I Love My School 'Family' - except When I Don't

Article excerpt

When a colleague exclaims in exasperation "These families!" she refers not to the parents or siblings of our students but rather to an innovation put in place by my school district.

With more than 5,000 students, Elizabeth High School is one of the largest in New Jersey. Incoming freshmen tended to be swallowed up in anonymity.

The solution? Form learning communities of freshmen, 100 students each; divide these students into four homerooms; and assign them to a cluster of five teachers for two years.

Four years ago, along with four colleagues and 100 students, I became a member of such a community. Our classrooms were all adjacent, and we teachers met daily to plan and discuss.

And how wonderful the discussions - always intense, sometimes humorous, occasionally argumentative. Could students write one research paper and have it count for both science and English? How could we make a special-education student talk? If we planned a program involving all the students, how could we get their friends and families to come?

But we also noted something odd taking place. "Meow." "Quack- quack." "Mrs. Gorman, Rossana's bothering me!"

Were these high school sophomores? Our students - in the protective family embrace - suddenly seemed suspended at an eighth- grade maturity level. …

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