Tuesday, October 6, 2009

grade A (or not)

We reached midterm last Friday and I finished entering grades for my classes this afternoon. Once again, I am at that precarious place between the pragmatic belief that people make their own choices [such as refusing to lift a pencil, or eyelid, during class] and the self-doubting worry that I have not done my best job in teaching [Do I make things too hard? Do I not give enough time to finish assignments? Is my aggravation showing??]

To be sure, just a handful of people are failing and it is only midterm but still; it's hard for this former Honor Society nerd queen to understand a shrug in the face of an abominable grade. As I remind my students, getting an F right now does not mean lost credit but it does mean everything they do from here on is piled on top of nothing; instead of building on a solid foundation, like at the fresh start of a new quarter, they are trying to build a decent grade up from the basement. But analogies are lost on many of them - We have a basement here? Why are we building stuff? When's lunch...

For every failing grade, I do ask myself about that kid and my interaction with him or her. I have to make sure I am doing everything I can to help which does not [an unfortunate surprise to some students] include actually doing the work OR giving a passing grade regardless; I have been asked to do both things. Occasionally by a parent. Which of course makes calling home a special kind of chore - am I going to get the guardians who a) truly care how their kids are doing and b) will hold their children accountable (please, baby Jesus)? Or might I have the pleasure of reaching The Lunatic, who rants at me about everything remotely connected to her kid (including details of how she sneaks out to have sex with boys in the backyard)? Or The Scoffer, who is certain the low grade is a result of my rejection of his child's special capabilities (which may or may not include being an Oscar-worthy liar)?

Sometimes I just pray for an answering machine.


Gretchen said...

I can so relate.
It's been 10 long years since I taught and I still remember calling Kristy's parents because she spent every day with her head down on her desk, near tears, not working or sleeping, just kinda comatose. This was so out of character.

A call home was peppered with questions about her grade, her homework, her participation in class. Mom & Dad didn't care that she seemed genuinely depressed. Didn't care that the teacher was concerned about more than just her grades. They just wanted to make sure she could still get some extra credit.

I always loved teaching high school because it's like the bridge between hand-holding and walking off the cliff. Give them enough rope to hang themselves... or save themselves. Teach them the tools for success and show them how to succeed, but make sure they do it for themselves. Fortunately for me, I had a great group of highly motivated kids. I know your students are... ahem... less motivated.

But don't give up. Please. They need you. Us parents who care, we need you.

Very Mary said...

I prefer the ones who cry. The parents, not the students. Because when they cry? That is when I suddenly begin to use a Brit accent and they shut up immediately. Pip pip and cheerio!

Unknown said...

From a parents point of view I appreciate your post. I think we need more caring teachers like yourself. I would love to read more about your dealings with children and how you handle issues.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

It's miserable watching someone self-destruct - and there seems to be a theme running through our lives - and feel helpless on the sidelines.

But what you are doing is worthy and good. You never know what they may take from these hours spent with you, somewhere down the line.

Ami said...

I'm glad there are people like you in the system.

I think there are lots of them. God knows people aren't teaching for the monetary rewards!!

My dad was a classroom teacher (elementary) for 27 years. He conducted parent conferences on horseback and even went down to a local tavern to talk to a mom.


Fantastic Forrest said...

Okay, this is just weird. My word verification is schbool.

This post is about what it's like to be in school - in the middle between students and parents. Get the weirdness? There's a b in the middle of the word school for my word verification? Ha. I crack me up.

Your tales of teaching - especially the interactions with parents - sometimes crack me up too. But sometimes they make me sad. There are so many damaged people out there, and I know you can't fix them all, but never doubt that YOU make a difference for many of them. Praise Baby Jesus you're there in the middle of it.


Alison said...

I totally identify. I COULD NOT for the life of me have failed a class on purpose. It's hard not to question yourself when a student fails.

But my dad told me something it has taken him 38 years as a pastor to learn: you can't want it more than they do. You can't make it happen for them. You can only do your best to offer them the opportunity, and you, my friend, are doing that.

brandy101 said...

I nearly had a nervous breakdown in my 1st HS when I got an undeserved bad grade in chemistry (got As on every quiz and test but freaky controlling nun gave me a D anyway. ) Really - I passed out repeatedly on campus, often injuring myself during the process of falling on hard pavement. I suppose they were anxiety attacks.

My parents pulled me out of that school and I went to our local public school where I flourished.

I was ALWAYS hardcore and motivated about good grades and this carried through to the workplace where I would never blow off an assignment or turn something in half-@$$ed because IT HAD MY NAME ON IT.

Is it a matter of personal pride? I am not sure but maybe my parents setting expectations for me up front very early on (I am thinking kindergarden even?) made a difference.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Ahhh, parents. I'm getting a big taste of the lunacy out there.


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