Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Cut them Some Slack"

As I approach the end of the second 9 weeks (which means I am almost 50% finished with my first year!!), I have come to accept some things about my students. 
  • They are not going to study, so I have to make all tests open book and/or open notes.
  • They are not going to do homework, so I might as well not assign it.
  • In a 75 minute period, I can probably get a good 30 minutes of work out of them, and that's on a good day.
  • As a general rule, I care more about their education than their parents do.
  • A "D" in their mind is perfectly acceptable.
  • They really don't care about the SOLs, even though they must pass them to graduate.
  • A major reason why they don't do well on the SOLs, is because they don't take the time to actually read the test.  They just kind of skim it and pick an answer that seems right.
  • They have a ridiculous sense of entitlement ("I should be able to graduate having done absolutely no work.")
  • And the most recent and disturbing discovery--the reason the students feel this way is that this is the message that is backed up by administration.
We were in the middle of exams when a snowstorm hit, which resulted in Christmas break starting two days early.  The make up days were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week.  At the staff meeting on Monday, the principal flat out told us that because the kids had been on break, that we should curve the grades. 

This is outrageous.  In my mind, the kids actually had more time to study.  I get that they didn't take advantage of that opportunity, but I'm not going to reward it by giving them a better grade than they deserve.  I already prepped them by giving them the questions ahead of time.  We went over the answers in class.  That alone is ridiculous, but I have accepted that is what I need to do.  What I can not accept is out and out falsifying a grade just to make the school (principal) look better.

We were also told to give students the opportunity to make up missed work up until the end of the nine weeks.  I give plenty of opportunities for that--way more than I should.  If a student is actually willing to do some work, I am so thrilled that I only penalize them marginally for it being late.  However, there is a limit and when weeks go by with no effort, I enter the "0" in my grade book and move on. 

I will end this rant with a good story with an ironic ending.  English teachers love irony!  I have a student who I will call Joaquin, who from the first day of school showed himself to be highly motivated.  He is also personable and respectful.  I adore him.  In November, Joaquin stopped coming to class and a few weeks later I received an email from Administration.  It stated that Joaquin was having to support his family and in order to do so, he was working 40 hours a week at a lumber mill an hour away.  His shift was from 3:00 - 11:00 p.m. and in order to get there on time, he was cutting last period.  He had come to Administration because he hoped the school would work with him so he could continue school, while still meeting the financial needs of his family. 

I was absolutely happy to help Joaquin.  We made a deal that he could leave 30 minutes early if he made up the time by coming to SDS (our study hall).  Unfortunately, after a few weeks, it became too much for Joaquin and I didn't see him again before we left for break. Much to my delight, he showed up this week for his exam telling me that he'd been able to change his schedule to accommodate a full day of school.  He wanted to know if it was too late and if he could make up his work.  I told him of course I would help.  I suggested he take the exam and do the best he could and I would take into consideration the fact that he had missed much of the material. 

Guess what?  Joaquin scored the highest in the entire class with a 93% on his exam.  What does this tell me?  Obviously, Joaquin is smart and highly motivated.  It also tells me that the rest of the class, who was there for the work, put absolutely no effort into preparing for that exam--the exam that I gave them the questions and answers to in class.  Joaquin was not there for the review, yet by simply studying and actually reading the material, he managed to get a B+.  Isn't that funny how that works?  You study and you get good grades!  Crazy!  Who would've thought?!

Yet, I am expected to make concessions for those who aren't willing to study or do the work.  I am just supposed to let them coast through to make the school look  better.  I am totally willing to help someone who wants to work.  I will grade on a curve.  I will let that student make up work.  However, I am only going to help a student as much as he helps himself.  Otherwise, I am not doing them any favors. 

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