Seasons of Flu

February 26, 2013

God Bless You cartoon, January 2013, February 26, 2013. (http://www.cartoonaday.com).

God Bless You cartoon, January 2013, February 26, 2013. (http://www.cartoonaday.com).

I’ve had the flu three times in my life: February ’77, March ’86 and February ’93. I’ve had the stomach flu at least half a dozen times, including the week after I marched for my doctorate in May ’97. But given my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) issues, the stomach flu’s nothing compared to full-on influenza.

I get my flu shots regularly these days, but twenty years ago, I knew nothing about protecting myself from the illness that has caused the deaths of 36,000 people on average every year. So it was during my second year of graduate school at Pitt. It was a particularly bad flu season in Pittsburgh — in fact, in the whole northeastern US — the winter of 1992-93.

What made that winter particularly terrible for me was the fact that I had four discussion sections of US History to 1877 students to teach that semester, 120 students in all. Not to mention the requirement of showing up for every one of Bill Stanton’s lectures, in which more than 200 students attended twice a week. I was in constant contact with students that semester, with office hours, my first letters of recommendation and students needing makeup exams.

Biohazard symbol (orange), May 29, 2009. (Nandhp via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Biohazard symbol (orange), May 29, 2009. (Nandhp via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I risked exposure to these unkempt, hygienically-challenged students at least four days a week from the beginning of January on. By the third week of February, I had a section in which six out of eighteen students had shown up with the flu or flu-like symptoms. They sneezed, coughed and breathed their way through my Friday morning class, leaving their biohazardous tissues on the conference table or in an overflowing garbage can.

My first symptoms showed up by the end of the day that last Monday in February. At first, I thought that I had caught a cold. I kept working full-tilt on my quantitative methods project to fulfill my last non-class-taking requirement before any potential PhD comprehensive exams next year. It was only a potential prospect, as I was also working with Joe Trotter and then graduate advisor John Modell on a deal to transfer my graduate school credits to Carnegie Mellon, in order to finish my history doctorate there.

So I barely noticed that Tuesday and Wednesday that my lymph nodes had swollen, my teeth started to hurt, and my body temperature seemed off. I attributed it to another cold snap, and had the nerve to even play a game of pick-up basketball up on the hill Tuesday afternoon. By the end of the day on Wednesday, though, I felt it all. I was way too hot one minute, cold and shivering the next, sweating all the while. My rose was red and running like a mucus faucet. And every part of me ached, like I was in the midst of going through three years’ worth of puberty, all at once, and all at the age of twenty-three.

I went home, hoping to be better in time for my discussion sections at 2 pm and 3 pm on Thursday. Even though I felt even worse, I went in to teach that next day, barely able to wait ten minutes for the 71B bus outside of my place on Highland Avenue. The two sections that afternoon were a blur, as my mouth was dry and my mind was a swirling mess.

The only medication I had was two packs of two-year-old Theraflu and some Advil. I’d taken one pack of the Theraflu before my sections that morning, which may have been why I felt like my mind was floating and my kidneys were flooding at the same time. My monthly TA paycheck for teaching was due to me via a direct deposit into my PNC Bank account at 12:01 am that Friday. Only then could I go get some more chicken noodle soup and safer Theraflu to take for my flu-ridden body.

Theraflu Maximum Strength, circa 1998, February 26, 2013. (http://drugstore.com).

Theraflu Maximum Strength, circa 1998, February 26, 2013. (http://drugstore.com).

I stood at the PNC Bank ATM at 12:05 am that Friday, February 26 — the one on the corner of Highland and Penn Avenue in East Liberty — shivering and looking from side to side in case some wannabe thug was on the prowl. I managed to get fresh meds and soup at Giant Eagle, and fell asleep at 1 am. Somehow I woke up six hours later, woozy, somewhat refreshed, and hoarse. I still taught my other two sections at 9 and 10 am.  Then I went home to rest, because I was to be part of some PAGPSA gathering  (see my post “James and the PAGPSA” from November ’12 for more) and presentation on campus at 6 pm that evening.

What did I learn from all of this? To stay away from sickly students, for one. To drink and take lots of vitamin C. That I should take the time off when I was really, truly sick. That flu shots were ninety-five percent effective at preventing people from picking up the flu of a given season. Most of all, that I was truly a part of this world, and that flu could kick ass in my super-strong immune system as well.


