education, Rants, Retention, Teacher

The No Fail Philosophy Has Many Shades of Grey

One of the important conversations that took place during the recent Nova Scotia teachers contract negotiations dealt with the existence (or non-existence) of the province’s no-fail policy.

The Minister argued that no such policy existed; however, teachers and administrators knew that this unwritten rule was firmly enforced and argued that it made it difficult for them to support families and kids.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the great people on the interwebs weighed in and started sharing their opinions on the issue.

They said that “lazy” kids should be held back. As if a lack of ability was something that needed to be punished, so that these students would “try harder”. They also argued that a year being held back would result in all of these kids “catching up” and going on to future academic success.

fair isn't always equalNow, this argument does ring true in some cases. There are some students who are working the system. (Just like there are some people who slack off at work and some people who cheat the welfare system.) The kid who skips all of grade 10 so that he can play video games and deal drugs, probably shouldn’t get a free pass to grade 11. (He may need mental health and addiction support, but that’s another story for another time.)

But there are many, many more students, who try their best every day and still come up short. Perhaps the system isn’t built for them; perhaps their brain works a little bit differently.

That’s when the training and expertise that teachers have needs to come in to play.  That’s when we need to have those conversations with parents and students and figure out what’s best for that specific student. And that’s when the relationship between the teacher, the student and the family is so important.

Because if we trust that teachers want what’s best for their students and we trust that parents want what’s best for their children, then we need to trust their judgement.

And there’s the rub, right there. Trust.

Do you trust that teachers want what’s best for kids? Does our society? Does the government? If we don’t trust teachers to do what’s right, then how can we, in good conscience, send children to school every day?

In some cases, retention is right and good for the student. I’ve seen it work in the lower grades. Some of these little munchkins just aren’t ready for school at age 4 or 5. But a positive retention story after those early years is pretty rare, in my never to be humble opinion. There is lots of research that shows that retention does not result in student improvement and actually results in higher drop out rates as they go into high school.

In almost every case, the kids I’ve worked with want to do well. They just can’t. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid or lazy. It means the system isn’t working for them. A learning disability or cognitive delay means that no matter how many years you retain them, they will not “catch up” with their peers in their particular area of weakness. Knowing that, do you really want a 16-year-old sitting, seething in a grade 3 classroom? No? Neither do I. Neither do they.

Before we even consider retention, we need to look at helping our students move from where they’re at, to where they could be. That means beefing up our extra supports through adaptations and individualized plans. It means putting more money into specialists, like psychologists and speech therapists and guidance counselors, and investing money into our learning centres and resource teachers. We need to hold our students responsible for individual assignments and classroom behaviour every day, instead of letting them slide by and then slamming them at the end of the term with the fact that they have failed.

Instead of thinking that it’s the kids who are broken, perhaps we need to look at the underfunded, overcrowded cookie-cutter school system we have put them in.

Retention is not a black or white issue. We need to consider all of the different shades of grey before we rush into a decision that could have dire future effects.  Every child is an individual and needs to be treated as such.

We need all kinds of thinkers and doers in our society, not just the kids who are all academic strengths and no challenges. What a dreary world it would be if we were all the same.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

If you liked this post, consider ordering my book through Pembroke Publishers (Canada) or Stenhouse Publishers (United States). Thanks for your support!book-cover

 

 

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Be Brave, Rants, Uncategorized

THE STRAW THAT BROKE THIS TEACHER’S BACK

 

teacher

Hey. Psst. Teachers. Yeah, you.

NSTU members, in particular.

Can we talk?

WTF?

I mean seriously. What the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on?

We are supposedly in “contract negotiations” right now, but from my perspective it looks like we are being handed our hineys on a silver platter. And those doing the handing have their hands out like they are expecting a tip and a pat on the back.

Well, you can put your hands back in your pockets, folks. No tip for you!

Our new contract is basically a dog’s breakfast made up of our old, rejected, contract. It’s like we are being told that it’s new and improved, when really it’s last night chicken and it’s just as rubbery and tasteless as it was the first day it was served and sent back.

The union wants us to trust that they have gotten us the best deal they possibly could, but sadly I lost trust in my union a long time ago.

