Thursday, June 12, 2008

T#@%?&r... Not a 4-Letter Word

I spent much of my time yesterday discussing a students grade with a parent. The student never turned in an assignment due a month ago. The student claimed to turn in the assignment, but I know he didn't. The parent wanted to know why the child had a "C" for his Science grade. I thought I explained it very well. I guess I didn't. I simply explained that his grade was not going to change and that was the end of it.

I was supposed to be straightening my classroom to get it ready for a long summer break. Needless to say, I didn't have much time to do this.

Too often I see parents that seem to side with their child rather than the teacher. I guess this is a natural bias. I question where this stems from. Does the parent really believe their child? Is the parent questioning the teachers motives? Has the parent had negative interactions with other teachers?

All of these questions are valid. I tend to think they all play a role. I don't necessarily blame the parent in this situation. This parent may have a negative view of teachers. Teachers are a big part of students lives... negative or positive. As teachers, we need to be as professional as possible, hold all bias thoughts and give every child a chance to learn in the best environment possible. This does include following through with our words. Students need to be held responsible for their actions and their work. If a student does not turn in an assignment, they need to be held responsible.

Responsibility seems to be a lost trait. The parent has the upper hand. They know they can walk into a school to get their child's grade changed. If we want to teach responsibility, we need to stick to our words, be fair, not give in and be professional.

Until next blog...


Cathy Nelson said...

Woody, one time my oldest received a grade in English that we (parents) were totally unprepared for—a C. Luckily it was the first report card of the year, and the school required parent conferences to return the report cards, no matter the grade. Students got the day off. So I scheduled the conference, and took my son with me, and low and behold the middle school English teacher showed me where my son had not turned in a major project. I turned to my son and asked where the project was because I remembered him working on parts of it at home. He promised me he turned it in. This teacher then admitted it was very uncharacteristic for Clyde to “not” turn in work, but (and here’s the kicker!) she showed me where seven students did not turn in this assignment. She said that several had turned it in without a name though and never claimed their work even after days of asking. She directed Clyde to look around the room and in the hall where components of the project were displayed. Clyde and I never found his work. So I asked her the dreaded question—why was I not called or even easier, emailed about his missing work, especially since 1) we worked for the same district and so she had access to both mine and my husband’s email address, or 2) a missing assignment for Clyde was very uncharacteristic. The teacher had no explanation.

At this point I took control of the conference. (I was so mean.) I told her she had two choices: 1) Clyde could redo the project and turn it in for the same grade it was initially for with no loss of points for lateness, or 2) we could schedule an appointment with her principal to come up with a viable solution. She grudgingly said he could redo the project. I thanked her and said she would have it by the end of the day (teachers were working from lunch until 8PM for the parent conference day.) I walked Clyde to his locker, made him get exactly what he needed, and took him across the street to his father’s school where I relayed to my husband the events of the entire conference, and asked my husband (who was a math teacher then at the next door high school) to let Clyde work there and take the material over to this teacher when he was done.

I went on into my school where I had a message to call my husband as soon as I got there. I called back and he was laughing hysterically. I was shocked to discover that Clyde had sat down to do the assignment, and when he opened his notebook, there in the side pocket was the assignment. Not only had he done it, BUT she had graded it and had written a note on it—“100/A+ Great attention to detail, Clyde!” I then laughed too, and begged my husband to please allow me to take the assignment back to her, but he wouldn’t let me. He wanted the privilege. According to him, the teacher was very apologetic and embarrassed, and worked furiously to re-average his grade, which became an A as we had expected. But I think she learned a valuable lesson here too—when students, whether uncharacteristic or not, fail to turn in an assignment, call the parents and let them know. This happened when my son was a 7th grader. He is now a junior in college.

So my question to you now is had you notified the parents of a missing assignment? I learned early in my teaching career to call for outrageous behavior or grades. Notifying parents early on about grades or missing homework makes them your partner for improvement, and the team approach (with parents) to teaching can have the most beneficial results, both in terms of grades and behavior. Had these parents been aware of the missing assignment back when it initially happened, you may not have had to suffer through the experience you blog about here. Sorry for your wasted day. Hopefully you are a better teacher for it now.

Thanks for writing about this experience. I enjoyed your post.

A. Woody DeLauder said...

Thanks for the comment Cathy. I was laughing when I read this. I somehow knew where it was going. Unfortunately, this student has a history of not turning in assignments and then lying about it. Out of the 112 5th graders that I teach 43 tried to turn in the assignment late. I gave everyone student 2 months to complete a project of their choice about any organism that thrives in the Chesapeake Bay. I stated that if they chose to write a report, it could be no more than 2 pages, if they chose another product such as a video project... no more than 5 minutes. The Media Specialist gave the students 30 minutes every time they visited her to work on this project. What to include was very detailed. I told all of my students that I would help them in any way possible. 2 asked for help and did phenomenal jobs.
I did not accept any late projects. I did this for a reason. Responsibility is one characteristic not taught enough anymore. I reminded the students of the project at each visit to Science and also reminded them that they would get a "0" if they did not turn it in on that day. 2 students were absent that day, and they both had another student bring in the project. That is called responsibility. Still, 43 students came up with any excuse in the book... my printer broke, my printer ran out of ink, my computer crashed, I was sick. I used the 2 students that were absent that day as examples.
I feel that students need to understand that they will not have someone holding their hand throughout life. Teachers too need to not give in to students that come up with excuses.
Thanks for the comment

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