The Emotional, The Personal and Black History

February 1, 2013

Black History Month 2013 electronic poster, February 1, 2013. (http://dclibrary.org).

Black History Month 2013 electronic poster, February 1, 2013. (http://dclibrary.org).

After all of these years — and thirty-seven years’ worth of Black History Months — I sometimes forget how emotionally charged Black history can be. After all, I’m an academically trained historian, one whose emotional range varies from sarcastic to ironic with most things US, World and African American history. But ever so often, I’m reminded by my students about the sadness and pain involved in learning history. I surprise myself sometimes at how passionate or angry I can become in revisiting a piece of history that I otherwise would show no emotion for on most days.

Black history, though, can bring out both the water works and the daggered eyes. My African American history students at Carnegie Mellon University surprised me one day in October ’96 during a discussion I tried to have about lynching and the KKK. It was based on the Indiana PBS documentary, A Lynching in Marion, Indiana, about the lynching of two Black men and the almost lynching of a young Black male for allegedly killing and robbing a White male and raping a young White female in 1930.

The forty-five minute documentary showed clips of defaced and emasculated Black men hung from trees, beaten beyond recognition and even burned postmortem. It also showed films of KKK rallies in the 1920s and early 1930s Indianapolis and other towns in the state, as well as pictures from the Marion lynching itself. The young Black man in Marion, one James Cameron, was only saved from lynching because a member of White mob actually protected him. It turned out, per usual, that the alleged murder and rape was a false accusation, but Cameron still had to spend four years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, lynched in Marion, IN, August 7, 1930. (Lawrence H. Beitler). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws, as It is the only image known to depict this hanging, and is used here to illustrate the event.

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, lynched in Marion, IN, August 7, 1930. (Lawrence H. Beitler via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws, as It is the only image known to depict this hanging, and is used here to illustrate the event.

My students could barely speak to me or each other after the film, much less be part of a dispassionate discussion of the film. My Black students were tearful and angry, and my White students were pale and scared. I let them express their emotions for about ten minutes, but waited until the next class to draw out a more comprehensive discussion. As this was the first standalone class I’d taught as an adjunct professor, I was a bit unprepared for the how emotional my students became, how personally they took the film and its content.

But I should’ve been better prepared, especially given my own emotions about Black and other histories over the years. I remember the first time I watched Roots, along with millions of other Americans, in February ’77. I cried or was stunned that whole week. Twelve years later, in my undergraduate readings seminar for History majors at Pitt, I found myself angry with my classmates. My eventual first graduate advisor Larry Glasco was leading a discussion on slavery and the Middle Passage. I didn’t know why, but I was angry that whole class. It wasn’t just a knee-jerk anger. It was a low-heat rage, beyond anything my idiotic classmates were saying about slavery in the eventual US not being as brutal as slavery in the Caribbean or Brazil.

The following semester, I took my first graduate course as a Pitt junior, Comparative Slavery with Sy Drescher. We got into a discussion of Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross (1974), a study in which the authors tried to show scientifically that slavery wasn’t as bad for Africans in the US as it was for Africans in the Caribbean and Brazil. Using records from one plantation, Fogel and Engerman tried to show that since few slaves were whipped, that therefore slavery wasn’t brutal for my African ancestors. I was pissed when some of the grad students in my class defended Time on the Cross  idea that 1,800 calories a day was sufficient for the average slave. It pissed me off so much that I had to leave the seminar room for five minutes to make sure I didn’t punch someone.

Me really pissed, at CMU PhD graduation, Pittsburgh, PA, May 18, 1997. (Angelia N. Levy).

Me really pissed, at CMU PhD graduation, Pittsburgh, PA, May 18, 1997. (Angelia N. Levy).

I see some of this in my UMUC students sometimes. Students who turn every issue in US history into a referendum on race. “Immigrants exploited? Well, not compared to African Americans as sharecroppers!” Or “Jim Crow was really a second slavery,” some of my students have said emphatically, as if Blacks did nothing during Reconstruction or Jim Crow to make their lives better. They feel, and rightfully so for the most part, that Blacks have gotten a raw deal throughout American history, and that it is my job to expose the hypocrisy of racism in every lecture and discussion.

It’s emotional and it’s personal. But it’s also historical, which means not so much putting emotions or personal investment aside as much as it does putting these emotions and personal investments in perspective. I’ve never been dispassionate about history – I’ve just learned how to use my New York-style sarcasm to hide my passion pretty well.