I, like many others I’ve talked to, have gone to the union for help with a variety of different issues and been told, “There’s nothing we can do to help you.”

The straw that broke my old, decrepit back this time around though deals with an issue so small that it might seem insignificant. But when seen in the larger picture of the culture of distrust, disrespect and a complete lack of understanding of what teachers really do, it actually serves as a perfect example.

It seems there is a rule regarding the reimbursement of teacher expenses whereby teachers are not allowed to earn  loyalty card (Air Miles, Chapters, etc) points if they want to be reimbursed for their purchases.

Is this news to you?

It was news to me until I arrived at my current school last year. I have been at seven different schools over the past 12 years (thank you, term contracts – not) and this is the first time this issue has ever come up. But the accountant who deals with our school refuses to reimburse any receipts that show that the teacher has received any sort of loyalty points.

WTF…again.

This is a major pain in the patooty because if you’re like most of us, you just scan your Air Miles card as a matter of course. I love watching the look on the 17-year-old sales clerk’s face when he asks, “Do you have an Air Miles card?” And I say, “Yes, but I’m not allowed to use it because my employer thinks I’m basically scamming the system if I swipe my card and earn 2 cents worth of points, even though I’ve driven all the way here on my own time with my own gas, to buy things I should already have in my classroom.” (Yes, sales clerks now go on break when they see me coming.)

So, I sent a request to my union rep, asking if he could look into this matter. He responded first by saying he thought teachers wouldn’t be allowed to gather loyalty points because of Revenue Canada tax implications (Not true. I checked the Revenue Canada site and loyalty points are not a problem. Check it out. http://www.crarc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/tpcs/pyrll/bnfts/lylty/menu-eng.html

That kind of annoyed me because really, it took me 5 seconds to Google it and find out an answer.

But the straw that really broke my back was when he said that the union wouldn’t want to get involved with this matter because of the “optics”. God forbid. They wouldn’t want the public to think teachers were gettin’ away with somethin’.

The optics.

Are you freakin’ kidding me right now?!!!

What “optics” would these be?

The one where teachers are purchasing things for their classrooms or their students on their own time, with their own money and then waiting a week/a month to see if/when they get reimbursed?

We should be getting patted on the back for this service, not being treated like we’re criminals who are trying to double-dip the system.

Who is my union protecting? Me or themselves?

See for yourself. This is what I sent to the union asking for their support. The response was a simple, sorry, we can’t help you.

___________________________________________________________

Request for policy regarding reimbursement of teacher expenses to be changed to reflect the reality of teacher expenses. I respectfully submit that this rule is insulting, discriminatory and absurd and ask that it be changed to allow teachers to use any points card they may possess when making purchases for their classrooms.

Fact: Teachers are not “getting away with something” when they use their points cards to purchase supplies for their classrooms. They are giving freely of their time, money and efforts in order to help their students meet their potential. Not reimbursing teachers for valid classroom expenses because they swiped their points card, suggests a lack of respect for people who are trying to do what’s best for their students.

Fact: Teachers are expected to purchase supplies for their classroom using money they receive through school fundraisers or from their administration. They are also expected to use their own time and source of transportation to travel to purchase these items. I challenge anyone to find a teacher who doesn’t spend their personal time and money, driving around purchasing items for their classroom.

If teachers were to charge for their actual expenses when they purchase items for their classroom:

Sample Hourly wage (based on 7 hour day) = $34/hr (Based on what I am charged if I take a day off without pay, approximate salary is $235 per day)

Mileage for school related activities – $0.438/km

Sample interest on money spent from the teacher’s chequing account – 3.2% (variable)

Value of Sample Points cards (ex. Air Miles, Chapters Plum rewards)

Air Miles

1 Air Miles point = $0.10

“It works like this: each time a collector accumulates 95 reward miles, he or she can exchange them for $10 off the bill at a participating retailer. The $10 is deducted after the payment of tax on the total bill.” – Air Miles website

At Sobeys you get 1 point for every $20 spent. So every $20 spent = $0.10 reward. Anything under $20 results in no points earned.

