Friday, June 17, 2016

An Invisible Kid

As a site administrator, it can be a challenge to get to know every student. It is my goal every year to learn everyone's name and their story. I share this goal with our incoming 6th graders every year, Sadly, this doesn't always happen. Thus, the invisible kid.

You might be a parent of an invisible kid. You may have been an invisible kid yourself. An invisible student is one who doesn't make poor decisions on a routine basis. They work extremely hard in the classroom, competing with other invisible and not-so-invisible students to get the highest possible grade possible on each assessment. They study. They try hard. They are always respectful to their teachers. They rarely, if ever, get into any kind of trouble. They keep their heads down and do their best. They don't draw attention to themselves.

When a substitute teacher who frequents your school often enters the classroom, they're quietly happy to see these invisible students. They don't cause trouble for any teacher, permanent or substitute. They don't necessarily ingratiate themselves with their teachers but they don't misbehave. Rarely, if ever, are these students recognized by their peers, by their teachers, or by the school. They pale in comparison when the students who demand attention (good or bad) stand up for recognition. These are the invisible students who quietly do school each day with little ripples in our shared waters.

I myself was not an invisible kid. I made some decisions that brought attention to my educational journey. Whether it was a high school social studies teacher who said "I've had enough of this student" or a 6th grade science teacher who encouraged me to teach the class myself for our review sessions (disclaimer: I told him I could lead a better test review), I was rarely the student who tried to hide amongst their peers. Often, I made a bad decision that logically impeded my educational journey, but these were my decisions that allowed me to grow during these formative years. For a student to sit quietly in a classroom and just silently comply with the curriculum and expectations is troublesome.

There is a saying that "well behaved women rarely make history". In education, the invisible student could follow a similar mantra. While these are students who can prove to be the backbone of your school community. I an very troubled by an "invisible kid's" decision to not create a persona that is both lasting and memorable during their educational journey. In looking back at this year's graduating class, I missed out on the opportunity to get to know many of these flat-out-awesome students, if for no other reasons than the few students who took up 95% of my time and a disconnect in figuring out who these invisible students were.

That said, the responsibility of an administrator is to recognize as many invisible students as possible. It's not an easy task. These aren't your athletes, your soloists during band concerts, or the students who may visit your office for disciplinary reasons throughout the year. If anything, these are the students you need to go out of your way to connect with. It's a challenge to discover these often-quiet students who don't speak up or stand out. During busy, challenging years, you may miss out on a few of these students. This was definitely the case for our administrative team during the past 2015-16 school year.

After my recent graduation speech, I had a few parent emails that expressed their concern with how their "invisible student" was left unrecognized. They're right. I failed their student. I didn't get a chance to recognize them, to meet them in their classrooms, to celebrate their successes. Likely, the student, partly due to their invisible behaviors, didn't reach out to their principal. They didn't approach me during brunch or lunch supervision to make a connection. They didn't share something special about themselves that we could connect with. This isn't to say that this opportunity was their duty or their expectation, but with a school of over a thousand kids, we administrators need a bit of help to discover the typically invisible students. I wish I could go back in time and spend extra moments with these students. I can guarantee that my work day would have been a good bit more pleasant and rewarding.

If nothing else, I'd also like to place a call to encourage these students to not remain invisible any longer. You don't have to be a star athlete. You don't need to be a top band student. You don't even need to be on site council or in leadership. You, as a student, just need to take the opportunity to connect and choose the available opportunities to share a bit of your school or life experiences with your administrators. Trust me. We want to get to know you. We don't want you to be invisible. If anything, it is the opposite. You are most likely the student to show us that we're making a difference with our students; we often feel like we're not. You might be the student to open our eyes to best support all students; we need these reminders. During our challenging days, you are the student who shows us that our efforts are not going unwanted or unloved.

So don't be invisible. You've got a lot of greatness that needs to be shared. We will help you discover your voice. But sometimes, we administrators need help figuring out who you are and what we can do to best support you. We are definitely willing to do so. Speak up. We are listening.

Roller Coaster World of Education

Unless you've been in education, I'm not sure one can fully understand what it is like for educators during the 180+ school days. My best analogy would be akin to a roller coaster on repeat.

