It’s just, there were so many things to learn, content and routines—let alone school politics. I just couldn’t get them all at once. But once I understood the basics of classroom management, I turned my focus to instruction. And boy, what a difference that made! The two just go hand-in-hand, if you ask me.

I’m not saying I’ve got it down, but I’ve been teaching sixth and seventh grade social studies for so long I do think I’ve got a few good tricks up my sleeve. I can travel so much further with my students now that I’m not worrying about whether there’s going to be a problem (and there always was) or if they’re enjoying my class. I like kids and my content area—and I keep my eye on what I’m here to do: teach academic and socio-emotional skills. And guess what? I think my students like me—and I know they learn a lot in my class. You might even say they have fun.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
What’s the Difference?

What’s the Difference?

Engaging Students in math.

Melanie Coughman braces for her most difficult class.

Scene Photo

Melanie works diligently to help students master algebra concepts.

Melanie had been at school since seven-fifteen that morning, as usual. Her routine included a 5:45 AM kick-boxing class at the gym, a quick shower, and then at least an hour of uninterrupted work in her classroom before students arrived.

Since this was her hard teaching day—a morning section of Algebra II, followed by Honors Geometry, planning, another section of Algebra II, and finally an eighth period tutoring session—her planning time was especially important. She valued the standards set up by NCTM and worked hard to integrate many different presentations of material, especially in her low level classes. These students were S-L-O-W. It seemed to take forever for them to master the simplest of concepts, concepts her honors kids could grasp in a fraction of the time.

Overview: Principles for School Mathematics

As the morning announcements began, Melanie gritted her teeth and tried to hold on to the already fleeting sense of euphoria she’d felt after a great work-out and a productive hour of prep. She hoped her students’ lackluster reaction to the announcements was not an indication of how the rest of the block would go, but her expectations were low.

She’d already spent weeks on quadratic equations and today she was reviewing for the final quiz scheduled for next class. She’d worked hard throughout this unit to help students develop procedural facility and a conceptual understanding of the topic, using symbols, graphs, tables, and written descriptions of quadratic equations. Taking advantage of all the tools at her disposal—a permanently mounted SmartBoard, a graphing calculator hooked up to the TV, and easy access to a mobile laptop lab—she had provided many different ways for students to access the material. Today’s review should just be a quick exercise that would allow students to show their mastery of the different representations of quadratic equations.

Melanie’s pacing guide.

Scene Photo

Sei-Sei struggles through another math lesson.

Stacey, or Sei-Sei, as she liked to be called, was a senior—in Algebra II, a course most students finished by the end of their sophomore year. This was Sei-Sei’s second time taking the class—she failed on her first try—but she’d been doing the work this time around and passing. She still hated the class, though—that came through clearly. Melanie had decided early on that it was better to ignore Sei-Sei’s attitude. In her experience, there wasn’t much a teacher could do to help a student that closed off.

A journal entry Sei-Sei wrote about her most difficult class.

Closing the Achievement Gap.

There were bright spots, of course. Her trio of girls reminded Melanie of more advanced students—maybe they weren’t mathematically gifted, but they cared and put some energy into the class. It made them so much easier to work with.

Melanie dutifully made sure to check in with each group at least twice. She couldn’t wait to finish this unit. She wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a success until the quiz results were in, but she was keeping her fingers crossed that enough of them would pass, and they could finally move on.

Out of habit, Melanie saved the SmartBoard notes from today’s lesson. Sometimes she pulled these up during her eighth period tutoring session to review a concept covered in class that day. She hoped they would be ready to tackle the next unit after the quiz.

Melanie’s SmartBoard notes for the lesson.

Diana Hunt reflects on her role as an experienced mathematics teacher.

Scene Photo

Diana’s many responsibilities as math department chair occupy her time both in and out of school.

Diana Hunt liked to be involved. She’d taught ever since she graduated from college, more years ago than she liked to say. Back then, many women quit the profession after they got married, but she’d loved teaching too much to give it up.

So much had changed since those early days. Now Diana was chair of the department, taught a math methods course at the college, mentored student teachers, and attended every NCTM conference she could. In a typical day, she could go from teaching AP Calculus to general level geometry to coaching a struggling math teacher. She loved this variety and participating in a dynamic profession.

As the students began to file into the room for Calculus, Diana had the quickening sense of excitement that she still got before every class. Diana was especially pleased with this lesson that had evolved over the years to include many forms of symbolic, graphic and physical representations of concepts that could be so difficult for students to understand. She didn’t waste a lot of time on chit-chat but immediately began reviewing homework and showing an animation of topics from the previous class.

