21 January 2011

What's family for?

It has been said that a dysfunctional family is any family that has more than one person in it.  Though my school family this year has lost a couple of members due to fisticuffs (ironically, the sparring partners are happier than ever to be there--others didn't have the stomach for the potential for such conflagrations), we are still 13 strong on a good day.  We are nothing, if not dysfunctional.  But we are certainly a family.

What is a Newton School family?

It's a class that is not a class.  It's like homeroom, in that it's a group of kids each teacher keeps track of, in theory throughout their high school career (though the longest I've had one student is 2.3 years--one of the "weak stomach" ones).

It's group therapy without a qualified counselor or confidentiality.  Students get time to talk out things bothering them for almost an hour each week with a group of their peers plus one authority figure sworn to keep their confidence (as far as any oaths extend in teenage ethical systems).

It's character building...?  It was before my time, but I'm told that we received a scathing review because of the lack of predetermined structure to family time, so it was decided half our time should be spent on character building activities.  I've occasionally had a good "lesson" START with something I presented, but mostly their character education is a result of really good therapy-type sessions, where students take over and tell each other what's what and what's true.

Today, family's topic was a foregone conclusion, after the long arm of the law flexed for us today.  And it was also one of those character building, student takeover therapy sessions.  Granted, it was not the most revelatory and life-changing session ever held, but here's what came of what could have been one big pout fest with vows to stitch snitches:

  • They will not tolerate other students making their school look bad.
  • They owned their parts in the negative changes they have seen happening in our school (though they are at a loss for how to fix it)
  • They want the higher expectations and truly small classes they were promised before enrolling.
  • They miss having a leader that made them feel bad for not acting how they ought to.
  • They value having outlets like writing and dance that can keep them out of trouble.

There was some whingeing, but not really the kind I expected, and that made me proud of my usually rough, dysfunctional family.  They surprise me and restore my faith in teenagers now and then.

I guess that's what family's for.

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