As I journey further into the profession of teaching, I am hesitant to criticize my peers. Since I haven't been in their classrooms, I refuse to make any sort of judgement on their teaching styles, much less ways they evaluate their students. However, I do pay close attention to the progress of my students as well as the efforts they put forth in my classroom. Approximately 60% of my freshmen students were handed over to my counterparts this past week, and in turn I was blessed with an equal number of new faces. I found one of my classes 'stocked' with a 25% share of students who had received an "F" in US History the prior semester, a monumental challenge if I was to base my assumptions off of grades. But rather than looking at them as dumb and unteachable, I felt it best to stick to the regimentation which worked so well the first semester when all but one of my 90 students earned passing grades, and that one individual had truly earned their F.
On the first day I told all my students that if they truly wanted an "F" all they had to do was NOTHING.....but the good news was I wouldn't let them settle for nothing. Those students who experienced "Mr. D" the first semester were the first ones I went to during that first class and their testimonials were loud and clear. "Mr. D will hound you everyday for homework until you get it done!" I was NOT about to let them fail in any way, shape or form. Nonetheless, I had some doubters in the audience until they missed their first assignment....and then they discovered that I meant business.
It's not about punishment, but rather stressing the point that homework (and school) is one step away from working in the real world. In business the typical boss gives an employee one opportunity when they fail to follow procedure, and I've stressed that although I can't fire my students, I can put corrective procedures in place which will remedy bad habits. Needless to say, this comment caught their attention and the next day all late assignments were in-hand without further delay.
I am becoming a huge believer that the reasons as to why students fail one class and pass another in the same subject area is directly related to the approach which teachers take early on in establishing routines and expectations. The spring term will clearly provide me with an opportunity to prove or dispel this theory, but for the meantime I'm intent on having all students on board with completed assignments. No doubt this will require the ongoing assistance of parents, but last fall I learned the importance of getting them on my side early in the game with constant communication at various stages of the semester. This is done with personalized letters, an invitation to Parent-Teacher Conferences, e-mails, and links to my wiki-website. My students may think they are only one week into the new term, but they're actually knee-deep into the process of learning a huge lesson for later in life.