Grading and the 21st Century Professor

September 3, 2012

Between a rock and a hard place, The Simpsons (movie), September 2, 2012. (http://clubsnap.com). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws –  low resolution.

The Chronicle of Higher Education and other prominent periodicals have been talking about the precarious rise of grade inflation for more than two decades now. Article after article and story after story has shown professors at elite and public institutions lowering their standards and bending into advanced yoga positions to give students higher grades than they’ve earned. All to ensure a minimum of contention over grades and maximum scores in student evaluations of their courses.

But what of the many professors who don’t want to lower their standards but so far, who can’t ignore a student’s lack of attendance or participation, their late assignments or attempts at plagiarism? For those college instructors, they can expect more grief and stupid ass excuses from students, not to mention lower evaluation scores.

Sigmund Freud hanging by one hand by David Cerney (1997), Prague, September 2, 2012. (http://swick.co.uk/). Qualifies as fair use – pic has low resolution.

For tenured professors, particularly those at research universities, this doesn’t matter at all. For some tenure-track professors, instructors at teaching-focused liberal arts colleges, and the army of adjuncts that are the majority of instructors at the college level, this could mean the difference between steady employment and homelessness. It’s a sad situation when folks aren’t secure enough in their jobs to actually do the most difficult parts of their jobs, to evaluate a student’s performance accurately and to confront students whenever they violate an academic code of conduct.

It was part of the deal that I made with myself when I began teaching my own sections and then course as a graduate student twenty years ago at the University of Pittsburgh. To be fair and flexible, to be tough when necessary, but to be compassionate when the circumstances called for it. For the vast majority of the 2,000 or so high school, undergraduate and graduate students I’ve taught since ’92, that has been a workable philosophy. It’s even gotten me the occasional praise and recognition for being a very good professor.

Of course, I faced the occasional student who complained to me about their grade. Most of those students were C students looking for a C+ or a B, or a B+/A- student hoping for an A. Really, prior to my current faculty position, I had only had three complaints of any major consequence. One was from a student who managed to never show up for my US History to 1877 sections the spring semester of ’93, who failed the final exam so badly that I let him get away with his attempts at cheating — his cheat notes were that bad!

The other two came from two students in my History of American Education graduate course in the summer of ’98 at Duquesne University. One thought that someone as young (and as Black) as me could give her a grade lower than an A, while another harassed me with emails for a month because her A- in my course ruined her 4.0 average. Though an adjunct, I stood my ground, knowing that I had the support of my department chair.

Since starting my current teaching position in January ’08, I’ve faced a couple of dozen situations in which students have complained about their grades. I think I’ve only taught three courses out of about twenty in the past four years in which I haven’t fielded any complaints from students about their grades.

Most of these complaints have been really ones about me not accepting every cockamamie excuse for a late assignment or plagiarism. Excuses like their Internet or their access to the university’s online classroom platform being down. Or not knowing that cutting and pasting ten pages’ worth of other people’s words for a ten-page history research paper was in fact blatant plagiarism. Or that their jobs, last-minute deployments (which were hardly last-minute), children (who in many cases were teenagers), three car accidents in two weeks or other life challenges managed to get in the way of them submitting multiple assignments on time, even with extensions. But somehow, when I’ve held these students accountable and assigned an appropriate grade, I’m the bad guy.

That the students I teach these days are technically adult learners (I say “technically” because they don’t act like adults when they complain about their grading) actually makes this matter worse. Whether in the military, married with children, or working a full-time job, these students in their twenties, thirties and older tend to complain, beg, threaten me and then beg again. It’s exhausting to constantly have to persuade students to read my syllabus in order to make them understand that the rules and rubrics I’ve laid out are the reasons for their F, D, C or B.

But no matter the vitriol I provoke from assigning a grade, I also have to be careful in my language, emotions and tone. That is the reality that is teaching in many higher education institutions today. It is unfortunate, for there are many students who don’t understand that being a student requires being a responsible and ethical adult. Whether seventeen or seventy, whining, complaining and threatening your professor for a higher grade is completely unacceptable, and deserves at least a little sarcasm in response.


Rate My Students Dot Dot Dot

November 9, 2011

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, April 14, 2010. (http://http://teachingjobsportal.com).