Diana held an optional weekend math session for her AP students at a coffee shop one afternoon each month. Sure, not all students came, but about a dozen showed up each time. Twelve out of fifty AP Calculus students wasn’t too bad! They would answer questions and challenge each other to tackle problems well beyond the scope of the course. They had fun, too! The cozy environment, warm lattes, and fresh muffins, gave them a chance to talk more than they could in the classroom.

That’s how Diana finally got to know one of the most promising math students she’d ever taught. Valentina’s family had emigrated to the United States while Valentina was in middle school. She quickly learned English and excelled in all of her classes, but her teachers often commented on her shy demeanor and reluctance to speak up in class. Valentina did not attend the first couple of Diana’s coffee shop sessions, but once she came to one she didn’t miss another. She quickly warmed to Diana and eagerly discussed various approaches to problem solving—both in and out of class. Diana could count on her to volunteer solutions to the most difficult problems and just a month ago, Valentina had won a state-wide mathematics competition.

Valentina seemed surprised when Diana first asked if she had considered studying mathematics in college. Diana gave her a copy of an address to Congress written by a young actress who had starred on a popular TV show called The Wonder Years and later went on to major in mathematics in college. Valentina wasn’t familiar with the actress—she hadn’t even lived in the U.S. when the show aired!—but she said she felt an immediate connection with the woman’s words. Valentina was now waiting to hear from several colleges with excellent mathematics programs and was considering pursuing a career in mathematics.

Speaking at Congress!

Diana could lose track of time sitting at the computer, looking for interesting demonstrations to show her students. She often visited the Math Forum Internet Mathematics Library site and sometimes made postings herself. When she heard the excitement in her students’ voices after seeing one of the examples she found online, it made the hours of time she still spent preparing for classes, even after all of these years, worth it.

The Math Forum@Drexel: Calculus.

When Diana thought back to how she’d presented calculus even ten years ago, it all seemed so antiquated. She had been so excited when she got wooden models of solid shapes, and she had made her own models out of carpet strips when she couldn’t find anything else that worked. Even though some of the physical models were heavy and difficult to wield, she still used them in her instruction. They were a solid complement to the displays and animations she projected using the SmartBoard. The combination of physical models and animations she was using in today’s lesson would be particularly helpful because the topic could be so difficult for students to visualize.

Once Diana gave the students a chance to work on practice problems, she glanced around the room. Most of her students seemed engaged, and she was able to help a few students who needed additional assistance. She was sure her students would be able to understand, speak and write about finding the volume of a solid of known cross section after her presentation today.

After school Diana had a curriculum committee meeting to begin collaborating on a review of the district’s mathematics scope-and-sequence. They had the difficult assignment of determining a structure for and sequence of mathematical topics that would be rigorous and coherent. Earlier, Diana had found an interview to share with her colleagues that explained coherence in terms that mirrored her own classroom experiences.

A Conversation with: William H. Schmidt on Mathematics.

Diana also had a meeting with a new math teacher during their shared planning period. Faculty turn-over had been so high, especially among math teachers, that the administration had implemented a mentoring program this year, and so Diana had added “mentoring new teachers” to her list of responsibilities as department chair. And, boy, did they need mentoring! She didn’t remember her first year of teaching as overwhelmingly difficult as so many new teachers seemed to find it. Sure, she sometimes had doubts about whether she was making a difference, but overall, she was pretty sure her impact on the profession and her students was positive.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Weighing Their Options

Weighing Their Options

Long time friends discuss their sons’ future.

Hasan and David were friends from way back. They’d gone through elementary, junior high (as they called it back then), and senior high together, which wasn’t unusual for a small town like Esmont.

Hasan and David understand each other.

Although their families didn’t get together often and they didn’t attend the same church, Hasan and David felt they had a lot in common. Ever since they started out at the houseboat factory as young men, they’d spent their coffee break together. Most guys hung out in the workroom, but they relished the chance to get some fresh air.

Recently, they’d both been struggling with what to do with their teenage sons. “These boys…,” David had said a while back, “man, I can’t tell you how many times I have to remind Chris to pick up his room or finish his homework. ”

“Yeah, I know. In one ear and out the other, right? Austin’s the same.”

Today was like any other day. But rumors were buzzing in the factory. “Corporate restructuring” was what the employees had been told, but it meant more than that to David and Hasan.

David and Hasan commiserate during a break. [dial-up OR broadband]

Data on Educational Attainment and Income

Differences of opinion surface at the high school gym.

