Around the Web: The Big Picture

The theme for this year’s StoryCorps’s “National Day of Listening” was thanking teachers—the heartwarming stories are here. NPR devoted the Thanksgiving episode of “Talk of the Nation” to the topic—listeners called in to thank their former teachers, and teachers called in to reflect on what it meant to be thanked.

It was striking to hear not only how vividly teachers remembered their students, but also how often the enormous impact they had on their students’ lives had to do with personal reasons they could only intuit—one teacher, for example, gave extra attention to a student who always seemed a little sad. Years later, she learned that the students’ parents were going through a nasty divorce, and that her classroom had become an oasis of kindness in that student’s life.

You never fully know what’s going on in your students’ lives, but several recent stories emphasize how important it is for schools to pay attention to the bigger picture when they try to improve student success. Calculating graduation rates with more attention to student demographics reveals that private colleges’ numerically high graduation rates are actually just par for the well-groomed students they serve, while public universities are doing a better-than-expected job. In fact, knowing more about their incoming students than just grades and SAT scores could help schools more accurately predict graduation rates. Dean Dad has long complained that community colleges suffer from inaccurate tallying of graduation rates because students who transfer to four-year colleges—a resounding success as far as a community college’s goals are concerned—count as dropouts. At long last, this might be about to change. A New York City principal argues that, using a wider set of measures, it’s possible to raise the standards for college readiness. Also in the New York Times, an article on the city’s burgeoning Mexican population, which is at much higher risk of dropping out of school, prompted a flurry of responses. Richard Lee Colvin identifies how schools can go about coordinating with other community services to provide students with more well-rounded, and thus more effective, support. It’s hard work, he cautions. Kenai, Alaska, is doing that hard work to support its homeless youth. And The New Republic’s profile of Diane Ravitch tracks her transition from a deeply conservative perspective that saw solutions in school vouchers and firing ineffective teachers to a focus on poverty as the biggest challenge to our schools’ success.

That’s a lot to think about. Here’s Lesboprof’s advice for how to handle anything that comes up during the end-of-semester crunch:

Don’t forget that you are entering the end-of-semester period of burnout and frustration. Do nothing rash, take a break when you need one, and save the “big talks” for the beginning of next semester. And plan a party so everyone can have time to blow off a little steam. It will all seem better, come January.

This post was written by Odile Harter.

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