Because there’s a website called RateMyProfessors.com, there also ought to be one called Rate My Students.com. Unfortunately, the only thing we have as faculty that indicates student performance is their grade in a course. But student demeanor, attitudes toward learning and their professors, about their level of commitment to being good students? For that, the only thing we have to go on are our communication exchanges with students and their responses, particularly on an evaluation. Below is one such exchange:

—–Original Message—–
From: Anonymous Student
Sent: Sat 9/10/2011 12:45 AM
Subject: Paper feedback question

I mentioned in my paper that the US feared soviet control of the Middle East and you said that it was never a concern. However, on page 61 of “Present Tense” It mentions the soviets backing a separatist movement in Iran and pressed Turkey to give the Soviet’s joint control over the Dardanelles which make some in the US government nervous that “the soviets would make a sweep across Turkey and Iran, which would give it control over much of the Middle East and its oil reserves.” The book then mentions that Truman sent a Naval task force into the Mediterranean as a warning to the Soviets.

My question is, how was the Soviet presence in the Middle East hardly a concern if it made Truman nervous enough to take military action. Granted it wasn’t a concern for long, and I could have gone more in depth, but I’m still getting conflicting information. Thanks

On Sat, Sep 10, 2011 at 6:28 AM, Donald Collins wrote

Thanks for your email. You didn’t get credit for this point because it was a blanket and general statement, without any detail or nuance. You made it sound as if the Middle East was on the same level of concern as Europe, East Asia and the US itself. Plus, Turkey was and is not considered an oil state, and US concern over Greece and Turkey was much more a European concern than a Middle Eastern one — it helped lead to the first installment of what became the Marshall Plan. Only with Iran do you have a small point, but Iran wasn’t mentioned in your paper. And, more to that point, if the Middle East was such a concern, why didn’t Truman send a naval task force into the Persian Gulf in the late 1940s?

Yes there was fear and concern, but the actual decisions and actions that came out of it were so limited that one cannot simply say that the US feared control of the Middle East because of their tremendous oil reserves — in 1947…

But the real issue here is that you lost sight of the forest on this topic question, concentrating instead on this tree regarding the Middle East. You did not do enough to outline and analyze the factors involved in promoting and escalating the Cold War. You talked about events as examples of the Cold War, with some (like the Middle East) lacking in factual detail or explanation as to what, if any, factor or factors they fit in. Like the Soviet’s desire for a buffer zone in Eastern Europe and with eastern Germany. Or the US policy of aggressive containment of communism, as your example of the Middle East could’ve indicated, if it had been more specific — the Korean War or the Berlin Airlift are much better examples of this factor. Or the nuclear weapons and related systems races, including for long-range bombers, missiles, submarines from 1949 onward — bringing both countries ever closer to a possible hot and nuclear war.

The textbooks are just that, textbooks. They are not the Bible, and they are not even ones that I would choose to use if I could order my own textbooks. They are a guide, but, then again, so are my lecture notes, which would have helped clear up much of your confusion on this issue. I hope that this helps.

Professor Collins

From: Anonymous Student
Sent: Sat 9/10/2011 4:09 PM
Subject: Re: Paper feedback question

I figured the main problem was not going in depth enough, but I was worried about lingering for too long on certain subjects.

Anonymous Student’s response via evaluation (received October 27, 2011):

Donald Collins is very well versed in the events of the civil rights movement and not much else. Several times during the course he marked down assignments that I had completed based on what he incorrectly perceived to be factual errors. The one time I brought this up to him via email he wrote it off as “not important enough in the grand scheme of things” ignoring the fact that he stated that an event had never occurred despite being talked about in more than one of the assigned texts for the class….I still received a low grade on that assignment as well as others because of Collins’ seeming insistence that everything be tied into the civil rights movement regardless of how unrelated what I was writing about may have been to it…

This isn’t the first time I’ve received a racist response from a student for doing my job, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. But if I could, I’d recommend that this person learn how to be a good student first before pushing his deficiencies and bigotry onto me and other faculty.


This…Is…Jeopardy?

March 18, 2011

The first class I ever taught was as a guest lecturer my first semester of grad school at Pitt. Larry Glasco, my advisor, had me take charge of his History of Black Pittsburgh course one November Thursday in ’91. It was a task made easier by the showing of the documentary Wylie Avenue Days during the two-hour and twenty-minute class. With about a quarter of the class composed of adult learners, including several who’d grown up in the Hill District during the time frame covered in the documentary, it became a real conversation about experiences with racism and inter- and intra-racial relations in Pittsburgh in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. It was a great introduction to teaching.

