Advice from a real teacher.

Dear Mrs. James,
My middle school-age kids are horrible writers! It's appalling! They write like they text and they lack flow and fluency. My college-age kids are fantastic writers, so I don't know where I may have gone wrong. What should I do? Get a tutor? Thanks for all your great advice!
Sincerely,
Diana Stabiner
Columbus


OH MAN! There are some teachers who are going to get their panties in a bunch over this one, but if I covered up my honest opinion out of fear of ruffling a few teachers' feathers a bit, I wouldn't be the woman that my momma raised. You'll probably get me kicked out of teachers' lounges all across America for this one, but here goes.

I don't blame you and I don't blame the texting era that has seemingly overtaken the world. I blame teachers. Not all teachers of course, but definitely the ones who have dropped the ball on this subject.

Here's the inside track. Writing is not a subject tested on the Ohio Achievement Assessments. In addition, when answering extended response questions on the other subjects that are tested, writing/grammar/flow/fluency are not necessarily counted. So, it has been my observation that many (but not all) teachers these days are so test-driven that they have neglected to offer many learning experiences outside of test subjects. The "higher-ups" in education certainly don't encourage this type of teaching, but trust me that it is alive and active in many classrooms across the country.

The reason your college-age kids are probably more skillful in writing is that they were taught the skills. But someone may have dropped the ball on your middle school-aged kids. What should you do? I am a firm believer that you are the person solely responsible for your children in every way. Yes, we teachers play a part, but if we drop the ball it's you who have to pick it up. That's just the way it is.

If (and I did say IF) your children's teachers are dropping the ball, there are several things you can do. Talk to the teachers in a non-threatening, non-accusing way. They really are on your team. Express your concerns in the same way you did to me. If the discussion doesn't meet your expectations, you can hire a tutor. Local libraries often have writers' workshops and things of that nature that are free and very helpful to kids. Check it out, especially this summer. If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to e-mail me! Until then ... Keep up the good work!

Love,
Mrs. James


Dear Mrs. James,
I am choosing a middle school for my fifth-grader. She is in Columbus City Schools. I know you are a teacher in that district, so which middle schools are the best ones? Also, are you for or against sending kids to schools with uniforms?
Thanks,
Maya Meehan
Powell


Now, Maya. I'm all for ruffling some feathers and giving my opinion, but not for losing my job! I don't think as a CCS teacher I am allowed to recommend any particular schools. It's like a conflict of interest or something and other schools might freak if I don't endorse them. So it probably wouldn't be a good idea for you to call/e-mail me directly to talk privately because I probably would not give you advice or anything about choosing a particular school for your daughter. (*wink*)

But, I can answer your next question though! From a teacher's perspective, I think uniforms are great. Your daughter might fight you for the first year, but I have found that after kids get used to the uniforms they actually prefer them.
Uniforms are convenient because kids don't have to spend hours picking out clothes the night before school. Also, uniforms reduce the chances of students being made fun of or ostracized because of their clothing (or lack of).
Uniforms also allow students to concentrate more on academics than fashion. Did you know that studies show that the way we dress has an impact on the way we perform? I used to work at a call center where I took incoming calls all day and never saw customers face to face. I used to gripe about the fact that it didn't make sense for us to have to dress professionally when we never saw customers. Why couldn't we just roll out of bed and come in our pajamas? My boss shared with me the same theory I mentioned above.

I think students who wear uniforms approach school with a different mindset than students who do not. Now, I didn't wear uniforms and I turned out perfectly fine. I know many scholars across the world who didn't wear uniforms and were valedictorians of their classes! But you asked my opinion and I gave it to you. If I had a choice for my daughter, I would send her to a school that requires uniforms.

Oh, but I must include this disclaimer. Don't choose a school just because it requires uniforms. Academics are the most important factor in choosing a school! Let me know how things go! Until then ... Keep up the good work!
Love,
Mrs. James


Rashaun James is the founder and owner of Mrs. James' Learning Club. As a successful and innovative middle school teacher, one of her many professional achievements includes the OCTELA Teacher of the Year Award. She lives in Columbus with her husband.