You sit down and prepare for the ride. Everything is calm. There is a bit of excitement in the air for the upcoming school year. You know what the year will bring. You've seen it before. The safety ride workers come by to make sure you're securely fastened. They spend less than two seconds on this very important part of the trip. Just a quick look, perhaps they pull on the harness a bit, and then they move on to the next person.

You're sitting next to a friend but it just as well could be someone you've never met. You give a "here goes nothing" glance to your seatmate. They smile back. Perhaps they're a veteran for this ride. It could be their first time trying it out. Somewhere amidst the seats, there's a rather talkative individual, sharing their excitement and how they always love the roller coaster experience. Their examples of this "excitement" are beginning to make you question whether or not you want to take this ride after all. Before you can make up your ride, you start to move. The first day of school has begun and the kids are piling into your classroom. It is too late now. Hold on.

It's a slow climb to the top of the tracks. Everyone is pretty excited. The clicking and clanging of the climb is helping build the excitement. Everyone is still getting along. There's a sense of energy in the air. The first time rider is a bit clueless for what's about to begin. The veteran teacher is hinting about the upcoming fall. You're not questioning yourself just yet. This is one of the nicer parts of the ride.

And then it happens. Since you're sitting a bit towards the middle, you see the the riders in the front disappear. You're not sure where they went. You can only hear their screams. Maybe it's the first test they gave with the follow up flood of parent emails about why their student received a B- on the assessment. Maybe it's the departure of a beloved assistant principal who has announced they're leaving the district for a promotion elsewhere. Maybe their three month old twin boys aren't sleeping through the night and they're running on less than empty. Whatever their reason, you're quickly approaching the drop and know you're going to experience the same shortly.

You do. The roller coaster crosses the apex and falls fast toward oblivion. You have your hands clutching the side rails, just hoping for a bit of life-saving security. Your seatmate has their hands in the air and is screaming loudly, perhaps with excitement, maybe with a bit of fear. Who is this guy? You look past ahead of the bouncing heads in front of you and realize that the drop is about to end. You breathe a bit and think you'll be able to catch your breather. You're wrong.

Next thing you know, you're at a forty five degree angle as the roller coaster speeds through a turn. You look to your left and realize your head is about four feet from a murky swamp. Truthfully, you consider your options at this point. How bad would it be to slither out of your harness and drop quietly into the brownish-green waters? You could always say it was an accident and no one would think twice.

Before you can make your decision, the roller coaster is picking up speed and is entering the corkscrew portion of the ride. Your head jostles back and forth. Your eyes react as if they've been struck by a taser. Your mouth and chin tense, giving the impression that you're trying out to play the role of the Joker in the next Batman flick. In the education world, we call this the month of March.

There's a short lull during the ride as you begin to climb once more toward the final descent. The other riders are in various states of euphoria and chaos. The veteran to your right begins talking about how they're never going to ride a roller coaster again. The first time rider a few seats ahead of you is looking around, wondering if their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are normal. You just continue to hold on, brave through the requests for last minute extra credit, and progress toward the finish line.

Finally. It's here. The roller coaster pulls into its final destination, a place that looks oddly familiar to where you began your ride. True educators, however, don't always get to get off this roller coaster. They've got an upcoming conference next weekend to learn about the new math curriculum. There's an administrative retreat to help you start your planning for the upcoming year. Next year's master schedule needs to be finalized and have all 1,050 students imported into their classes for the next roller coaster ride.

This year, however, it's a bit different for me. I'm getting off the roller coaster for the next few weeks. I'm logging off, powering down, and spending a few extra moments with my family and also just by myself. This year's roller coaster ride was a long one with lots of twists and turns. As a principal who tries to provide 24-7 support through late night email responses, texting replies, NextDoor support, constant community communication, and just everything else I can during the school year, I'm going to take what I think is a much needed and well deserved break from it all. I'm posting my "away for the summer" vacation response for my work email and doing my best to limit my work-related activities over the few weeks. I hope every other educator out there gets their well-deserved rest from the roller coaster world of education we live in. You've earned it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Graduation Speech - 2016 - Union Middle School

Below is my graduation speech for the Union Middle School class of 2016. 