“Man, that’s up and down… just shoot the ball!” Austin called out to Chris. The pair had been coming into town every weekend to get in some extra practice time. Even though he’d tried out the past two years, Austin hadn’t made the junior varsity team at Esmont High. And he was determined to do something about it, even if it meant spending game time on the bench.

“So, check this out,” Austin started in as he caught the ball and moved across the court. “Coach Reinhart is taking the team to basketball camp at the university this summer.” He swiveled around and leapt up in an attempt to dunk the ball.

Chris rolled his eyes. “What for? You think you’re gonna be NBA or somethin’? You and me…pssh, we’ll be lucky if we even make team manager.”

“You got me wrong, man,” Austin said, grinning, “I just wanna catch a glimpse of some college girls! Or any girls, for that matter. They just love a man in uniform.”

Austin sees college as a necessity.

But Austin wasn’t just focused on girls. When the coach first posted a brochure of the camp in the locker room, Austin’s eyes lit up. His older cousin had told him how colleges looked at extracurriculars when awarding scholarships. And though an athletic scholarship wasn’t in the cards for Austin, he was sure he could get some funding based on other areas of his high school performance. He already had a place in student government and was head of the Homecoming committee.

As soon as Austin had brought the brochure home, though, his father voiced his concerns about the cost. “It’s free, Dad. Everybody goes if they can keep their grades up,” Austin had said. After that, Hasan was all aboard. He became proud, actually, that his son was going to spend some time at a college, living the life, seeing what it was all about.

College was one dream Hasan never allowed himself to have, and he wanted better for Austin. He took every available opportunity to talk to Austin about college, and never missed a college night or recruitment fair at the high school.

Hasan encourages David to find out more about college options. [dial-up OR broadband]

Chris wonders whether college is the right choice for him. [dial-up OR broadband]

“Come on, Christopher—I’ve got supper in the oven,” Linda called from the doorway.

Chris feels pressure to stay home for his family.

“Coming!” Chris called, taking one more shot at the basket. He turned toward Austin, “I gotta go, man. We’ve got my cousin’s kids in the car.”

“Alright, then,” Austin slapped his buddy’s hand. “Don’t forget about what I said. You’ll see. Working at the houseboat factory is no piece of cake. By the end of the summer, we’ll both be wanting to get out of there.”

Chris nodded, but he couldn’t decide whether he agreed. His family needed him in Esmont, and even if they didn’t, it’s not like they could afford to help him pay for college. His dad was making ends meet, but there wasn’t a lot to spare. And everyone in the family was trying to help his aunt Linda since she was basically raising her grandchildren. It just seemed silly to Chris to spend a bunch of money on something he hated anyway—school. Still, he knew Austin wouldn’t let up.

Chris grabbed his duffel and headed out to the car.

Linda wants the best for her family. [dial-up OR broadband]

Susan doubts the value of college planning for her middle school student.

Susan isn’t ready to think about college for her seventh grader.

Susan enjoyed getting together for lunch with Mary Jane. They rarely got enough time to eat out with kids involved in sports. Both mothers spent more time in the car than they did at home! And when time and money were tight, eating out was not an option. So the monthly lunch at the local buffet was a treat.

Mary Jane and Susan both had kids attending Esmont Middle School. In the past year, they’d seen each other a few times aside from their monthly get-together, but Mary Jane took a more active role in school activities than Susan. She’d tried not to push her on it—not everyone enjoys setting up school dances or concessions at basketball games, but Mary Jane couldn’t believe it when Susan said she’d never attended Parent-Teacher Conferences. She decided then and there to make it a personal goal to get her friend more involved. So when the College Fair came up in the lunch conversation, Mary Jane took the opportunity to speak her mind.

Mary Jane advises Susan on college preparation. [dial-up OR broadband]

Susan wondered whether she was just giving in to Mary Jane’s advice. True, she already had a daughter in college, but Susan was determined to let her kids be kids as long as they needed to. Her family had practically forced her out of the house at 17 to find a job. And even after that, she was expected to use part of her pay check for family expenses. When she finally met her husband at age 20, she was grateful to have extra income to lessen her load.

College fair brochure

As the two women walked out of the restaurant, they watched a car full of young adults speed past in a pickup. Have your fun now, kids, Susan thought, because tomorrow you’ll be grown.

An interaction at church raises concerns for Mary Jane and her college-age daughter.

“Kelsey… Morgan…we gotta scoot. Come on! We’ll be late for Sunday School!” Mary Jane called down the hall to her daughter’s room.

