Teacher's View Of Sturgis

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By: Letter To Editor
Published: 07/20/12

I have read your two-part series and your editorial about Sturgis Charter Public School with interest since I have been a teacher at Sturgis for the past eight years.

I am not writing in any official capacity but only as a private individual who has had experience at Sturgis. What follows is my personal view and does not reflect any official view as seen by school leaders; it is based on personal experience and is not the result of any formal study done by me or anyone else that I am aware of.

The two articles were objective, well-researched and began to pose a set of questions that should concern anyone interested in the best educational experience for all of our children whether they attend Sturgis or one of the other district public systems.

I have many thoughts about your articles but have decided to respond to only one of them here—the issue of motivation. There is an assumption in the editorial of July 6 that motivation means a desire to learn and to work hard.

The article assumes that most, if not all, Sturgis students enter the school with a burning desire to learn even if their abilities may vary widely. This is seen, correctly, as a partial if not complete answer as to why Sturgis students do so well on their IB exams and MCAS scores and as to why they show larger gains on MCAS between grades 8 and 10 than in many district schools and why they are so willing to take on such a heavy course/academic load.

A "motive" is a reason for something; it is the "why."

Still others have stated that they have come to Sturgis because they do not feel like a number at our school. This may be because of class sizes that are small enough for everyone to be known and because students get personal attention from teachers and are able to participate actively in these smaller classes.

                                                   Arthur Pontes

It is true that many students elect to come to Sturgis because they want the challenge of strong academics but students, themselves, give a more nuanced set of reasons for their motivation to leave their previous districts and to attend a school where they must establish new friendships while forsaking their old friends in their former districts. In some cases the reasons given by some students are that they elect to come to Sturgis in spite of a difficult academic program, not because of it.

Some come to Sturgis because of a chance to re-invent themselves in a new environment and to forge new friendships free of previous social issues. Social acceptance is very important to young teens as is well known, but this motive does not necessarily lead to a student being highly motivated to learn.

Some come to Sturgis expecting some sort of miraculous cure for a lack of academic success in previous schools. Often these students bring poor study skills and a poor self-image with them.

Some seem to think that just by attending Sturgis they will have taken the magic pill leading to school success. Careful attention given by guidance counselors and administrators and the extra efforts of my teaching colleagues are the key ingredients for helping the majority of these students to gain confidence, to learn and eventually to succeed.

Some come because their parents have made them come even though they have little interest in attending Sturgis. This group is most often the source of discipline issues and is a group of reluctant learners unless the staff and student body can "convert" them to the Sturgis way. Over time many of these become part of the "Sturgis team" and, like all converts, are often our school's most outspoken advocates.

The one thing that I have frequently heard from students is that they come to Sturgis because they feel safe at our school. This seems to trump the fact that the program is more difficult than they might really have wanted.

They feel safe from the sarcasm and bullying directed at them because of appearance or the way they behave. They sometimes also state that they feel safe from physical harm as well. These students sometimes say that they were mocked by others when they said something in class discussion that others found either too clever or too "dumb" such that they did their best not to say anything.

They are aware that Sturgis has an ethos where acceptance, careful listening, and a discussion of ideas rather than any personally directed remarks is what is expected of all.

As a teacher, I do my utmost to foster mutual respect in the classroom and hallways student to student, teacher to student, and student to teacher. My colleagues do the same. There is a general acceptance of all sorts of people and ideas as a part of Sturgis' school culture. I believe that this is part of what makes our students show so much growth and success.

Still others have stated that they have come to Sturgis because they do not feel like a number at our school. This may be because of class sizes that are small enough for everyone to be known and because students get personal attention from teachers and are able to participate actively in these smaller classes.

Students at Sturgis are expected to behave as young adults and they generally live up to those expectations. There are no hall passes given. Students are expected to leave class and return as quickly as is possible if they must leave class. They are expected to arrive at class on time and they generally do so.

Teachers trust their students and the students respond in kind. This trust extends from student to student as can be seen from the absence of locks on the vast majority of student lockers. How do these expectations impact motivation?

I myself am not sure but it may well play a part as to why some students elect to attend Sturgis or, once they attend, why they decide to stay.

I hope that my impressions will help shed some light on the reasons why some students are motivated to select Sturgis. Things are often more complex than they may seem at first glance and the Sturgis "advantage" may not be all that it seems to an outside observer.

Arthur Pontes

Mark's Path

Hyannis

This letter was originally published in The Enterprise on July 13, 2012.

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