­Chapters Indigo – Plum Rewards

Earn 5 points for every $1 spent

1 Plum Rewards point = $0.002

2500 points = $5

________________________________________________________________

This is a sample invoice of expenses for a school learning centre that was not accepted simply because an Air Miles card was used and a Plum rewards card was used. If a teacher commits the unforgivable sin of swiping their points card, they must drive back to the store, ask for a refund, then repurchase the items without using their card, in order to be reimbursed. This costs teachers time, (gas) money, and unnecessary stress and hardship.

Purchases Cost (tax incl.) Point(s) earned Cash Value of Points Expenses of teacher to purchase product(s) Invoice
Sobeys

 

Baby Wipes for learning centre (LC) students who require toileting support

 

 

$9.18

(incl.$1.20 tax)

Air miles – 0

 

(purchase was less $20 so no points were earned)

$0.00 Mileage to and from school to Sobeys

14 km x 0.438 = $6.13

 

Time spent

$34/hr x 0.5 hrs = $17

 

 

$23.13 (+3.2% interest earned while awaiting reimbursement)

 

Chapters Indigo

 

Educational games and activities for LC students

 

 

$33.69

(incl.$2.26 tax)

Plum points – 157 $0.34 Mileage to and from school to Chapters

36 km x 0.438 = $15.77

 

Time spent

$34/hr x 1.5 hrs = $51

 

$66.77 (+3.2% interest earned while awaiting reimbursement)
Total Cost vs. Benefit Teacher would have received $0.34 in points with no cost to HRSB

vs

HRSB billed $89.90 for teacher expenses

And that’s what really gets my goat: The complete and utter lack of understanding for what teachers do, day in and day out.

Everyone likes to talk about how much money teachers make,“Oh, those teachers. Raking in the big bucks. Only working 10 months a year. What a life!”

But no one talks about how much it costs to be a teacher.

Teachers: How much do you spend each year on your classroom?

What types of things have you bought? Paper, pencils, games, furniture, clothing, food? The list endless.

This isn’t a hypothetical question. Please let me know in the comment section. I really want to know. I know elementary school teachers spend a fortune on items for their classrooms and that junior and senior high school teachers are often paying for large ticket items for their students for trips and supplies.

How much does your job cost you?

Everyone knows that teachers spend their own money in order to ensure their students have a classroom that is set up for their success.

Our Prime Minister (who is also my manservant in an alternative universe) knows this is true.

This past year, the Government of Canada created an income tax category for it. Truly! It’s called the Eligible Educator School Supply Tax Credit. This is, according to the CRA, a “new refundable tax credit calculated as 15% of up to $1,000 in eligible expenses per year, for supplies of an eligible teacher or early childhood educator. Therefore, the maximum tax credit is $150 per year.”

Think about that for a minute. The Government of Canada is saying: We know teachers are spending their own money in order to do their jobs properly and we are willing to give them 15% of that back. What? What?!

While I appreciate the acknowledgement of the money teachers are spending out of pocket, Prime Minister/Manservant, doesn’t this just seem WRONG???

What other group of professionals pay to do their job? And then only ask for 15% of that money back?

Imagine:

Scenario 1:

Jim, the nurse, is finishing up his shift when he realizes that Mary in room 4B doesn’t have a warm blanket for her bed and is all out of Kleenex. He knows there is no money left in the hospital budget, so after work he drives to Walmart, buys Mary a blanket and a few boxes of Kleenex and then goes home to his family – 1 hour later and $30 poorer. He knows the most he’ll ever get back is 15% of $30 ($4.50), but he sleeps better knowing his patient has what she needs.

Scenario 2:

Susan, the lawyer, is cleaning up her desk after her day at work when she realizes she’s out of copy paper. She has already spent the tiny budget she has been given to do her job properly, but she knows she can’t do her job tomorrow without it. So she puts on her coat, walks to the nearest office supplies store, spends $100 on copier paper, and then carries it back to work. Her boss knows she is spending her own money but feels it’s just “part of her job”. She doesn’t get reimbursed, despite the fact that she needs these materials to do her job properly.

Both of these scenarios sound ridiculous, but teachers do this kind of thing everyday.

So, this is my long, round-about way of saying, No.

Just no.

I get that our province is short of cash.