Kelsey and her freshman roommate Morgan home for the weekend. When Mary Jane first met Morgan, she thought now, she’s a sweet girl, but not like most of Kelsey’s friends. It was true. Kelsey’d had the same group of friends since childhood, for the most part, so they all took after each other in their dress, the way they talked, even the food they liked. Morgan…she was different. As soon as the girls arrived home Friday night, Mary Jane offered them some leftovers from dinner. “Sure Mom,” Kelsey had said. “But Morgan’s a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat anything that has a face.”

“Can she eat chocolate?” Mary Jane asked, a little confused. The girls just giggled, then ran into the kitchen, ready to devour the cake on the kitchen counter.

Distance is a challenge for Kelsey and her mom.

Mary Jane sighed as she watched the girls inhale four pieces of her famous chocolate cake. The past few weeks had been hard for Mary Jane. She had felt distant from Kelsey since she went to college. Sure, they talked on the phone every day, but it wasn’t the same. She wasn’t prepared to miss her daughter so much! Of course, she was thrilled when Kelsey told her, a few weeks back, that she wanted to come home for church.

Linda reveals her opinions. [dial-up OR broadband]

Mary Jane reflects. [dial-up OR broadband]

Kelsey missed home too—more than she admitted. It was hard leaving her family and she was sometimes lonely. Her younger sister and she had shared a room for years and her aunts, uncles, and grandparents never missed Sunday supper. Eating at the campus food court after church didn’t give her the same warm feeling.

At the same time, Kelsey felt so alive at her small college. There was activity everywhere, tons of new people to meet, great shops and restaurants in her town (even though she couldn’t afford many of them), and, most of all, so many inspiring classes to choose from. She’d always been interested in medicine and wanted to be a nurse, but she never realized how much there was to it! Here she was, five weeks into her Introduction to Psychology as a Natural Science course, and she’d already learned more about the brain than she ever imagined.

Kelsey and Morgan were becoming close, too. They weren’t in the same major, but they spent every waking minute together outside of class. At first, Kelsey was a little scared about having a roommate she didn’t know, but Morgan was easy to get along with—even if she was pretty opinionated. And she loved having Morgan visit for a weekend in her hometown.

Morgan analyzes the congregation at Kelsey’s church. [dial-up OR broadband]

Kelsey meant what she said. Her church and her community were important to her. Yet she wondered if there was any truth to Morgan’s prediction. As they walked back to their seats, Kelsey was suddenly aware of how homogeneous the congregation really was.

Check out these sites to gain a better understanding of topics related to postsecondary options for today’s student.

Peggy Shearer, Principal of Wayne County High School in Monticello, KY provides insight into the challenges of first-generation college-bound students and their families.

See Critical Perspective from Peggy Shearer. 
Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call

Andy’s ninth-grade classes are a mixed bag.

I felt my head drop right when the bell rang. I didn’t know what woke me up, but it didn’t really matter. I picked up my pencil, shoved it into my back pocket, rubbed my eyes, stretched, and shuffled to my next class: algebra. Algebra? Who were they kidding?

My math teacher, Mr. Hayword, was used to me. He usually dissed me by shakin’ his head, “Here comes trouble.” Then, he pretty much ignored me and taught his boring old math class in the same boring old way. Get out your homework, check your homework, watch Mr. Hayword do math problems, open your book, do some math problems, check your math problems, write down your homework. Man, why don’t you try staying awake through that?

Mrs. Clanton tried every trick in the book to reach her English students.

I could finally head home to my couch – and my TV – after my last class of the day: English. Mrs. Clanton, now she was aight. I mean, she made learning pretty fun. We got to listen to music and discuss the lyrics and stuff. And we wrote about real stuff that was happening, you know, like stuff that’s in the news. The real deal. One day, I remember, we were talking about hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Or, what was left of it. I had a lot to say, because my uncle and cousins stayed there, and they wound up in the Superdome. After class, Mrs. Clanton told me I was smart. Yeah, right, that’s why I’m in this class, I thought.

Andy begins to gain confidence and find himself.

I started going to Mrs. Clanton’s class every day. I even wrote a paper about my uncle and cousins in the Superdome. Mrs. Clanton got them to put it in the school newspaper. I didn’t know anyone even read that thing. But, they did. People started talkin’ to me about it. Coach Anderson said he sent money to the Katrina relief fund because of what I wrote. Mrs. Clanton said she liked my writing, that I had a strong voice. I’m not exactly sure what that meant, but I knew I had some things to say.