Most educators will tell you that certain grade level groups of students take on certain personalities. One class may be known for their compassion. Another class may be known for the athletic ability. The class of 2016, littered with extremely talented students, was a collection of kind souls, many of which were in utero either during the events of 9/11/01 or shortly conceived thereafter. I often wonder if there is a connection to the stress our society felt at that time and our students' leap before you look behaviors. Regardless, as I share below, it's a unique class with tons of potential. I'm looking forward to their story over the next four years.

And as always...

Thank you parents for your support over the past three years. 

Thank you staff for your continued dedication to our students.

And thank you students for just being you. 

Here is the graduation speech. Enjoy.


Good evening everyone once more to our 8th grade promotion ceremony. My name is Todd Feinberg. I stand here on the cusp of the end of my fourth year as the Union Middle School principal, my sixth year as a UMS Tiger, my eleventh year as a school administrator, and my sixteenth year as an educator. Truthfully, I’ve spent my entire life in education, as I stepped into the classroom within months of graduating from law school. I have seemingly always been in and around the classroom. And despite these decades of days spent in education, I’ve spent most of the past school year unsure about how to best address the Union Middle School class of 2016.

I’ve changed topics more than a dozen times. I’ve entertained offers from students and teachers alike to take my place and have them give this speech instead. I even thought about recycling one of my past three graduation speeches and taking a somewhat easy way out of this situation.

Every time I begin to write this speech, I return back to some words shared by a football coach to his team from this past March. Even though he is addressing a locker room of professional athletes, I feel like his speech resonates quite well for the Union Middle School class of 2016.

Let me explain why: This is one of the most perplexing, most challenging, and yet most rewarding assortment of students I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. As a class, you have an overloading of talent, a collective potential matching any past graduated class, and yet have personally provided me with enough anxiety to officially turn me gray.

And that’s the Union Middle School class of 2016.

The speech I earlier referred to was from John Harbaugh, brother of Jim. He’s the current coach of the Baltimore Ravens, a professional football team. If you follow football, you’ll know that there have been more than a few members of the Baltimore Ravens who have made some poor choices over the past few years. Here, coach Harbaugh had recently received news that one of their first year players, Tray Walker, was in critical condition in the hospital after sustaining injuries in a dirt biking accident. Tray was riding a bike without proper lighting. He was wearing dark clothing despite it being 8 o’clock at night. And no, he was not wearing a helmet. The story doesn’t end with good news either; Tray eventually passed away from injuries sustained during the crash.

During the brief moment between hearing the news of the accident and the fateful conclusion to Tray’s story, John Harbaugh wrote a letter to his players expressing his thoughts and his concerns for his team. And while the circumstances are incredibly different for our students today than they were for Tray that fateful day this past March, coach Harbaugh’s words reflect rather well my own thoughts on the Union Middle School class of 2016.

And so, I’d like to share what John Harbaugh wrote to his players upon hearing the news of Tray Walker’s accident:

He said: This is what I would be saying to you in the team meeting room if we were together today: There is a lot going on out there and you are going to be involved in tough and difficult situations. You are making and will continue to make important choices pretty much every day. That’s okay. That’s our reality. It can even be very good to be put in different circumstances. To make it right, you are going to have to grow up fast. Probably faster than many of your friends and family.
Please remember to…
Lead in your home. Take care of Your Family and Yourself every single day. Think about who you are and where you are going, and what you stand for. Look after one another. Only then can you be your most effective on the job and in every area of your life.
You see, coach Harbaugh stresses the need for his players to take a stand for the important things in their lives. Do not underestimate the support and significant efforts of your parents, your grandparents, your teachers and your friends, all of whom have helped you arrive at today’s promotion ceremony. Please realize that you’re going to need to rely on all of us as you move forward into high school. It takes a mature and strong sense of self to ask for help. Continue to look after your friends; they may make some seriously poor decisions during their next four years. Sometimes, you might be the one experiencing the lapse in judgment. Just as you would want them to be there for you, make sure you are there for them. All of you know the difference between right and wrong, so let’s do the right thing.
Mr. Harbaugh continues… Please consider your actions and choices. There are always consequences. Choose who you allow to advise you. Consider the quality of the council you take. Put yourself in positions to succeed. Turn away from unnecessary and risky behavior. Take care of your physical well-being. Live a healthy lifestyle. Pursue those things that make you better. Rest well. Eat well. Laugh with those who you love and love you. Fulfill your obligations effectively.
I agree with coach Harbaugh: There are always consequences for the choices we make. Sometimes, good things happen. Other times, there are negative results from the choices we later wish we hadn’t made. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge yourself during your high school years and beyond. If you put forth tremendous effort and think you have failed, you haven’t. Some of our best lessons come from the risks we take and the reflections we then make. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again. This time, more intelligently.”
Mr. Harbaugh also shared… Be your own best friend. Do not be an enemy [onto] yourself. Turn away from trouble and harm. Walk away from foolish behavior. Ignore silly and unwise advice – You’ll know it when you see it.
This. If nothing else summarizes the class of 2016, it might be these short five sentences. I’m going to re-read them.
Be your own best friend. Do not be an enemy [onto] yourself. Turn away from trouble and harm. Walk away from foolish behavior. Ignore silly and unwise advice – You’ll know it when you see it.
The gravitation toward trouble and harm is great. This doesn’t ever go away. It actually gets increasingly challenging during high school and college. Now is the time for each of you to be your own best friend. Be nice to yourself and help yourself achieve your goals. All of you have the grand, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we call high school starting in three short months. Make sure you give yourself the best chance at success that you possibly can.
Mr. Harbaugh also shared...  Get to know those people in your life who manage to walk free from the weight of self-created obstacles. Get close to those who have gone where you want to go, and have accomplished what you want to accomplish. Grow Spiritually. Think about what and who you want to become.
Speaking as a parent of four and a principal of a thousand four, it is very clear to me that many of the barriers we’ve placed in our way as human beings were put there by our own actions, by our own decisions. Students… right now, think about an adult who has the life you one day might wish to emulate. It could be a parent, a celebrity, a principal… Ask them what they had to do to reach their goals. Goals are good. Goals help you map out where you’re headed and what you have to do to get there. Every choice you make can get you closer to the person you want to be. Every decision will have an impact.
Coach Harbaugh goes on to plead with his players to consider what is at stake in their lives every time they make a choice that could come back to haunt them. He encourages the team to live fully but with purpose. To be there for one another. To reach out when they need to.
And this is why I’m so afraid of this class moving on to high school. So many of you have not fully learned how to think about the consequences of your actions before moving ahead with the impulsive decision you’re about to make. Sure, it might be due to your frontal lobe not being fully developed until you’re 25 (or 45, according to my wife - I think she’s an optimist when it comes to her husband). Maybe you truly think you know better. Please allow me to be blunt here: you don’t.

We ask you to wear a bike helmet because we know that you could be seriously hurt if you’re involved in an accident. We ask you to think long and hard about your decisions prior to making them so that you give your internal voice a chance to convince yourself of doing something different. We say repeatedly “come to us if you have a problem” because we want to help you. Because we care and because there is only one you.

At the end of the day, I’m sharing a letter from a professional football coach who is telling his team something he’s surely said many times over. I suspect the coach knows, deep within himself, that not everyone is listening to what he’s saying. He knows that it will be just a week, a month, or a year until the next bad decision is made by one of the players on his team. As your principal, I often feel just as powerless to stop the eventual poor choice some of my students may make.

And much like Coach Harbaugh, I’m standing in front of a group of young adults who have their whole lives ahead of them. This is a group of kind and inclusive students. Yes, as a class, you’ve been quite challenging and yet I feel I’m going to miss the laughs we’ve shared and the friendships we’ve made more than any other class I’ve worked with. You are all really good kids, full of unlimited potential. We’re going to miss you. Please take care of yourselves. Please take a minute to listen to what your loved ones share with you. Life doesn’t get easier, but it does get better. Please think twice as you move forward in your educational journey. We, your parents, your friends, your teachers, and your principal, are always here to help.