In the two decades since, I’ve often wish that all of my classes had the kind of intellectual balance that my first class possessed and I as instructor helped provide. Sadly, many times in my journey as a teacher, instructor and professor, I’ve had students who showed as much interest in discussing the hows and whys of history as Glenn Beck of FOX News Channel has in science and the truth.

These students, about one out of every six I’ve taught over the past two decades (about 300 in all) have taken up an amount of my teaching time. They’ve groused about the assignments I’ve given them to do, the exam questions I’ve created to assess their knowledge. They’ve gnashed their teeth about my grading, about how tough I supposedly can be in assigning grades. With papers, short-answer exams, multiple choice tests, even fill-in-the-blank quizzes. There’s been no pleasing this group of students.

Until now. It occurred to me about a year ago. I was watching yet another episode of Jeopardy, and it swung to a history category, one that I would’ve swept if I’d been on the show that day or anytime since the show came back on the air in ’85. That then reminded me of something one of my Humanities classmates from Mount Vernon High School said to me soon after finding out that I was ranked fourteenth in the Class of ’87. “All you can do with history is play Jeopardy,” he said with derision.

That memory then reminded me of how teachers like our seventh through tenth grade social studies teachers taught us. Whether Court, Demontravel (who I’ll talk about later this year), Flanagan or Zini, the idea was to be able to spit out as many date-connected facts, names and battles as quickly and accurately as possible. With no thought about human nature, empathy with the struggles of individuals and groups, or any attempt to explain the processes behind why something happened, like slavery, Jim Crow or Indian removal, for instance.

To satisfy my students who want a high school version of history, I need to come to class next semester and draw a gigantic box on the chalkboard. In that box, I’ll draw six columns by five rows of smaller boxes within this huge box. In the top box of each column, I’ll write in a topic area, say, “Colonial America,” “Expanding Voting Rights,” “‘Eq’-words,” “Myths & Legends,” “My Founding Fathers,” and “Rebel Yell” (this on the American Revolution and the Civil War) across all six. There wouldn’t be any money values, just number values, from 1 to 5 from the easiest to most difficult questions. Daily Doubles would help struggling students make up points, while Double Jeopardy sessions would help the best students solidify their A’s.

This is a great idea, isn’t it? My least interested students can then pretend that they’re learning history by being entertained and memorizing history trivia. My students who need to learn or sharpen their critical thinking skills will find themselves sorely neglected. And my most interested students would be ready to strangle me.

In the end, it’s not worth it to turn my part in this profession into Sony Entertainment, especially for a minority of the students I’ve taught over the years. Besides, I can’t afford to buy Watson to impress my students, or at least, have someone pretend that they have the artificial intelligence of IBM’s Watson by sounding like a teraflop supercomputer.


Bad Conversations and Education Reform

November 2, 2010

Improving Degree Completion for 21st Century Students, Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, November 2, 2010, Screen Shot. Donald Earl Collins

I’ve been thinking about the fields in which I’ve worked and sort-have-worked in over the past fourteen years, and I’ve drawn one simple conclusion. For all of the talk of education reform, the talk about reform itself is in need of a reformation. I’m tired of the contrast between the experts in the field — who pay little attention to the cutting-edge trends, research and activism in K-16 education — and the everyday folks. They refuse to do anything except complain about teachers, as if education is as simple as organizing a file cabinet.  The who, what and what for’s regarding education reform has stifled what should be an engaging conversation, one that’s essential in the consideration of America’s twenty-first century ills.

Who’s part of this conversation remains something of an atrocity. Almost all of the experts in education reform — whether on a scholarly panel or in the documentary Waiting for Superman — tend to be Whites (more male than female) over the age of fifty. With more than one in three students in public schools of color — and with tens of thousands of teachers and administrators of color in this school districts — it’s hard to believe that all the experts are White, and most of those are middle-aged to elderly males. Their vision, at best, is a liberalized twentieth-century vision of K-12 and postsecondary education. Most of their proposed solutions — smaller class sizes, more homework, small schools, higher certification standards — will not in any way fundamentally reform K-16 education.

