Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

When I first became a teacher 10 years ago, I knew no different than to treat my students like corporate employees. Having just changed careers after 20 years in the business world, it made for an easy transition. The closer the classroom can seem to “the real world,” the higher the student engagement, and the higher likelihood of success in high school and beyond.

In 7th grade, which is my specialty, we have a particular content standard that dealt with the reading comprehension of “Consumer, Public and Workplace” documents. In my second year of teaching, this standard went 3D by having students create their own ideas for businesses. This unit got more and more elaborate as the years went by. At first, students worked in groups to design amusement parks. Then, it became small businesses, like those you’d find in a mall, or on “Main Street USA.” Over the past couple of years, they created “start-up” companies, meaning, unique ideas that have not yet been done.

They came up with ideas like an on campus culture museum, a skateboard parking facility, and a weekly school-based parking lot car wash for parent and employee cars. The list goes on. Students were interviewed and hired by their fellow students. Sometimes a misbehaving student would get “fired” by his or her peers for taking the group off task, but only after the student’s behavior had been written up three times, and the matter had been brought to my attention, as “CEO” of the “company.” Students assigned “homework” to each other and to themselves. Signage, scale models and product samples were produced. Not to mention, students READ numerous articles from Inc. Magazine and other business sources. They wrote up employee manuals, learned business vocabulary, and drafted memorandums. These are all Language Arts content-based activities, and students were highly engaged in the processes and the outcomes; they will remember the experience forever.

Significantly, I learned that our students (ages 11-14 in Middle School), when given responsibility, choices and some autonomy, tend to rise to the occasion. They are capable of clear-headed decision-making, they have heart, honesty and they are free of many of the ulterior motives that adults may have developed over time.

My perspective has developed into a teaching style that tends to utilize the art of delegation, just as a manager is taught to do at a multinational corporation. I remember learning this lesson in the 1980’s, when I managed travel offices at American Express, and the business lesson works in the classroom too. I have, in turn, taught this to the many student teachers I have hosted from our local universities. When and if they are able to do so, let the students teach! Just today, a particularly well-prepared student led a vocabulary discussion – why not? This article itself was edited by one of my Teacher’s Assistants, an 8th grader I taught last year. At first, I’d had too many “I” sentences, something I taught him not to do last year in 7th grade! His feedback helped me make this a better article.
So, how does it work? As an English teacher with hundreds of students generating hundreds more pieces of writing per day, the only way to handle the work load is to provide clear “rubrics” (education-speak for…recipe?) to break down the assignment into parts that anybody can understand and anybody can grade. When the rubrics are objective enough (for example, “number of words written”), the students can and do grade themselves. There are, of course, less objective considerations (like: did they answer the question?); those assignments can be reserved for the teacher eye. Aside from what happens on the job teaching English here, I took over the management of the Gifted Program at our school about eight years ago. In addition to planning various on and off campus activities for the GATE students, I carved out a role as advocate for them, and eventually became familiar with some of the key attributes of students who, by our school district’s definition, scored consistently high on standardized tests. “High” means that they sit down to (almost any) test and are able to achieve 95% or higher. I found that other aspects often include: logical reasoning and deduction capabilities, astounding creativity, and maturity beyond their years. They are usually very good at math, and avid readers. Sometimes they do tend to be forgetful, and some exhibit socially awkward tendencies, even to the point of bordering on the autism spectrum.
Combining my experiences in the business world, and my confidence in our students’ ability to function in an adult-like manner, I devised a program that had our gifted students working on real-world, school-wide activities like recycling, planning a festival, creating a news broadcast of their own, and starting a school business to raise money. A cadre of similarly-minded teachers supported these ideas and ten or so of us delivered a program for about 300 students. What happened is this: after two years of about 20% of our student body becoming involved in these programs, a clamoring arose, asking to offer it to the entire school.
We are currently in the throes of delivering just that. 95% of our students and teachers responded to a survey asking what programs they would like to see offered for the two hours a week that we have planned into our bell schedule. Students will lead their own: book clubs, peer tutoring sessions, video editing labs, and anti-Jaywalking campaigns. They will run a Student Court, a “corporation” that sells handmade items to raise funds, they will put on another Broadway play this year. Some students and teachers have elected to read quietly for the two hours, and some teachers and students will be involved in intervention programs for failing and/or struggling students.
In a cornucopia of unique programs and initiatives here at Culver City Middle School, now with our entire population mobilized and involved, we are able, within the school day, to enrich each student’s personal lives, while helping them meet our academic goals. I believe that we will truly have set a new standard of excellence in education.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

32 Comments

  1. Our CCMS school students are lucky to have teachers and administrators who are willing to go the extra mile for our kids.
    Parent support and student enthusiasm will make this a valued activity.

    Earlier this week I viewed this video about how early involvement in the type of projects you are organizing can mean ongoing participation and civil engagement.

    http://ypp.dmlcentral.net/content/joseph-kahne-professor-education-mills-college-discusses-affect-digital-media-and-internet-p

  2. What an honor to receive a comment (and the link) from you, Ms. Sergant! Thank you.

    A note to ALL readers: the paragraph markings went a little haywire with this posting; I do not want my many student readers to think “Hey, Ms. Morris didn’t mark her paragraphs correctly!” Please bear with us, we’ll try to fix, if possible…

  3. I agree with this article because in the past I have witnessed teachers who have showed us students respect and other who were mean to us or called us out of our name. In these situation when they are being yelled at the student tends to shut down and does poorly in school.When a student is being respected they open up they are willing to study an suceed. These teachers are the really effective ones for example Ms.Morris.