Before I close, I’d like to share a quick story. A couple of years ago, I had a few spare minutes to watch the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. Back in my childhood, MTV would actually show music videos on their channel and not Teen Wolf episodes on repeat. Despite the change in programming on MTV, I’ve always enjoyed watching the annual awards show, often learning about new bands I’d never heard of. On this night, I discovered my new favorite band.

The performance began with a guy on drums and another at a piano. There were hundreds of people in the crowd, all standing silently still and each wearing a white ski mask. This was something different, something unique. The singer’s lyrics seemed to linger a bit longer and felt to be crafted with purpose. He’s singing that “quiet is violent” and how “somebody stole my car radio”.

As the song continues, the lead singer has left his piano and is now racing around the stage. All of a sudden, the entire crowd comes to life and starts jumping up and down in rhythm to the music. The singer jumps on top of his piano and leads the entire audience in song. It was completely mesmerizing.

Fast forward 18 months and I’m sitting at the Fox Theater, watching this band, Twenty One Pilots, live. During these 18 months, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with every song they’ve ever performed. I had their album Blurryface on repeat for most of the summer and first semester. I spent many lunch periods chatting it up with other Twenty One Pilots fanatics at Union Middle, some of whom have shared their Twenty One Pilots art with me or even their performance of a cover of We Don’t Believe What’s On TV. And yes, both the art and the song were amazingly done; we have very talented students here at Union Middle.

At the concert, the lead singer, Tyler Joseph, gave an incredible performance. Per his own admission, he had suffered many failures in the music industry before hitting it relatively big. He’s given interviews about his own emotional challenges, often called his “blurryface” persona. Nearing the end of the concert, Tyler addressed the crowd one final time. He encouraged the crowd to join in on the energy of the night but also quietly shared that whatever our troubles were or whatever actually brought us to the building tonight… he assured us that we weren’t alone in what we were going through. He swore this to be true. And I believed him.

And this is what I want my promise to be for each of you. While I may not fully comprehend what it’s like to be a 14 year old about to embark on a journey toward high school, I pledge to you that I’ll always be here to help you along the way. I’m extremely proud of each and every one of you. I truly believe there’s never been a harder time than today to be a young adolescent on the verge of adulthood. Please know you’re not alone on this journey. No matter your story, no matter what you’re going through, I’m willing to listen. If nothing else, remember you’re not alone.

And so, our 2016 graduates. Thank you for being a part of my life over the past three years and thank you for being a part of each other’s journey. You have each brought something very unique and special to Union Middle School. You will be missed but we are quite excited to see where you lead us next. We’ll be watching, ready to support you along the way. Congratulations, Class of 2016.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Schedule Switch for 2016-17

Hello current and future UMS families,

By now, you’ve surely received the news that both Union Middle and Dartmouth will be changing their Wednesday schedule for the 2016-17 school year.

Instead of beginning each Wednesday at 9:30 am (called a “late start schedule”), we will be piloting for the 2016-17 school year an “early release schedule” where students start the day at 8:30 am (just like the other days of the week) but would get out at 1:50 pm (instead of 2:50 pm like the other days of the week).

Please note that this schedule is a pilot. We are not married to it. We are not engaged. I’m not even sure we’re even dating it at this point. We are just exploring the benefits of an “early release schedule” for the upcoming school year.

My two cents: I personally strongly prefer an early release schedule on Wednesday. Here’s why, in no particular order:

The switch to an early release Wednesday will better align our middle schools with the start and end times of our elementary feeder schools. I can’t imagine what Wednesday looks like for a parent who picks up their students from both their elementary school and their middle school. Drop off elementary student at school at 8 am. Go back home to debate with your middle school student about whether or not they’re going to brush their teeth that morning. Leave for UMS at 9 am. Get back home around 9:45. Breathe. Turn around and pick up your elementary school student at 1:15. Drive home. Leave again at 2:20 to pick up your middle school student. Get back home at 3:15. Yikes. Hopefully, with a more aligned schedule throughout the district, we’ll be able to give the gift of time back to some of our families.

