Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who’s fault is the F?

Much of my time these days is having conversations with parents about failing students or students that might have college aspirations put on hold because of a D.  I have yet to have a conversation that has been nasty.  All are cordial.  However, all also follow a pattern.

1.  First question is about extra work.  Somewhere along the line the system has created a safety net that allows students to fail for 3/4 of the semester and then allows them to make up that work within a couple of weeks.  I don’t play that.  The kids learn nothing and I get extra work.  I won’t work harder because the student spent most of the year on vacation.  About a quarter of the parents will then tell me that I’m the only teacher in the school that does not offer extra work.  I say ok.  What else is there?

2.  At this point the conversation delves into why the student is failing.  Nine out of every ten failures has to do with attendance.  I do very little homework.  I quiz like a madman.  In my class you have to show good knowledge or you haven’t earned the grade.  Upon explaining to the parent that their kid has missed chunks of my class, most immediately make an excuse.  “Yeah, but they are all excused.”  What the parent is saying is that either they excused the student’s absences or the student is 18 and can therefore sign themselves as excused.  What I say is that it doesn’t matter.  Parents immediately get defensive and accuse me of grading based on attendance.  I calm them down by inviting them to see their child’s grades online, where they will notice that I have no attendance related grades.  Students with poor attendance either miss quizzes and tests and don’t make them up, or don’t study while they are gone and fail them consistently.

3.  At this point I have navigated the excuse waters and we come to the question of “what can they do to graduate”.  My answer is A) Show up to class every day, B) Do all the assignments and do them well, C) Come to me if help is needed, D) There are no guarantees.  The last point creates temporary aggravation but it has to be said.  Otherwise it is assumed that a warm body that turns in crap will be enough.  It’s not.  And this is where I try to make it very clear not graduating high school is a reality. 

4.  Then comes the phrase “I need to get him/her to graduate high school.”  It is almost always part of the conversation.  It takes the responsibility away from the student and drives it into the hands of the parent.   

5.  The final part of the conversation is the venting.  Frustrations come out.  Family issues come out.  Lots of information that puts the students progress into context takes center stage.  Well over half the things I hear that students are telling parents is a lie.  That’s not new.  But the fact that parents are more apt to believe the teenager and not the teacher is a disturbing trend.  I’ve had parents insist that my attendance was wrong because they watched their kid walk out of the house every morning.  As if that’s a clear indication that the came to class. 

6.  The final piece is the necessity for constant updates.  Some call twice a week.  Other’s e-mail me for updates just as often.  Grades and attendance are available online, but they hardly get checked.  I don’t mind giving updates, but parents often want magical results in a few days.  I have to tell many that we won’t really know about their status until after the final.  It usually ends cordially. 

Some will go over me to the student’s counselor and attempt to exude pressure from that end.  Rarely does the issue go to the vice-principle, and when it does it is usually from a parent that has complained before. 

By the way, this attitude towards grade inflation and the mistrust of the teacher are both primary reasons why students are not making academic progress.  I’ve watched, with my own eyes, teachers capitulate under pressure to graduate a kid that clearly had not earned a passing grade.  It’s the easy thing to do and at the end of the year, who really needs the aggravation?  Well, I do I guess.  I’m about teaching kids about life, and this problem is not going to be excused in college or out in the workforce.    

blog comments powered by Disqus