My mom always called me Motor Mouth, MM for short. She says I came out talkin’. She’s worked a second job at night ever since I can remember. After school I would usually heat up some dinner, maybe some Ragu, and save a bowl full for Mom. When she got home, I’d heat hers in the microwave, and we’d talk at the kitchen table while she ate. And then I’d go to bed.

One day, Mrs. Clanton got on this kick she called Know Thy Self. She said it would help us make choices if we understood ourselves better. She said it was about building a foundation, or something like that. No one ever asked me to think about that stuff before.

See samples of the “Understanding Myself and Others” assignment from Mrs. Clanton’s class below:

Andy meets Coach Anderson, starts playing football, and rethinks his plans.

Andy is looking at making a lot of big decisions during his last year of high school

After a while, my grades got better. By eleventh grade, I was passing most of my classes, going to school every day, and playing football. I’d never been so busy in my whole life, and I knew I couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Coach Anderson. He’s the best. He’s not just a great coach, but, well, it’s like he really cares. He’s not just all about football, either. He even helps us study, tutors us after school and stuff.

Well, now I’m a senior, and I got a new problem. One door opens, and the other one just stays there, banging on its hinges.

Click here to see Andy reflect on what to do with his life.
Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare

Susan wonders just how honest she should be when filling out her college application.

Susan is caught off guard by what she comes across in her college application.

I’m filling out my application to college, all these boring forms, just like the ones you fill out before big tests at school, only longer and with more details. Not hard. I’m almost finished, when I come to this one: Have you ever been subject to disciplinary action resulting in probation, suspension, or expulsion from school? Followed by: Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor? I get this sick feeling inside.

See, I was arrested when I was in ninth grade. It was so stupid. I was on this field trip to the science museum. The bus dropped us off at this big mall for lunch, because the museum only sold popcorn or something. I don’t know. I never made it there. And the teachers said, “You’ve got forty-five minutes. Be back here ON TIME or else!”

Amanda Payne – really cool, seeing some guy, a senior, at Central – was kinda hanging out with me. I’ve always been sort of friends with her, but I never thought I was cool enough. And she said, “Let’s go!” There was no question. We were skipping lunch to roam the mall. Sears was all the way at the other end, so we stopped at a few places first. I bought a stuffed animal for Alicia’s birthday. She and I were just starting to be friends, not like now. So I didn’t really have a best friend and I felt so cool hanging out with Amanda.

I didn’t have a clue what she had planned when we walked into the juniors department at Sears. She just gave me this look, sort of straight on and sort of out of the corner of her eyes, grabbed a pair of shorts, and dropped them into her backpack like it was nothing. Very cool. Says, “See anything you want?”

Susan remembers a day she’d rather forget.

I sort of laughed, cuz I saw tons of stuff, but I don’t steal. Not usually. And then she picked out this belly top, and put that in her pack. I looked around. Nobody saw anything. The clerk was busy helping a few customers. Otherwise, it was pretty quiet.

“C’mon,” Amanda said, impatient for me to join in. “You’d look good in this.” And she added another pair of shorts to her bag.

I looked around again. Still nobody looking at us. “I want that outfit,” I said. I grabbed the same shorts and a pink top, my favorite color back then. I stuffed them as fast as I could into my own bag. And then I laughed. I couldn’t help it. My nerves were buzzing. And Amanda, who hardly ever smiles except at boys, smiled back. It felt like we were for sure gonna be best friends.

So we kept on taking things. I don’t know how long we were there. It was the weirdest feeling, like I was in a dream or something. Everything happened really fast – but it also felt like I was in slow motion or under water or something. Then Amanda checked her watch and said, “Ms. Hollins said the bus was leaving at 12:45.”

We headed towards the door. I had this sick feeling in my stomach, but what was I gonna do? Put the stuff back? And right at the door, I saw two security guards, looking at us hard. “Amanda,” I said, stopping.

She gave me this look, like I was dirt. “Be cool,” she sorta hissed. And kept walking towards the exit, me trailing behind.

The guards stopped us, opened our packs, and made us go way back to the other end of the store, into this hallway, and then into an office. All gray and cinderblock and scary. I was bawling already, but Amanda was silent.

It was a man and a woman, and they took turns yelling at us. I caved right away, telling them everything, and they were nicer to me. But Amanda being silent drove them crazy. They yelled more and more. She wouldn’t tell them her name or her phone number. So I told them that stuff, and then I had to be the one to tell them we were on a field trip. Next thing you know, Ms. Hollins was there.

Ms. Hollins rescues the girls after their arrest.