The feedback I've heard from our parent community strongly supports a desire to pilot an early release Wednesday. As a principal, I’m constantly listening to what our students, our staff, and our parents have to share. Even if I’m not going to be making a change in the immediate future, there’s a lot of information stored somewhere in the back of my brain based on the comments and concerns of these three significant groups. I know that there will be some students, teachers, and parents who may not like the idea of an early release Wednesday. I’m hopeful, after trying it for a year, that they may change their minds. And again, since it’s a pilot, it’s only scheduled for this one upcoming year.

From my experiences in other districts and in my conversations with our students, there is a strongly likelihood that students will complete their homework assignments after the school day rather than the morning of. It is my hope that students will choose to begin their homework a bit earlier on Wednesdays, given the early release schedule. Imagine every week where your student is done with their homework before 3 pm and they can attend to their activities, enjoy their family dinner, and maybe even watch a bit of Survivor when it returns in the fall. Right now, from my conversations with students and my observations at WOW, there is close to zero homework completion happening. This actually makes sense; it’s too risky to leave homework for the morning when there’s a chance you just won’t have enough time to complete it for first period. Now, this scheduling change could encourage more family nights on Wednesdays with students completing their homework from 2-3 pm, leaving opportunities for their after school activities and family time that evening.

Many of our parents are working parents, needing to be at work on Wednesday by 9 am. With the pilot of an early release Wednesday, working parents will be able to leave the house at the same time as their student. In conversations with parents, there is much concern about leaving a middle schooler at home in the morning by themselves with the expectation they’ll be on time to school. Additionally, we are working with Champions to have their start time on Wednesdays move up to 2 pm to provide extended care for those who may need it for their students.

Our athletic tryouts and practices might be able to start a bit earlier on Wednesdays. Mr. Barbara, our athletic director, and I have already begun discussions on a “sports team study hall” for Wednesdays. This means that students with a 3 pm practice would have a place to work on their assignments under the supervision of a team parent and/or school employee.

The numbers of tardies and absences on Wednesday will substantially decrease. Right now, we have more tardies on Wednesday than on any other day. The late start seems to encourage students to be tardy; I suspect it throws off the consistency of their schedule. We also have an unexplainable higher absence rate on Wednesday than Tuesday or Thursday. We’re hopeful that these data points begin to shift next year with the upcoming pilot.

Teachers will no longer be limited by a teacher duty assignment or the first period bell during their staff and team collaboration times on Wednesday. Currently, our staff meets every Wednesday at 8:05 for 30 minutes. Teams and/or departments then meet until 9:10 when various teachers have parking lot supervision or other teacher duties. For our teachers, this isn’t enough time to discuss their curriculum, how to best support their students, or update each other on student-parent-teacher concerns. There is rarely enough time in the morning to hold ALL meetings or IEP meetings. It’s the deadline of 1st period that complicates matters. With the change to an early release Wednesday, staff will be able to hold IEPs a bit earlier and during the school day. Teachers will be able to stay a bit longer, if they so choose, to discuss their shared students. They won’t be limited by the 1st period bell. It’s a huge difference in best supporting our kids.

There is the opportunity for some of our after school activities to start a bit earlier on Wednesday, allowing for more students to participate multiple activities. Every year, we run into conflicts with student’s schedules when it comes to their after school activities. With the early release, we’ll be able to look at moving some of these after school activities, whether it be choir, drama, or field hockey, to an earlier start time. This means that a student will be more likely to be able to participate in more than one activity, if they so choose.

And from my own perspective, I’ve worked at two other middle schools with an early release Wednesday. I’ve reached out to them during the months the possible pilot was being discussed. Both schools shared that they loved their early release Wednesdays, that the parent community was hesitant at first but eventually came to treasure the extra hour their students would have before their “after school activities” began. Neither school is considering a change from their early release Wednesdays. Both schools say that an early release Wednesday gave them an opportunity to explore different programs and additional supports for their students. That’s how I see the shift: an opportunity. A chance to see if the switch to an early release wednesday is better for our students, our staff, and our parent community. And if not, that’s ok. It’s just a pilot.