I get that our union feels they can’t negotiate a better deal.

But I’m not ready to say, that’s OK. Kick me again.

I’m too old for this crap. I’m giving 110% and I’m not even earning loyalty points for it.

I’m willing to take the risk and vote no.

We can stand up or we can lie down.

What are you going to do?

cant-scare-me

 

Dallas police shootings, Donald Trump, education, gun violence, Orlando shooting, police violence, Rants, Teacher

Teach Your Children Well

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

Fear.

This nameless, unreasoning terror has paralyzed a nation once again.

In less than a month, the fabric of the United States has started to unravel at a rate that seems unprecedented.

First, we had the mass murder of the nightclub patrons in Orlando.

Then, two black men were shot by police during what appeared to be routine questioning, triggering protests across the country against police violence.

Finally, five police officers were killed, seven more were wounded, and two civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time were injured. The 25-year-old shooter, a man who said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers, is now dead.

First they blamed the Muslims, then the police, and finally the Black Lives Matter movement that was holding a rally where the police and civilians were shot.

As a Canadian, I can shake my head and tut-tut about the state of the United States of America, but we have our fair share of systemic racism here in Canada as well. We just have much stricter gun laws and an overall mindset that doesn’t argue for the godgiven right of all persons to own and carry automatic weapons just because somebody said we should a few hundred years. (Sweet Jesus, people. The founding fathers were talking about muskets, not AK-47’s. How hard is that to understand?)

It’s sickening and sad and terrifying to think that this is the world we have created for our children. It’s like we’re going backwards instead of forwards. And I blame it on one thing: fear.

People like Donald Trump are pouring lighter fluid on the fire of fear everyday. With every stupid, xenophobic, sexist, racist, homophobic tweet and sound bite, Trump and those like him, make that person who is already afraid of losing his job or going hungry that much more afraid and angry. And people who are angry and afraid, generally, don’t make good choices.

It’s natural to fear things we don’t understand. If you feel that your life is going down the toilet, it’s much easier to blame someone else, someone different from you, than it is to take responsibility for yourself and work to make things better.

quote-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-88369

Teachers alone can’t fix a society in crisis, but we can do our part to make sure the next generation is raised with more understanding, more compassion, and more strength.

We can do that by teaching them about the differences and similarities that exist between all people. We can help them realize and develop their ability for compassion and teach them to be brave enough to stand by their beliefs so that they can stand up for themselves and others. And we can empower them by giving them the tools they need to make intelligent, well thought out choices and decisions.

As teachers we can ensure that our students – ALL of our students – feel loved and respected everyday. We can cultivate an atmosphere in the classroom where our students support each other, not in spite of their differences, but because of them. We can show them that acts of kindness make us feel good and that being mean hurts us as much as it hurts the other person.

We can introduce our students to other cultures and sexual orientations, so that they  can see that people are people and love is love. We need to do this so that they don’t grow up thinking that people who are different are to be feared or reviled. We must do this so that they don’t grow up thinking that the only answers to their problems are those which involve violence and hate.

Teachers can’t change what’s happening today, but we can influence what happens tomorrow. We can educate our students about the world and the people in it and by doing so, rid them of the fear that is so pervasive in our world today.

By doing this, we can show them that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Coming September 2016Teaching with Humour, Compassion and Conviction – Helping Our Students become literate, considerate, passionate human beings. Heather Hollis (aka: SuburbanPrincessTeacher)

Published by: Pembroke Publishers.

 

education, Rants

Getting Rid of the D (and the A,B,Cs)

In a recent article in The Atlantic, the author argues that schools should consider getting rid of the D.

“Unfortunately, when students know that Ds will earn a diploma as readily as As will, some game the system. If pride, intellectual curiosity, social pressure, and vigilant parents do not compel them to do otherwise, some students only work to avoid getting Fs. “

The basic facts surrounding this argument are true.

Some students will do the minimum to pass. Some teachers will pass students who do the bare minimum because they know they are not permitted to fail them. And some school boards will crack down on schools that have higher fail rates because they know this will affect their funding in future years.

All of that is true.