I thought she was gonna be so mad. I started crying even harder when I saw her. But she gave me a hug, and then put her arm around Amanda and just sorta patted her. “It’ll be okay, girls,” she said. “Just tell me what’s going on.”

Of course the guards had already filled her in, but she heard what I had to say, which was all wah wah wah at that point. Amanda still wasn’t talking. The man said, “She’s a hard one,” to Ms. Hollins. Ms. Hollins didn’t say anything back, just patted Amanda extra fast.

Then she was on the cell phone with the school principal and each of our mother’s. My mom really wanted to talk to me, but I shook my head and Ms. Hollins said, “I’m afraid she can’t right now. That’ll have to wait till we’re back at school.” Amanda’s mom wanted to know how she was supposed to get out of work to meet us back at school.

The police came, and Ms. Hollins signed some papers that said we’d show up in court and some other things. I think we had to sign, too. Then we got to go.

The other kids had all gone on to the museum with the three other chaperones, so we had some time to kill, waiting for the bus to come back and pick us up.

“You girls had lunch yet?” Ms. Hollins asked. And then – this was the weirdest thing – she bought us pizza. She didn’t ask us any questions or say anything about what had happened. When I came back from the restroom, I caught her saying something to Amanda about the tough time she’s been having. It didn’t make much sense to me, and if it moved Amanda, it didn’t show.

After that we had to get on the bus and listen to everyone tease us about what happened. Even if Ms. Hollins said not to. She made us sit up front, but we could still hear everything. At least, I could. Amanda put on her headphones.

There was a lot more yelling to go through: at the principal’s office, in the car ride home, from my dad, from some of the other teachers. Mainly about how embarrassed I’d made them, for myself, for my school, for my family. My mom kept saying, “You weren’t raised that way.” Like I was raised any way at all. But I just kept crying and apologizing, and pretty soon, it was all over. I got suspended for a few days, which was kind of a relief. And I was banned from that mall, which wasn’t that big a deal – I didn’t want to go back there anyway – and I had to do community service.

I don’t know what happened in Amanda’s conference with the principal or at her hearing. We never really talked about it, and we didn’t hang out as much. Junior year, she ended up pregnant by some thirty year old guy. Her mom takes care of the baby and keeps a few other kids to pay for everything. Amanda never talks about her little boy, though. The weird thing is, she was so smart, way smarter than me.

So, yeah, I’ve got a record. The form gives me two blank lines to explain what happened.

Carlos and Andy work on their college applications down in Carlos’ basement.

Andy has a hard time writing his essay.

It’s funny. Andy is the smart one. Everyone knows that. But he’s sweating this essay way more than I am. Not that I don’t care. I do. I don’t like showing my writing to anyone. But this is different. I don’t know who’s going to read it, so I’m not worried what they’ll think. Besides, how much time can they spend analyzing it, when they’ve got thousands of other essays to read?

Andy’s over my house, like always. He likes to write at the computer. That’s another funny thing. I’m the one that has a computer, but I always write on paper first. I think it would’ve been cool to live way back when there were only typewriters. Then, every line would have to be perfect before you typed it – or else you’d have to do the whole page over. Or maybe if you made a mistake, you’d work around it, push your story in a different direction, just so you wouldn’t have to type everything all over again. Maybe come up with something better.

Carlos actually enjoys writing his essay.

So I’m sitting at the floor, pad in hand working on my response to, “Write page 122 of your biography.” What a dumb question! But it gets me thinking, and I start to have fun, imagining what somebody would have to say about my life. So it’s pretty easy for me to write. I’ll just start with a story, a good hook, then finish with a paragraph of analysis – all in 250 words. It’s kind of a formula, but it’ll work.

I look up at the screen. Andy’s only typed a line or two, although I’ve heard the keys clacking away. Someday they’ll invent a silent keyboard, and then nobody will know what anybody’s doing. As it is, I know Andy has deleted what he’s written about ten times.

He sees me looking at him and swears. I laugh. “What’s up, man?”

“Who comes up with these questions?” he asks.

I try to impersonate Dr. MacDonald, our English teacher. “A team of experts who know how to gain unique insight into each applicant through one question.”

He rolls his eyes at me. “You showin’ off your SAT vocabulary?”

“You bet,” I say in my normal voice.

“Anyway, I’m done for today. I can’t write this stuff. It all sounds so stupid.” He highlights the paragraph on the screen, and hits the delete button.

“Stupid? From Mr. Genius?” I laugh at him, but he’s not in the mood.

“Shut up,” he says. “Everyone acts like this is so easy. That guy I talked to at JMU?” I nod my head, vaguely remembering. “He made it sound like it was nothing. But writing about myself is just not my thing.