When combined with what’s considered important in education reform these days, it becomes painfully

A Nation At Risk (1983) Book Cover, November 2, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

obvious that the conversations we have on education reform are predetermined ones based on certain interests and short-sighted economic considerations. Most of the money in education reform — whether from the federal government, private foundations or corporate interests — is earmarked for things related to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). No one living in this century would deny the importance of STEM fields to a post-industrial economy. But not to the exclusion of everything else. Science folk and scribes alike still need to know how to write well, to think critically, to act ethically, to extend themselves beyond government and corporate interests.

Thomas Friedman — at least as he wrote in The World Is Flat (2005) — Bill Gates, the Obama Administration are all correct in that STEM fields will provide living wages and supply jobs at a rate over the next generation to replace the easy jobs of the by-gone era of industrial jobs straight out of high school. Yet none of them fully appreciates the connection between education reform, community development, corporate irresponsibility, lobbyists and the swaying of government policies and the politics of race and class in all of this.

STEM fields without a real direction for providing livable communities for the poor and for low-income people of color. Education reform that doesn’t do more than make scientists out of artists. Ideas that don’t account for the long-term issues of climate change and energy and resource depletion. Education policies that contradict themselves in terms of funding and a lack of understanding of what education reform truly

Double the Numbers (2004) Book Cover, November 2, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

means. That’s what we have now, and have had since the 1940s.

In the end, all these ideas are about is tapping the same human resources. The dwindling middle class, folks who’ve managed a traditional education track, folks whose lives are stable enough to allow the resources necessary for higher and advanced education. This need to tweak — instead of overhaul — the educational status quo and then call it reform is what leads to bad conversations. This is why what little in the way of reform actually occurs, and why so few of our kids get the reform they truly deserve.


School’s Out — But Should It Be?

June 23, 2010

Source: Country Square Apts, Carrollton, TX

This week, my son Noah began his 10-week summer vacation from school in earnest. So far, he’s at his daycare, swimming three days a week, and bowling today. He’s not the only one. So many of my former students at the high school level have been celebrating their summer vacations from school. For some, Memorial Day weekend was the official beginning of summer. For others, particularly in New York, June 25 is the last day of school this year. Most are somewhere in between.

Great for all of them. They are young, they are students, they should be happy to not be stuck in the regimentation that is K-12 education for two and a half months. But the reality is, it shouldn’t be this way. Our American school year should be at least thirty days — or six to seven weeks longer (counting holidays) — than it is right now.

We complain about students coming back to their next school year having forgotten a good portion of what they learned the previous school year. Yet parents complain that a longer school year means higher income and property taxes and a disruption of summer vacations. Teachers and teachers unions refuse to budge on this issue, for they want higher pay (and rightly so) for teachers on a full twelve-month (as opposed to a nine or ten-month) contract and guaranteed time off. School boards can’t afford to do a 210-or-more-day school year. The costs of keeping open school facilities, school food programs, paying teachers and staff, are already hard enough to meet during the current school year format.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. We’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century, expecting to compete with the likes of Japan, China, India, Brazil, Russia — heck, Cuba, the EU, even Canada — with a system designed as we understand it today between 1890 and 1920. That’s just wrong. If anything, we should take a page from the modern university and two-year institution and stagger our K-12 school year into a quarter or fifths system, with two to three weeks off between each quarter or fifth. If we made the standard nine-week marking period ten weeks long — with at least two weeks off between each marking period — it would extend the standard school year from the end of August to the end of July, leaving a full month off for teachers and students alike. There would be no need for a summer marking period. But if you had one, as such, it could then only run two to three weeks.

For those who find that solution unsatisfactory, there is another solution. Keep the standard nine-week marking periods, but stagger the summer sessions. Half of the students and teachers will have the period between early June and mid-July off, and the other half, mid-July to the end of August off. That would provide the break necessary for recovery from the school year, provide sufficient time for families and teachers to take vacations, and would extend the teaching contracts of teachers an extra four to six weeks.

No matter what anyone proposes, there will be many who will fight to oppose the extension of the school year.  I don’t know too many people who need — or more importantly, can afford — a ten or twelve-week vacation with their kids. Teachers spend part of their summers in professional development anyway, so teaching a few more weeks wouldn’t diminish their teaching skills. And students — well, many students do extra work during the summer months anyway. Why not make that work standard? Oh well. Here I go again, swimming upstream!


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