But, in my never to be humble opinion, getting rid of Ds will only result in Cs becoming the new Ds. The students who originally worked for Ds will very quickly figure out what they need to do to get the bare minimum and adjust their work accordingly.

Remember, the argument is that these kids are choosing to do the minimum, so getting rid of Ds doesn’t get to the root of the problem: disengaged students who have no personal stake in their own learning. If a student is only working so they don’t fail and does not intrinsically, deep in their own heart and soul, want to learn, then we have already failed as educators.

On the opposite side of the coin, expecting all students to be good at all things and then punishing them when they aren’t, doesn’t do anyone any good.

So what’s the answer?

What if…just a thought…we got rid of traditional “grade levels” all together?

What if, instead, we implemented multi-age classrooms where students went to class with other students of like-abilities and interests? If you are a strong math student, you are in a math class that moves at your pace. If at the same time, you struggle with writing, work at your own pace in a different class with others at your same level. If teachers are not required to differentiate their instruction for multiple ability levels within one room, there will be more time for specific, focused support and instruction and students will progress at a faster rate. Add in more industrial arts, classical arts, and physical education, so students can explore areas outside of the regular 3R’s. Teach the whole child. Help our young people understand that we are all good at some things and we all struggle with others. No shame, no guilt.

When a student graduates (some may be ready at 16, others might need to stay until they’re 20), they come out with an honest “report card” that details their strengths and challenges. By this point, they will already know what they’re good at and what they might want to pursue as a future career. Colleges and employers could read the final report and have a clear picture of the student’s abilities.

I realize this idea would require the powers-that-be to think outside the box (and the next election), so I know that it will most likely be implemented when we are all given our own unicorn to ride to school; however, doing the same thing over and over hasn’t worked yet. And getting rid of the letter D, isn’t going to change that.

unicorn

Be Brave, education, Parenting, Rants, Teacher

Let Teachers Teach

The following letter appeared in the Chronicle Herald on-line edition:

albino-moose-bIn Scott Cote’s recent letter to the editor, he says that teachers in our province “lack the intestinal fortitude to stand up for kids”. He also says that a currently employed teacher who openly comments on these issues would be as rare as an albino moose.

Well, allow me to introduce myself: I am the rare albino moose.

I would be more offended by Mr. Cote’s insulting and condescending comments if I weren’t already shell-shocked from the overwhelming amount of negative press that has been hurled at teachers like snowballs these past few months.

That said, it bothers me when Mr. Cote says, with great conviction, that teachers, such as myself, my friends, and my colleagues, lack intestinal fortitude. The teachers (and all of the other people it takes to run a school, such as administrators, school psychologists, speech pathologists, EPAs, secretaries and others) I have known and worked with over the past 20 years have more intestinal fortitude than you could ever know, Mr. Cote.

I have seen them fight battles behind the scenes that have benefitted children in their classes, their schools and their province. I have seen teachers dig deep into their intestinal fortitude to help children who are learning disabled, sick, abused, homeless, and mentally ill. I have seen teachers dig into their own pockets to buy food, supplies, and special treats for their students because if they didn’t those students would go wanting.

Teachers are well-trained professionals. They are generally not loud-mouth blowhards who run from one media outlet to the next spouting their great ideas on how to improve our “crumbling” system (usually without ever stepping foot in an actual classroom).

Instead teachers are in the classroom doing the work of educating our young people. Not just in math and English and science, but in areas as diverse as the environment to bullying to nutrition and computer programming. They are teaching children how to be kind to each other and deal with disappointment and discover their gifts. They are making sure that their students get some exercise and fresh air. For some, it might be the only fresh air and exercise they experience all day.

As a parent, Mr. Cote, what did YOU do to improve the system from the outside? Parents and other concerned individuals can do so much to help children without ever stepping into a classroom or telling a teacher what he or she should be doing.

You could start by addressing the real issue of child poverty, so we don’t have hungry, tired children in our classrooms. Push the government to address and fund youth mental health, so we don’t have mentally ill children suffering in our classrooms.

Model respect and understanding of people of other races, religions and sexual orientations.

Promote positive attitudes about school and teachers at home and in the media, so students don’t come to class with a preconceived negative notion about teachers, who they’ve been told, only work for snow days and summers off.

