Thursday, December 11, 2014

Do school administrators really know what "rigor" means?

As much as I hate to admit it, there were times when I was teaching in the Joplin R-8 School District that I was a bit of a grouch.

Especially during the past couple of years as East Middle School moved down the path to standards-based grading and other innovations for which medical science has yet to find a cure.

You knew what direction East was heading, and for that matter, the school district, by listening to whatever jargon the administrators were using.

And during my last year in the classroom (and to this day) one of the buzzwords that is bandied about is "rigor."

Of course, the administrators never used the word properly and that irritated me to death. I would sit at a table in the EMS library during our weekly 7:15 a.m. "professional development" meetings and when the word "rigor" was used, such as Principal Bud Sexson or one of his stand-ins saying that we needed to add "more rigor" to our curriculum, I would growl and say something to the effect, "Has he ever looked in a dictionary. Rigor means 'harsh and unyielding." Do we want our lessons to be harsh and unyielding or do we want to actually teach our students."

Nearly every time I said that, the seventh grade communication arts teacher would attempt to calm me down with a well-timed "Turner," elongating the "r" sound at the end to let me know it was time for me to be quiet and listen.

Those days of old rushed back to my mind today when I read my former colleague at East and South middle schools, Kim Frencken's latest post on Common Core State Standards on her blog, Chocolate for the Teacher. The post, her fourth in a series on Common Core, includes the following passage:

Using the word rigor in association with educating children is somewhat scary. Webster uses the words unpleasant, unyielding, inflexible, harsh, severe, and strict in the definitions of rigor.
 The children's definition is just as scary. Not exactly what I would desire in a lesson designed to make students life long learners. In fact the word rigor seems to drain the joy right out of learning. Administrators have told us that rigor means that we have the highest expectations or challenges for our students. Maybe they should rethink this educational buzz word. 

Maybe someone should enlighten them that rigor is also associated with rigor mortis, in which case, this terminology should be laid to rest.

Check out Kim's blog post at this link. She offers some provocative thoughts on Common Core, C. J. Huff's support of Common Core, and, of course, teaching with rigor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

School administrators are notorious for not knowing much of anything at all. They left the classroom to make more money, not because they were good at education. Hard words such as "rigor" are way beyond their level. They can only parrot what they hear at the latest conference.