Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bulletin Boards

Bulletin board are the worst. Currently my bulletin board displays half finished papers, which are graded with sticky notes that simply say a number on them. Teachers everywhere complain about bulletin boards. They are time consuming and nit-picky, and the punishments for not doing them are real. In some ways, it is an illustration of how ridiculous the profession of teaching has made itself that such a focused is placed on these boards. It’s as though teachers are mocking themselves, making a benchmark of their profession something as ridiculous as bulletin boards.

I know that I am a better teacher this year than the years prior, because for the first time, I have nothing to put on the boards. Bulletin board work is pretty and polished. You have to mount it nicely on construction paper, and put it up each month. You have write a title for the bulletin board - no title, you will lose points, as with a 6th grade science project. You have to grade the work, and you have to write a comment on each piece of work, which compliments the student, and then also tells them something that they could do to improve their work. You have to show how you graded it (the rubric) and you have to describe the assignment.

In theory, this is simple. But the truth is, that student work folders don’t look much like a bulletin board. My students are writing papers right now. Each week, we work on a new aspect of writing. We started with ideas, and spent a week focused on ‘ideas’ - developing them, focusing them, adding details. They had to write a draft that I graded just based on how good their idea was. Then we added in organization, and they had to write a draft that I graded for ideas and organization. So on, and so forth, until we get through the other traits of writing (voice, sentence fluency, conventions, presentation, word choice). This is not a neat and tidy process. There are papers everywhere, looseleaf being scratched up and written on, words being inserted and deleted, sentences and paragraphs being reorganized. It’s a mess. But it works. My students are growing so fast and they are improving so much, that I’m thrilled every day.

The first of the month came without warning, and I got a slip in my mailbox reminding me to do my bulletin board. Crap! A bulletin board! What would I put up? My students are in the middle of their papers - I want them to revise them 3 more times before they are done. I can put up their baseline assessments, but those are total crap - the first things that they wrote this year, which were essentially just a way for me to measure where their skill level was. I consider rebelling, not doing one, because really, the ‘punishment’ consists of putting a LETTER in my file saying that I didn’t do the board, and it’s hard to get myself too worked up over a letter. But in the world of teaching, a letter in your file is like a death sentence, and I don’t want to make any enemies or make it too obvious that I find it ridiculous, so I had to put something up. I went on the computers and printed out all of the papers that the students were working on. I stapled them to pretty paper, and cut out stars and shapes, and wrote in nice letter what the title was. I went down the checklist of things that were required, and I finished my board.

On Monday, the kids saw the board, and were shocked - they wanted to know what their grades were, how they got up there when I had said that their writing needed so much improvement. I had to let them in on the little secret of teachers everywhere - that bulletin boards are a bit of a chore, not to be taken too seriously, and that we would be continuing on track.

But the truth is, we never really did get back on track. They students didn’t want to go back to those pieces - they had already been published in some way, and they felt more done then they had when they left on Friday. So we abandoned them, for the most part, and started new work. And I never went back and gave the real grades for the papers, and the kids lost out on what they should have learned from rewriting them.

Bulletin boards are the worst. They make no sense, and I think they are basically silly. Even my students know how I feel about them. But I do them. And I think that that’s important. It’s important to show my students that even when you don’t want to do something, you do it because you’re supposed to sometimes. They know when I don’t want to go to a meeting, but they see that I go anyway. They know that there are probably people I hate and horrible things that I want to say sometimes, but that I keep them in my head, and that, more than anything, is an example that they need.

So in the end, I justify the bulletin boards to myself in that they can be a vehicle through which my kids can learn a bit about life - even if it is at the expense of ELA.

1 comment:

  1. I'll never forget the time that a severely disabled girl from another class saw me putting up a hallway bulletin board.

    "What are you doing?" she asked.

    "Making a bulletin board," I replied.


    The best I could answer was, "I don't know."