As a society, take some responsibility for the mental, physical, and social health of our children so that when they come to school they are ready and able to learn.

In response to your request that currently employed teachers speak out publicly against their employer or their union, I would guess that you are either being naïve or obtuse. Teachers sign contracts, like most professionals, and these contracts require them to act, well, for lack of a better word, professionally.

Teachers are not unique in this regard. Have you ever seen a linesman from the power corporation write a letter to the editor blasting his employer about a recent power outage? How about a cashier at Wal-Mart publicly trashing their manager for not having enough cash registers open on a busy Saturday?

Of course not. It’s not professional.

But don’t kid yourself. Teachers make themselves heard. They have the intestinal fortitude to put themselves out there every day for the good of their students and their communities.

And for you to state otherwise is just plain wrong.

Heather Hollis, Currently Employed Teacher and (apparently) Albino Moose

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.” Anon.

Be Brave, Humour, Memoir, Princess, Rants, Teacher

What Your Teacher REALLY Wants for Christmas This Year

grinch-620x422I don’t want any gifts for Christmas.

(From my students, I mean. Husband dear? You have my list.)

I don’t want a mug that says, “World’s Best Teacher”, or a gift certificate to Starbucks, or even (gasp) a bottle of wine.
I know these things are purchased with the Christmas spirit in mind but, in my humble opinion, they neither necessary nor needed.

Teaching is my job and I get paid for it. I don’t need a gift for doing my job.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want something for Christmas. It’s just that you can’t buy it at the mall.

Here’s what I wish was under my tree this Christmas:

1. From: The general public – Respect. Teaching is one of those jobs that everyone has an opinion on because once upon a time they went to school and they saw how things were done and they know how things could be better. Everyone, from Joey at the grocery store to Bill Gates at Microsoft, thinks they know better than teachers (who have both the education and the experience).

2. From: My administrators – Respect. I know what I’m doing. Help me do it by supporting me, standing by me, and guiding me when I get off track. If I have your support, I can do anything.

3. From: My fellow teachers – Respect. We are all in this together. Let’s share our ideas, our plans. The more we work together, the better things will be for our students. It takes a village to raise a child and we are the villagers.

4. From: Parents – Respect. I want your child to succeed. Sometimes your child may not like me very much and that’s OK. I’m not here to be your child’s best friend. My job is to help them to learn and to leave my classroom better educated than they were when they came in. But I can’t do it alone. I need your support. If your child comes home and says, “My teacher hates me” ask why he thinks that. Call me. E-mail. Talk to me about how we can work together to make things better for your child. Don’t immediately jump into Mama Bear mode and call the school demanding that my head be served on a platter.

5. From: Students – Respect. Listen carefully, please. Cell phones down. Eyes up front. I want you to succeed. The only reason I come to school everyday is because of you. I am always thinking about ways to help you, ways to engage you through interesting and relevant lessons plans. I want what’s best for you. If you got a 65% on your report card, it is not because I hate you. It’s because that is the mark you earned this term. And I promise you, I will do everything I can to help you improve. But I need your cooperation. I can’t do it alone. It’s like the old expression, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” I can walk you down to the water, but unless you put your head in and drink, you are always going to be thirsty.

6. From: Myself – Respect. This one is the hardest. Most teachers are extremely empathetic creatures. We care deeply about our students. It’s what makes us get up in the morning. But it’s also our downfall. When we read articles that describe teachers as lazy and greedy, it hurts. When parents jump to conclusions and attack us for trying to help their child, it hurts. When a student you’ve been bending over backwards trying to help, turns on you, it hurts. You start to doubt yourself and your choices. And then everyone suffers.

So, for Christmas this year, I want to give all of my fellow teachers (including myself) the gift of respect.

Believe in yourself.

You got this. believe in yourself

education, Girl Shaming, Humour, Rants, School Dress Code, Teacher

Newsflash: Girls Are Not Distractions

The school dress code issue has reared its ugly head once again and everyone is acting like this is a brand-new problem.

Seriously? Every generation of adults since the beginning of time has felt that the younger generation dresses inappropriately.

Those kids are too sexual! Too sloppy! Just plain disrespectful!

