Feb. 22, 2013
To All in our Middle School Community,
Upon our return Monday I will be reading the poem “Pretty Good” by Charles Osgood to all of our students. As an educator, as a coach, and as someone driven to continue to excel and get better in all aspects of my life, this poem has long been a favorite. I’ll leave it to you and your son/daughter to discuss with regard to its meaning, but I will share that it’s at about this time of the year (onset of the third quarter) and while they are in middle school when I share it with students and my own kids and ask them what it means.
As a former recruiter for SUNY Albany one fact I have shared with each of my kids is that carrying a solid mid-80s average would put them at-risk of not being accepted at the better SUNY colleges (usually met with surprise). I tell each of them that by the time most New York students realize this it is too late in their high school lives to make a significant change to their grade point averages.
A great way to process your child’s 2nd and 3rd quarter report cards is with the following:
• Open the discussion with no negative judgment and no disappointment. Say the following “I am not the least bit disappointed in you but I want to do an exercise with you that I wish someone had done with me when I was in middle school.”
• Prompt her or him to do the following: “Let’s go through each class one at a time and you tell me if your grade in each class represents your best effort.”
• Go through each class and ask no other questions when they respond with "yes" or "no."
• Mark each class that did not represent best effort differently than those that are the results of his/her best effort so you both can easily distinguish the difference.
• When done, ask the following: “You said that the following classes did not represent your best effort (list the classes). Tell me what that means. In other words, if your grade does not represent your best effort, what behaviors do you need to change in order to make that happen?”
• DO NOT make them write down their answers! You can do this as the parent if it helps to create a plan but this is not supposed to be a punitive exercise and students cannot write as fast as they think so it will feel punitive if they are forced to write out answers.
• The importance of this exercise is short-lived however if you, as the parent, don’t help your student translate a plan into discreet actions.
o Better organization, seeing a teacher with questions, asking a teacher what “studying” means and not just “studying more” is a great action for students.
o When students say they should “study more” they are often truthful but they often fail to understand the individual actions that make up the very large realm of “studying.”
Later, after we processed those areas that they said were NOT representative of their best effort we talked about what the long term consequences of that would be and I brought this back into context with the poem below. I asked them if they could understand how thinking one was “pretty good” or “good enough” could land them in trouble at some later date. Each time I’ve had this conversation with students and my own kids I always feel proud when they can immediately connect the message of the poem to real-world examples of negative role models who suffer from thinking they are “good enough.”
Lastly, I will be writing again next week about what this poem means to our staff at BCMS with regard to how we approach complacency and our own efficacy as teachers. I can’t wait to share more on this but that will have to wait until next week.
I hope you have enjoyed your February vacation and we can’t wait to see students on Monday.
“Pretty Good” by
from the Osgood File, 1986
There once was a pretty good student
Who sat in a pretty good class
And was taught by a pretty good teacher
Who always let pretty good pass.
He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
But for him, education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.
He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing
Since nobody taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine.
5+5 needn’t always add up to be 10;
A pretty good answer was 9.
The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school,
And the student was not an exception:
On the contrary, he was the rule.
The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town,
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.
The pretty good student in fact was
Part of a pretty good mob.
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough,
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There once was a pretty good nation
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.
• Activities Guide [PDF]