Click here to watch Raphael, the JMU student, talk about his experiences with applying to college. (dialup  OR broadband)

“When’s your due date?” I ask, even though I know already.

“I gotta get this done by Saturday,” he says. “How about you?”

We’re not applying to the same schools. “I’ve got another month.”

“Awww. You got it easy.” Andy shuts down the computer. “I gotta head out. My moms is off tonight and she wants me to help her move some stuff.”

“When you gonna finish your essay?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Can I come over tomorrow?”

I laugh. “Since when do you need an invitation?”

After he leaves, I finish my essay. When I’m done writing, I leave the piece alone ‘till the weekend. Then, I make a few changes and sit down at the computer to type it. When I click to open a new word processing file, a list of all the recent documents comes up. I see what must be Andy’s essays, saved under two different file names. One is safe.doc, and the other is dare.doc. Andy’s other files on my computer are about molds and mitosis and all kinds of stuff I don’t care about. So these stand out.

I can’t help it. I click on the first one and start reading.

See Andy’s first essay below:

See Andy’s second essay below:

Susan asks Ms. Hollins to write a recommendation.

It’s taken me a while to think of three people who might write recommendations for me. I mean, I’m not Alicia, who wins awards without even trying. Or Andy, who teachers just seem to naturally love. I don’t get in trouble much, but then, I’m not that smart, either. Just average.

I picked this year’s chemistry teacher, my tenth grade English teacher, and then Ms. Hollins, my ninth grade math teacher. Yes, the same Ms. Hollins who knew better than almost anyone what had happened on that field trip.

It was hard for me to ask all these teachers. I mean, I’ve got a C or a B in chemistry, most of the time, but it’s not like I’ve never failed a quiz. Still, it’s probably my best class, and Mr. Wheeler is one of my favorite teachers. He didn’t act shocked when I asked him and cracked some joke about how I’ll have to come back and teach a class once I’ve decided to major in chemistry. Then he stuck a big post-it on the form with the due date and added it to a folder on his desk.

Mrs. Browning, my old English teacher, I don’t think really remembered me from two years ago. She had to look at the form I gave her before she said my name. But she said she’d write it and then asked me a few questions about what I remembered doing in our class, what I thought I’d learned, what I thought I’d contributed. Then she asked me what I’ve been reading on my own. I told her I really like Girl, Interrupted and her face lit up. “Oh, yes,” she said. “That’s one of my favorites, too. Have you read The Bell Jar yet?” I shook my head. “You should. It takes place in the same hospital, only in the ‘50s.” I said I would. So I think she’ll write a good one.

But I’ve put off asking Ms. Hollins. I mean, she of all people has most reason to doubt me. But, like I said, she’s the one who can most explain my arrest and that I’m not a bad person. I so wish I were gonna turn eighteen before I graduate. Then it would be off my record and I’d be off the hook. But I’ve got a September birthday, no luck there. My parents started me at four so they wouldn’t have to pay for daycare any more. But that’s another story.

I finally go to Ms. Hollins after school. It takes all my nerve. I see her around all the time, and she always says hi. But this is different. Important. Of all my teachers, I think she knows me best. She smiles when she sees me, just like she always does. She doesn’t need to look at the form to remember my name.

“What can I do for you, Susan?” she asks.

My heart is pounding, and I practically stutter as I begin. “Uh, well, I’m applying for college, and—“

She interrupts me before I finish. “College? Is that right?” She smiles again. “I knew you could do it.”

I’m feeling better about asking, but then she keeps talking. “You just were so concerned about social things in ninth grade. Boys, and who was popular. It didn’t leave much room for thinking about school, did it?” My stomach drops when she says this, but I nod my head like an idiot. ”I’m glad that’s changed,” she says.

There’s nobody else to ask, so I just say it all at once. “I need you to write a recommendation for me.” She just looks at me. “Please.”

Ms. Hollins is reluctant to write a recommendation for Susan.

Still, she doesn’t say anything, and I want to just give up and forget about college.

Then she sighs. “Susan, I’m not sure I can write you much of a recommendation. I’ll have to talk about what happened that day, you know that. I couldn’t not write about it.”

“I know,” I say, and my voice sounds all tight and funny. I’m trying so hard not to cry. I want to say, I’m not that way. I never stole again. I thought you understood.

“Anyway,” she keeps talking. “You should find more recent teachers, teachers who’ve seen you as a serious student.”

I manage to croak out a, “Thanks,” and head for the door.

“Good luck,” I hear her call after me.

