Saturday, January 14, 2006

In the Classroom, Part 1

Yesterday was the end of my first week back to work after the Christmas break ("winter" break according to the district policy, although I forgot to call it that numerous times). I've been mulling over several different things regarding my students and my classrooms, so I'm going to do a series of posts on the topic.

One surprise for this week was the success of my lessons for Wednesday and Thursday. I went to a morning conference with my principal on Wednesday, so I had to have a sub-friendly lesson. That usually means a reading packet with questions for the kids to answer. It also means I make it myself, because the materials that come with the textbook are woefully boring. If you imagine a teacher droning in a monotone about the war of 1812, giving all sorts of definitions and obscure details, that's the textbook. One wise piece of advice I was given, during my student teaching, was to look at the textbook as just another resource, not the dominant guide or tool.

So anyway, the reading packet I gave them for Wednesday was partly about Alexander Hamilton's struggles to found a national bank (since we're studying the first 3 presidents and their actions right now). But the concepts aren't that easy to grasp, and they don't relate to the students' lives at all, so I made the rest of the packet about the national debt and then about personal finance. They were supposed to make a small weekly budget (how much do they spend, how much do they get) and read about the dangers of credit cards. So periods 1,2, and 3 did this on their own while I was gone, but I was there to guide periods 4 and 6. The thing that really shocked me is that so many kids didn't have the slightest idea how to make a weekly budget. They were really confused at that part of the packet, mostly because many of them said, "I don't get an allowance. My parents just give me money whenever I want it" or "I don't pay for anything; my parents get me what I need and want". Now the school I teach at is in a pretty wealthy neighborhood (new suburban homes, probably from $300,000 to over a million), and the kids all have I-pods and highlights in their hair and manicures, but still! Good grief, don't these parents have any idea how to help their kids get ready for the future? So I had to give an example of how when I was in elementary school, I got a weekly allowance, had to put 10% in savings and 10% in church, and had to save for toys that I wanted. They understood why my parents did this for me, but I doubt any of them are going to go home and say, "Parents, please give me less money and put me on a budget so I learn some responsibility". These kids are totally being set up for what I've heard described as overconsumption syndrome- they expect to have a certain level of luxury their whole lives. Parents pay for it now, but when they get their first job out of college, and perhaps can't afford their cell phones and trips to the mall for new Abercrombie clothing every weekend, they will spend it anyway and end up with big debt problems. I experienced a little bit of that myself (the idea of going without a cell phone or occasional meals out would seem like a great hardship to me, but fortunately I never had to make the choice between those and debt), but these kids are going to have such a hard time in a few years. I heard a lot of them saying that their parents have already promised them cars- cars that they get to pick new, not the family hand-me-down.

Nevertheless, they were very interested in the money discussions, especially when on Thursday I told them all about credit cards and why they're such a dangerous thing (high interest rates over time). It's fun to find a topic where the kids aren't having to be forced to pay attention (as with most of our history topics that we're supposed to be studying), and they come up with questions for me the entire time we're holding the discussion. So did I give them anything positive from these 2 days? Spiritually, probably not, but practically, hopefully so. And for me, it's definitely more fun to do a lesson like that where there's some interest, than having to hold their noses to the grindstone ("Okay, guys, today we're going to talk about the precedents that Washington set...")

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