(Photo: US magazine)
(Madonna – the queen of wearing underwear as outerwear. Photo: US magazine)

The problem now is that we are supposed to have evolved. As a society, we are supposed to understand that girls are not objects and boys are not weak-willed lust-machines controlled by their hormones.

We need to give our children some credit.

Saying that girls need to watch the way they dress because they could distract the boys is insulting to both boys and girls. And it’s sexist. Honestly, I spent most of my school years distracted by boys. And they weren’t scantily dressed boys. Just boys. Cute boys. Funny boys. Bad boys. It’s a wonder I graduated.

In the midst of the debate surrounding “appropriate” dress for students, we have forgotten one important factor – the students themselves.

Feeling like you belong somewhere is a basic human need. Children and teens spend most of their waking hours in school, so it makes sense that they would want to feel like they belonged to their peer group.

Quick. What’s an easy way to feel like you belong to a group?

Dress like the group.

You may not the smartest or the best athlete or the most talented musician, but when you are dressed like your peers, at least you belong to the group in one way.

Some of our dress code rules are so outdated that they were in place when I was in high school.

For example, take the finger-tip rule (please…take it.)

I did some research (ie. I went shopping at the mall) and discovered that it is damn near impossible to find shorts that meet the “fingertip rule”. Most of my shorts (and keep in mind that I am OLD) don’t meet the fingertip rule.

TAYLOR SWIFT in Short Shorts

Yes, school is for learning all about math and reading and writing, but it’s also for learning how to maneuver social situations and for figuring out where you fit in the world. Middle-school kids tend to want to blend in with each other. If you have to wear shorts that are so long your mini-van driving mom wouldn’t wear them, then you are probably not going to feel good about yourself. Unless every other girl in the school is wearing the same dowdy looking shorts, you will probably feel like you are out of the loop.

Another part of the problem is that the rules are generally not enforced equally across the board. What ends up happening instead is that some girls are targeted and told that their outfits are inappropriate, while others sashay by without nary a word said. One day, I watched as a 12-year-old girl had her skirt inspected by a teacher and the principal, in the middle of the hall during the lunch hour.

While she stood there, mortified, a half-dozen girls walked by in similar outfits and none of them were called to task for breaking the dress code. This girl just happened to have a teacher who felt that since the rule was in place, it was her job to enforce it. The girl being called out for her short skirt was also pretty. (And we all know pretty girls distract the boys…so, stop it…stop being so pretty, pretty girls.) I don’t blame her teacher. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. (And don’t even get me started on the male teachers. If they say something, they can be accused of leering at the young girls and if they don’t, they are accused of ignoring the “problem”.)

Girls who develop more quickly than their peers often get dinged with the dress code, too. They may be wearing the same the shirt and skirt set as their peers and yet because they look like curvy young women, they are told their outfit is inappropriate.

I am (generally) a rule follower. If the rule of the school is that your shorts should be a certain length and your belly button shouldn’t show and your underwear should stay under your clothes, then I think the rules should be enforced  for everyone OR the rules should be changed.

In this case, the rules need to be changed.

We are trying to implement 80’s rules in the 21st century and our 21st century kids want nothing of it. They know fashion trends before they hit the newstand and they want to try them out.

Parents can decide if their child’s outfit is appropriate. And yes, some kids will rebel and change their clothes without their parents knowing. That’s part of growing up.  (True story: At my high school, there was a group of Pentecostal girls who would come to school every day in their long jean skirts and their buttoned-up blouses and immediately go into the bathroom and change into skin-tight jeans and t-shirts. Teens will rebel and the sun will set in the west.)

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know a few things for sure:

1. As the mother of two teenage boys, I have never had one of them say, “Geez Mom, I could have made an A in math if it wasn’t for that girl in my class wearing those short shorts.” Both have managed to learn and succeed in school, despite the occasional distraction of a girl in short shorts.

2. As a teacher, I have never said to a parent, “Well, Billy would have passed if it wasn’t for that Jessica and that visible bra strap of hers. There goes his chance of getting into law school.”

3. Making girls feel ashamed of their bodies and telling them that they are “distractions” is wrong.  Let’s stop doing that, shall we?

Girls are people too logo 4