The worst words in education are “but we’ve always done it this way”. To me, if you’re not constantly looking to improve upon your practice and just standing still, you’re losing ground. I’m hopeful that the shift from a late start to an early release will benefit our school community. Thanks for listening as we give it a try.

Your feedback and thoughts, positive or otherwise, is already appreciated. Back to practicing my graduation speech for tomorrow. :)

Friday, June 3, 2016

How I know it's the end of the May...

I can tell when there are three weeks left in the school year. I don't even need to look at a calendar. Based on the behaviors of our students, the communication from our parent community, and the exhausted looks from our staff, I can pinpoint the last week of May with 100% accuracy.

Summer is a very perplexing event for many of our fragile students. They know they should look forward to having three months to play, to be silly, to explore their interests. However, for many of our students, they're scared and have no idea how to voice their concerns. School is their true stability. They know we're here for them. They know the start time, the end time, and everything that happens in between. Once summer hits, their schedule shifts and it scares them. 

And when the stress of summer approaches, students behave in a variety of ways. Some will shut down completely. Why finish the school year strong if they're leaving? Others will emotionally collapse. What do you mean I'm going to be somewhere else for the next three months? For our departing for high school students, it's often worse. These students don't know how to handle the goodbye that comes with their promotion to 9th grade. Instead of celebrating their successes and honoring the relationships they've built, they actively seek to destroy their progress. They know they're leaving for high school. They know we're not following them to 9th grade. To make their departure a bit easier, they'll look to doom everything they've built. This practice is heartbreaking for the staff. Close to three years of notable successes are darkly colored by the failures of the final three weeks. It's hard for us. Crushing.

For our parents, the last three weeks of school are a stressful time. If their student is headed off to high school, they face a constant battle to remind their kid to run through the academic finish line. There's an increase in missing work, significantly more poor decisions made, and an unlimited number of "we were just messing around" comments shared in the assistant principal's office. This is increasingly frustrating for our parents and rightfully so. 

Here lies an opportunity for our parents. Do they (A) schedule a meeting with our teachers, counselor, assistant principal, or principal to look for a loophole to protect their student's grades and/or consequences (B) hold their student accountable for their bad choices and focus on how their student can make better choices in the future? Truthfully, for Union Middle, most of our parent community opts for the right choice: B. 

Logical consequences could be the best thing for a student who has made a bad choice. Some parents choose to excuse their student's behavior and instead battle our staff on an assignment, a bad choice, or the final grade. Perhaps they're nervous about private school. Maybe they are worried about their child losing an end-of-the-school-year activity. Some have even indicated that there is a school-wide conspiracy against their student. Whatever the concern, these are true learning moments where a parent can show their student that the bad decision they've made doesn't have an easy way out; that there are lasting consequences which don't necessarily evaporate as easily as they'd like. I wish our parents knew that their child is watching extremely closely during their office visits. If a student sees their parents excuse their school behaviors away, the wrong lesson will be memorized. Difficult days will resurface down the road. While it's hard to allow your student to accept consequences for the mistakes they've made, it can be the best lesson you'll ever be able to provide your student to learn.

For our staff, I try my best to not count down the remaining school days. I want everyone to continue the learning opportunities within their classrooms up until the last day of the school year. However, with students becoming increasingly challenging and the emails from various members of the parent community nitpicking their student's grades, any staff member can't help but count down to the final day of the school year. At all of my previous schools, I've counseled many staff members on these student and parent concerns, often surrounding a random assignment from mid April that wasn't turned in or addressing any requests for extra credit when the student hasn't turn in half of the daily homework throughout the quarter. Our staff truly loves and supports our students. There is a strong desire to work with our parent community as well. But now, during the last few weeks of school, it becomes increasingly challenging to make everything work and still find the strength to push through to June 9th.

It's the last three weeks of the school year. I just know it. The students struggling to keep it together. The parents who are hoping for a last second hail mary A-. The teachers looking like they're auditioning for a role as an extra for the Walking Dead. Everyone is exhausted. It's the last few weeks of the school year. 

And in 70 short days, we'll do this all over again. 

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