Click here to watch Valerie H. Gregory, Assistant Dean and Director, Office of Admission at the University of Virginia, talk about what colleges look for in prospective students and the importance of contacting the schools you wish to attend. (dialup  OR broadband)

Explore these websites to find information about applying to college:

Apply to Colleges Online

Understanding the Application Process

Completing Applications

Curing the Admission Application Blues

College Interviews: Putting You with Your Name

The College Interview

Letters of Recommendation: An Important Part of the Application Process

For more information about college essay and writing tips, check out these websites:

Sample College Essay Questions

Sample College Essay

Tips to Writing a Great College Essay

Tips for Writing Your College Application Essay

These websites provide calendars to help you keep track of what needs to be done when:

Action Plan for Seniors: Application Process

College Application Calendar

A Quick Time-Line: Make Sure You Are on Track

College Admissions Review

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases
Tottenville High School

Tottenville High School


The ten “Beat the Odds” schools were selected after an extensive review of a Parthenon Group study and data from the New York City Department of Education. These schools’ innovative programs and outstanding leadership resulted in a higher than average graduation rate for students who typically either dropped out or did not graduate on time.

Background Study


 Encouraging Authentic Teaching


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Tottenville High School teachers focus on collaborative and reflective teaching.

At Tottenville High School, the third largest physical plant and one of the most populous schools in New York City, leaders promote the idea that “big” does not mean “mass produced.” Teachers can and must capitalize on their individuality and share innovation with their colleagues. The word “authentic” may be one of the most overused and abused words in educators’ vocabularies. But at Tottenville High, it is the spirit of the word that counts. Principal John Tuminaro fosters authenticity by encouraging collaboration in teaching—experienced teachers share ideas and their expertise with neophytes, and vice versa. The point is to learn from one another as they shape their own styles of teaching. This process of professional development is about creating self awareness. Teachers’ enthusiasm about their jobs invariably is a reflection on best practices and how they view their role in the school. At Tottenville, school leaders create a school culture that encourages teachers to peel back the layers of the onion to find their true core and how it relates to student potential.


 Targeting Students


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The Extended Day program provides a second chance for students needing additional credits to graduate.

To help at-risk students, Principal Tuminaro examines student data and resources to determine how to improve performance of students who are over age and under credited. In some instances these students also exhibit behavioral and attitudinal problems. If they show potential and are willing to work they are enrolled in the Extended Day Program which begins at 2:45 p.m. when regular classes end. The program is integrated into the schedule of Tottenville as an additional period of instruction. By keeping students in familiar surroundings with teachers who know them, educators believe students have their best opportunity to succeed and to be self-directed learners.

Extended Day is neither a short cut to graduation nor an after-school detention program. Tottenville staff bill the program as a privilege—a legitimate chance to prove what you can do. To be admitted and stay in the program students have to be serious about their studies and willing to work. Almost inevitably, those who grab hold of the opportunity learn to become self-aware and think of themselves as successful. For many, this second chance is greatly appreciated and is a life-changing experience.


 Competing for Resources


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Students’ success may spell decreased funding for future intervention programs.

Just because Tottenville is one of the largest comprehensive high schools in the system does not mean all of the school’s programs are fully funded. Extended Day works in no small measure because of scrappy, creative leadership. With increasingly limited resources Principal Tuminaro knows that leadership is about pinpointing the needs of the program to achieve efficiency and accomplish its goal. The program has its own teachers, an administrator, guidance counselor, a family paraprofessional, and its own dean to handle discipline. Mr. Tuminaro works the formal channels for program support, but he must cultivate a network of community organizations if he hopes to keep Extended Day fully functional. Interestingly, the program’s success may well lead to a loss of funding in other areas. Mr. Tuminaro accepts that true leadership seeds programs that foster excellence beyond the initial resources and devotion of time and energy.


 Measuring Success


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Extended Day program students are on track for graduation.

Tottenville’s staff can tell the story of the Extended Day Program’s success with attendance and program completion data. At a minimum, they realize that program value must be measured in terms of the number of students who graduate. But the principal and his assistants insist that the full story will not be known until teachers and students weigh in on the shared value of the program. Teachers and students know better than anyone what works, what seems worthwhile. Perhaps the best metric of all is authenticity in students who come to believe they can exert the power necessary to shape their own lives. If the program encourages students to reinvent themselves through introspection, cooperation, and hard work, it will surely have been worth the time, effort, and financial investment. Overall, program success means providing a school structure so that everyone – teachers, staff and students – feels they are autonomous agents in determining their own self awareness.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Cases