Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What a difference two years makes

Teacher sees the reality of the choice of friends.



I have a young man in class this year who I also had when he was a sophomore. This year he’s a senior and I’m now seeing what a difference a couple of years can make.

He was just outstanding in every way that sophomore year. In class, he lived on every word I said, and every time my eyes wandered to him during a lecture, he was always with me. He laughed at the right times, kept his mouth shut during lecture so I could do my job, and did his homework about 95% of the time.

He was so bright and seemed to soak up the information easily. He really took his education seriously. He was always on time, never whined about anything, and when lectures were over, he started doing his class work. Straight A kid. He told me he was going to be a pediatrician. Outside of the classroom he was respectful and classy. I loved having him in class and when I saw his name on my roles this year, his senior year, I was really happy.

I’m still really happy, but he has really changed. He could care less about school now. He’s way more interested in girls, beer pong, and pot. I’m not speculating. He told me. I took him for a walk one day and he was pretty straight with me.

He ditches school about once every two weeks, seldom does his homework and is absolutely “too cool for school.” His eyes don’t have the same fire. He’s disrespectful in class, late most of the time, and I swear I think he showed up stoned to a football game. His overall GPA has tumbled, and he hasn’t yet applied to college. He thinks he “might go to Saddleback or something.”

How does it happen? It happened because of the friends he chose. There is recent research that indicates that the friends one chooses is the leading indicator of their amount of drug and alcohol use. Amount of use is then tied to college graduation rates. Therefore, the friends one choose are directly tied to in whether or not a student will graduate from college.

My student? The kids he chose as friends led him down a bad path and he just followed right along. He didn’t have the guts to go to class when they tempted him. He didn’t have the guts to say no to drugs when they were offered. He didn’t have the guts to put his future ahead of his present.

As a sophomore, he was going to be a doctor. Today I’m not sure he’ll graduate from high school. What a difference a couple of years can make.

Jake Schwartzberg is a teacher at Dana Hills High School. He can be reached at:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dear Parents

Let your kids face the music and learn that actions have consequences.



It’s pretty easy to stand on the sidelines and question the decisions made by the players who are actually in the game. But, that is exactly what I am going to do here.

I’m not a parent but I’m about to do a little “backseat driving”. As a teacher, while I don’t see parents very often, I see the products they have produced; their children.

Parents, with all due respect, get a clue.

I listen to parents blatantly lie to “save” their child from consequences they should incur for poor behavior or attendance or grades. I listen to my student’s mother as she looks me right in the eye and explains it was a dental appointment. Nope. I saw your child sneak off campus to the ditch behind school. I listen to parents scream and holler about school policies only after their child has violated them.

The funny thing is, the consequences aren’t really that stiff. Maybe a few hours of Saturday school. I might understand if we were talking death penalty, but come on. Here’s a bold new idea. If your child does something wrong, let he or she face the music. Who knows? They might even begin to learn that actions have consequences. They might decide to do the right thing because the wrong thing leads to a consequence they don’t want to endure.

I watch parents host parties for their underage children and ALLOW alcohol. They all say the same thing. “Well, they’re going to drink anyway so it should be in a safe environment.” What a train wreck. Kids simply learn that it is OK to drink at their age.

Here’s another idea. Tell your child that drinking laws are in place to help guarantee their safety. That at the age of 15 or 16, they may not be mature enough to stop when they should. They may not be emotionally mature enough to match what they drink to where they drink to when they drink. You want to have a beer with your son or daughter so the mystique is off? Go for it. But underage drinking should be discouraged, and punished. Too many kids die every year. Too many kids learn that drinking is a big part of their lives. Drinking is rampant among underage teens and parents need to “drop the hammer” on their children to insist that they wait until they are of age. Children will never learn important lessons until their parents hold them accountable.

I watch parents abdicate their parental responsibilities as they try to be “friends” with their children. Newsflash. They don’t need more friends. They need parents. And parents should stand for something. Quit worrying if your child will be mad at you. Quit worrying if they like you. Worry about whether or not they are safe. Worry about where they are and who they are with.

I watch parents take away a child’s cell phone for a week and then give it back after a few hours of whining. I watch parents allow their children to have other kids in their car even though the law prohibits this.

When I was growing up, I had a good healthy fear of my father. If I got in trouble at school, I got in trouble at home. My dad and mom never ran to rescue me. They let me face my punishment and one of their own too. It was good for me that I had a fear of my father’s wrath. It kept me from doing some bad things. My students? They fear nothing. They don’t fear principals, teachers, the police, and certainly not their parents. Maybe I’m wrong, but a little bit of fear of consequence can go a long way.

Lastly, I had a parent come to my room and say to me, “There is nothing more I can do, he’s 16.” To all of the parents who think their children are too old to learn or change or grow or mature, I say this; you need to parent your child every day of his or her life. You need to model appropriate behavior. You need to let them know that in your home, they are expected to meet your expectations and if they don’t, there will be consequences. You need to teach them to be honest and to “own” their actions. You need to show them how to be adults, not how to beat the system.

Schools don’t build character, parents do. It is time for our parents to remember what good character looks like.

Jake Schwartzberg is a high school math teacher at Dana Hills High School. He lives in San Clemente and is currently pursuing his Ed.D.




Let them go

By Jake Schwartzberg


Every educational journal that I read seems to have an article that bemoans the student dropout rates in our high schools.  I’ve developed a slightly different outlook on the dropout rate.  I don’t think it is high enough.  I wish it were higher.


I wish all of the students who don’t want to be there would drop out.


Unfortunately, they can’t.  The law won’t allow it.  Well, I think it’s time for a change in the law.  I’m calling for the end of mandatory education.  I’m calling for education as an opportunity, not a requirement.


Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but when I’m told I have to do something, I rarely put forth my best effort.  My best efforts are reserved for the things I choose to do.  I’m also kind of a jerk when I’m told what I have to do, and I don’t think I’m the only one.  I remember when the seat belt law came out.  I remember not wearing my seat belt for a few weeks because “you can’t tell me what to do.”  There is something in my psyche that when I’m ordered to do something I instinctively try to resist.  Our students are the same.  We have to develop a system where kids choose to be there.


How stupid do we look trying to teach kids who don’t want to learn?  We have to have hall monitors to hustle kids into class after the late bell has rung.  We have to control kids daily from disrupting the educational opportunities of the others.  We have to beg and plead and threaten and implore and encourage many of our kids to put forth any kind of effort.  How stupid do we look trying to teach kids who don’t want to learn?  I don’t think you can teach anyone anything who doesn’t really want to learn.


I would like to work in a school where all who walk through the doors are making education a choice, not a requirement.  When that day occurs, when the level of desire to become more knowledgeable is paired with good teaching, we will have something special.  As long as we force all of our kids to go to school, we’re going to have to deal with all the cheeseballs too.


Let them drop out.  Let them have parents with the guts to let them fail.  Go to work for a year.  Like it?  Stay out there.  But if you figure out that with a good education comes better employment opportunities, come on back.  We won’t turn anyone away.  We just won’t make anyone stay.  When students choose to be educated instead of being forced to be educated, our schools will become what they can be: institutions of higher learning.