  4. Hi Ms. Morris.

    I really like this article. I know that when I’m given responsibility and choices it makes me want to do better. It really helps. Also if someone is mean to me and treats me badly it makes me feel bad and I don’t do as well.

    The work you give us gives me responsibility and is helping me to learn, just like you talk about in your article.

    You mentioned a Broadway play. I hope there is one because I love acting and singing.

  5. I completely agree with you on the part where we need to treat students like they are adults, to prepare them for the real world. I also found it interesting that you use business lessons that you learned while managing travel agencies in school lessons.

  6. Dear Ms.Morris
    This article is interesting because it compares the real business world to the classroom settings in terms of delegation and team work. I do agree that there is a true value in the fact that the closer a classroom can seem to “the real world,” the higher the students involvement and interest in learning. It is also a “Win Win Situation” because it will help the teacher and the students in achieving results.

  7. I think that this article is very interesting to read. I liked how you related the buisness world to the classroom. The GATE activities are really enjoyable and I have learned a lot from doing them. I believe that the whole school can benifit from these activities not just the kids that scored high, but also the kids that need help. They could learn a lot about teamwork and commitment. I also think that it is a very good idea to treat the students like a boss would treat his employees so that when it becomes time to get a job they will know exactly what to expect.

  8. Mrs.Morris this article was so nice and lovely to read I agree with the things you say they are very interesting. Treating students like adults is a really great idea.

  9. I agree that nowadays, kids are being treated more like adults.I also think it is great to have the GATE manager for a teacher, it also shows that Ms.Morris is really commited to the GATE program, as it explains in the article, which is great. I have high hopes for the GATE program this year, and maybe even GATE students can be just like “employees”in our school!

  10. I thought this article was interesting and sort of spot-on in a way because as a middle schooler, even more if you are in GATE, you want to be given more responsibility, and things to enrich your learning. I really love the GATE program also because it helps you learn in a creative way and you learn things you never thought you would have. Treating students like adults give us more responsibility, but helps us learn a whole lot more, too.

  11. Hi Ms.Morris,
    I really think that your article helped me to understand that when you are given a responsibility you are meant to do it. I usually have a problem with that at home. I hope that i get better with being more like an adult. Thank you.

  12. We are very fortunate to have Ms.Morris as our English teacher. The projects we work on gives us exposure to the real world which we will face later. It helps improve our creative skills, expressions, and build our self confidence. It is a practical training along with academics.

  13. I feel honored and important to be treated as an adult. I think being treated as an adult at this age will reduce the large learning curve from middle school to a job in the future. We are fortunate for this opportunity

  14. Dear Mrs.Morris,
    I feel so honored and thankful to be treated like an adult. I loved your paragragh and I feel that I am very honored to have a Wonderful.

  15. This is a very nice article. I like how you let them students make up their own company’s and then hire and firefighters pepper. You should do that with us this year.

  16. This is a very nice article. I like how you let them students make up their own company’s and hire and fire other students.

  17. Hi Ms. Morris,
    Nice article. I really like the fact that you treat us like adults. That is teaching us to be more responsible and giving us more opportunity to grow. That will really help us in the future; not only to teach us better life skills, but to help us get jobs in the future. Thank you for doing that for us!
    Natalie Richardson 🙂

  18. its great for my teacher to prepare us, her students to deal with management delegation and cooperate world

  19. Mrs. Morris,
    I love your teaching style especially the way you make classroom discussions so fun to be a part of. When learning is fun it makes it easier to learn difficult things. I totally agree with you that having everyone in the classroom treat others as if they were adults is a good way to make the class a better working environment.I can’t wait to see you Friday!

  20. I really like your article!!!!! I’m glad that you beleive that children should be treated with responsibly, and like adults. I think that that will make a lot of kids happy. In my opinion, kids think that they are treated like little kids, instead of teenagers like they are. But again, some people want to be treated like little kids. But, for the most part, I think that kids want to be treated like adults, just like you say in this article. Please write more!!!!

  21. What stood out the most was that they would create their own business and would interview and higher and fire students if they were disrespectful. I also liked the fact that they made their own business. That is something that sounds amazing and I hope I can do it this year.

  22. What I liked about the article is that the students were able to create their own business and I thought that was a great idea. I have always wanted to create my own business. I also think it is a great idea to put on Student court, video editing labs, and Broadway musicals. These are great opportunities to start thinking about your future career. What stood out the most for me is that the students were able to fire their own classmates for not doing their job correctly. I hope I will be able to do this this year.

  23. I enjoyed reading this article.i like how you treat us like adults to teach us how to be strong and start our own business, I like how you wrote about students to creat businesses because I always wanted to create my own bakery and your class will help us learn to be adults and help us figure out what we want to be when we grow up and what career we want and I like this article and how you encourage us to grow up and become aults.

  24. I like how you encourage your students to be mature enough to take on the business or “corporation” of school. I can relate to how you teach because that’s how I teach my younger siblings. I always try to tell them to be mature and know that “life” is coming soon. I don’t think they’re ready for it yet though. They have a long way to go. I myself was disciplined a lot too. In GATE Inc. (AEIOU class) I had Mrs. Morris as my “boss” in the company. We had a ” CEO” named Lex (who was in 7th grade at the time) who seemed to know what he was doing. I was part of Human Resources, a group that creates and thinks of new ways to create or sell items made by GATE. I actually felt like a real worker running areal job. It was amazing! Now I think to myself all the time, what do I want to be when I grow up?

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