Wednesday, 2 February 2011


I wasn't one of the popular kids in high school. I wasn't athletic, or political. I didn't come from a wealthy family. I wasn't a stoner either. And you should know too, that my grades weren't good enough to earn me the title of nerd. I just sort of stayed below the radar and did my thing. In those days there were lots of labels for all the different groups. The popular kids were either athletic or came from wealthy families. The stoners of course were the kids who might have had a tougher family life but not necessarily. I was in the choir but wasn't talented like those geeks on Glee.

I really didn't like high school much. I was glad when it was over.

I've been thinking about elementary and high school a lot lately. Shaune's experiences as a practice teacher have made this the topic of many conversations. He says I'd be surprised to know that there are just as many labels being thrown around by the teachers as there are by the students. Sometimes by necessity and other times he wasn't so sure.

My own experiences with teachers has been rich and varied.

I can still remember my grade three teacher Ms. Scarfone who I missed so dearly during the summer, that I wrote her a letter every week. Or the the teacher in high school who told me I might be good at writing and encouraged me to continue outside of class. And I remember the one who crushed me by telling me that she would have spanked me if I was her kid because my penmanship disgusted her.

I was nine at the time, and had written a whopper of a story and was downright giddy to have her read it. 

In those early years, I just didn't know better. I lacked the self-esteem to realize that I didn't have to take their comments to heart. Or that they were just people like me and their influence didn't need to shape who I was.

But I didn't know better. And some of it did shape me.

Shaune told me that in both of his practicums there were several kids labelled as school-to-work. This meant that they were never going to pursue a post secondary education. They would be going straight into the work force after high school. It implied that they had tough family lives with little support. They came from a lower socio economic status than the other kids.

I had lots of questions. Who labelled them? What did it mean for their high school educations? Did they get extra attention because they weren't getting it at home? How did people know they didn't want to go to college or university, did they say so?

Of course Shaune didn't have all the answers but he did notice that when it came to some of the lesson plans, the school-to-work kids were given the monotonous assignments more often. In a few instances where the kids were learning to make a certain dish (Shaune is training to be a hospitality and tourism teacher - specializing in cooking and food prep), the teacher in charge would say put the school-to-work kids on dish duty. It didn't happen every single time but it was obvious to Shaune that it happened most of the time. In a feedback survey he had them fill out, a few of these kids said that they wished they weren't on dish duty all the time.

I'm not a teacher. I can't imagine what it must be like to deal with the shenanigans of teenagers day-in and day-out. I know that so, so many teachers are there for the kids, to influence them, help them, shape them for their futures.

But this really bothered me. Shouldn't the school-to-work kids be getting more training in the complex tasks so that they are ready for the workforce sooner? Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone take a turn on dish duty? My husband sensed that it would have been a lot more work to put them on the complex tasks. The teacher would be forced to focus on these kids leaving the others unattended for longer.

I know that this is a can of worms that involves budgets, classroom sizes, assistant teachers, salaries and much much more my limited knowledge of this area can't even begin to imagine. I certainly am not pointing the finger or judging. I'm sure I can't begin to understand what's involved. But it did make me think about those kids in my grade who went on to do great things and those who didn't. What could have changed it? Were the successful kids just plain smarter than the others?

Makes me wonder.

I'm pouring my heart out with Shell. Please check out some of the other posts.


  1. I've actually never heard that term school-to-work but I know what you mean. How do they get labeled? Maybe it has something to do with the effort that they put in and the grades that they earn. I tell all my second graders that I want them to all go to college and we spend time thinking about what they want to be and each choice they make usually end with me saying...well you need to go to college for that.

  2. Also...thanks for the tip for publishing. I am trying to post more it was a resolution of mine. I love to share my ideas and stories. Just like you wonder sometimes why I don't get more comments? It always makes me really happy when someone does.

  3. School years were never my best years, I was this quiet girl, everyone liked, you know- she would always help, she won't say a word type. It wasn't getting me anywhere on most occasions I was not a nice girl at all. I would want to scream but could not. I don't know how I cleared those years, not my best years. But those years were essential for me to be this way today. Cold hearted and cynical. Hehe. Honestly, those years were very important. I see that it was those years that brought out the best in me- not to be judgmental and ignorant of people's emotions. If my school mates look at me today, they don't recognise me at all. It is a shocker, i do enjoy it but sometimes, it just looks way too much. People become different after school years. Probably it is the choices that we make or don't make. I think school years are more important for the development of character rather than education.

    And I realise I am deviating from the topic completely.

  4. I think teachers have to have high expectations for their students. I'm a former teacher, so I'm not just blowing hot air. I KNOW how hard it is. I taught a group of "at-risk" 8th graders one year- a bunch of them were already 16 in 8th grade. Most thought those kids would never amount to anything, but I always treated them like they could do whatever they wanted.

  5. My comments in two sections. I can relate to the not-popular person in school. In high school I was the captain of the cheerleaders - isn't that usually guaranteed to make one popular? But alas, no. But I've probably turned out better for it.

    Part II
    I used to think everyone should be prepared and plan on attending college right out of high school. I could not even fathom why one wouldn't attend college. I'm mean, if cost is a factor, take out loans or do work-study or something. Then I started to understand a bit more.

    Not everyone is college material or even wants to go to college. And some folks just are wired to go into various technical trades that do not require complex reasoning skills or management skills. With only just a small amount of time with these kids, I think the goal is to give as much impact as possible.

    An example, my niece was quite brilliant. She was the kid that always tested out of things and was even placed in a gifted/talented program but she did not even like it and would sneak out of the class. It just wasn't for her. Her grades were average despite having an IQ of 130+. She actually always wanted to be a "hair dresser". For years, this is what she said she wanted to be. I used to think, gosh, what a waste. But you know, I think she would have been so much happier spending time not being forced to attend college prep classes and just attend those classes that would be pertinent to her chosen trade. When she completed high school, she went to cosmetology school and graduated top of her class and went on to "do hair". And she's great at it. She was actually making quite a good living for herself before she opted to stay home with her children.

    This was interesting for me. I can see both sides to it. But I also think, there are certain trades - like dish washing - that should be taught at home. Is home economics really necessary for kids? Maybe, maybe not - but parents need to be more involved in teaching these things to their children. Where has all the parental involvement gone?

  6. I don't think any child should be labeled in such a way. That's like giving up on the child and nobody should do that. Just because a child comes from a certain background doesn't mean they can't go on to do great things. It sickens me to know that a teacher would do that.

  7. That is so sad. I think all students should be treated equally by their teachers. For teachers to put labels on their students and then treat them accordingly is disturbing. Every child should be given a chance to excel in school. Thanks for bringing this to everyone's attention. This is something that should seriously be looked at. And thanks for stopping by my blog today. I love getting new follwers and appreciate your comment.

  8. I've just begun a career in special education. Thankfully I haven't heard anyone verbalize expectations for the tougher kids. I do wonder about it myself. I think the school-to-work thing doesn't have to be negative if it's used to prepare the kids for that work. Unfortunately, all of the characters we went to high school with are just older and touting more power. Just because a person is a teacher doesn't mean they're a good one.

  9. Ugh. That penmanship story? That hurt me a bit inside. Some people don't belong in the classroom, period.

    I get to say that as a former teacher. And yet, those teachers who give you's the greatest gift on earth.

    Those "school to work" kids need to be learning skills. Not doing dishes. Seriously, those kids are often smart in non-traditional fashions, and work well with their bodies or with tools or with machines.

    Making them hate school even more is doing nobody any favors. Nobody.

    Love this post.

  10. I hear subtle and not so subtle labeling all the time from parents in our school district. In my own family, I have seen how kids flourish or wither depending upon the opinion and dedication of a teacher. Every person has the right to full educational choices that encourage innovation, creativity, imagination and resourcefulness. Having been with kids for 14 years now, I honestly can say that every one of them is smart even if not the biggest fan of traditional learning methods. No child should be passed over or put in a box. Great post Kim. You really got us all thinking.

  11. I had horrible time during my last year at middle school and high school.

    I don't like labelling and it is wrong to make some children disadvantage due to their social background.

  12. Another excellent post! I was an education reform advocate for a number of years and worked with parents and students in some of the most depressed areas of Atlanta. I can attest that admin/teacher expectations make all the difference. I overhead so many inappropriate conversations between teachers such as guessing which kids would wind up in jail. Then I would meet teachers who would set the highest standards for their students despite their economic or social status. Whether the bar is set low or high, that is as far as that student will rise.

  13. I had good teachers and I had bad teachers. One of my worst was my 11th grade math teacher-he all but came out and told me I was stupid. I remember exactly how worthless it made me feel.

    I think all kids can excel. They need a healthy self esteem, and understanding adults who don't label, but try to see the potential in every child, and offer support along the way. I lacked both. But I know for sure things will be (and already are) different for Amy:)

  14. I don't suppose teachers are any different in their labeling behaviours than any other people who label each other by race, socioeconomic status, political leanings, religious beliefs, intelligence, etcetera. It's our human need to organize and label -- only as you pointed out, people do not fit nicely into categories the way they should if they were being cooperative.

    Speaking from the perspective of one who has been teaching a long time, I'd say we do it out of self-preservation sometimes. You can work yourself to the bone trying to give a kid all the opportunities to become what you want that kid to become. And still, people are who they are. Some will always be school-to-work and I am not so sure this is a bad thing. I want to honour kids for who they truly are and provide them with what they need from me at school that will be useful for them in their real lives when they finish high school. Maybe that's why I teach theatre instead of academics... because I know that what I teach, self-esteem, self-expression, self-awareness, can be of use to everyone. Work-to-school or not.

  15. First off, thanks for the Picnik!!

    Very thought provoking post. Your instincts are right on. As a teacher, and now a teacher of teachers, one of my lessons is about teaching adults to believe and live this quote by Haim Ginott.

    "I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."

  16. They were called vocational students when I was in school. In some cases due to hard circumstances at home, but not always. Because, let's face it, not every single kid is college material and the world needs well-trained people who can do other sorts of work - carpenters, mechanics, and so on. We just need to do a better job of figuring out which kids would be able to utilize college and help them get there.


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