I’m at the end of my third quarter, and I’m dealing with those last-minute panicked pleas about grades and make-up work and college and parents. In fact, some of those pleas come from parents themselves. This is the week when I turn from my usually laid-back, happy self into the hard-nosed, crusty, experienced teacher that I can be.
You see, I value education. I value learning, and working hard, and defining success by the effort a child puts into the process of education. Grades are less relevant that the lessons learned and the skills a student achieves in the process. Grades may be important to getting into that college of choice, but they are less important in what really matters: succeeding in life.
I value education. I value learning, and working hard, and defining success by the effort a child puts into the process of education.
Look, I’m a mom; I get it. Nobody wants to see her child fail. We worry that it will affect his future, his fragile psyche, or his ability to succeed in the future. And there are plenty of special circumstances where we need to step in to protect our children: our child is diagnosed with a learning disability, our child is seriously physically or mentally ill, there are extenuating circumstances in the family or at school affecting our child’s ability to perform well in class. These are all valid reasons to step in and advocate for your child. Additionally, if you feel that your child is being unfairly treated by a teacher or staff member at a school, then you should most certainly intervene.
However, most of the contact I have with students and parents that I have about grades involve none of these circumstances. 99% of the contact I have this final week before grades post has to do with missing work and an unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.
Here’s the situation: Student #1 has completed all of his work during the course of the quarter. He has studied for every test and quiz, come in for extra help on writing assignments, made sure he has asked questions when he does not understand concepts or instructions.
Student #2, on the other hand, is missing a large portion of her homework and in-class assignments. She rarely reads her directions thoroughly, completes haphazard work, and, more often than not, is checked out in class. You do your best to make sure she is focused in class, to alert her and her parents to her not-so-stellar grade on many occasions, and to tell her what she can do to bring up her grade.
Can you then understand my dismay when student #2 or her parent contacts me during the last week of the quarter wondering what she can do bring her F up to an A? Often, terms such as “athlete,” “college,” or “extra credit” are dropped. Here’s the deal, and this is what truly frustrates me: I do not understand why this grade is suddenly important when it hasn’t been for the past eight weeks. Additionally, fluffing a grade or offering last-minute extra credit cheapens both my professionalism as a teacher and the experience of student #1, who honestly earned the A. It’s not going to happen.
Why this grade is suddenly important when it hasn’t been for the past eight weeks?
What is more valuable than a cheap A, or B, or C, in this case, is the lesson learned from the natural consequences of the situation. So student #2 fails, or manages, at the last minute, to pull her grade up to a credit-saving D. It’s not stellar, and it’s not going to get her into an Ivy league school that her parents have been dreaming about. What it might do is to teach her the value of hard work, and that our actions have consequences. It might create motivation within her to change. I have seen in it happen in many a student over the years.
What’s a parent to do? Be in contact with your student’s teacher early in the year. Come to open house night and conferences. Intercede early when you see that your child may be struggling. Ask questions. See if the teacher can give you clues to what is happening in class. Perhaps there is a comprehension issue or it ma simply be a refusal to complete work. Stay abreast of the grade situation; most schools have an online grading system that is updated weekly, or more often. Do not make demands of teachers that would put their professionalism into question. Last, but certainly not least, encourage your child to advocate for himself. This is especially true of high school students.
Encourage your child to advocate for himself.
Failure is a word that we like to pretend is not a part of success. But students, you are doing yourselves no favor by trying to avoid the consequences of your own actions. Parents, you do your children a disservice when you step in to protect them from the consequences of their own actions. Character is not as easy to come by, but it will take your children farther in life than an easy A.
- What was the best part of your day today?
- If you had $100, what would you do with it?
- If you could move to another state, where would you go and why?
- What’s the last thing that made you really laugh?
- Who do you respect the most and why?
- If you could have one superpower, what would you choose and why?
- Where would you like to travel?
- If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be and why?
- Who would you / will you vote for and why?
- What’s your favorite class?
- If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be?
- Describe your perfect day.
- What makes you feel good about yourself?
- Teach me a slang word you like to use.
- What is your biggest pet peeve?
- What color is your mind?
- If you could be an animal, which one would you choose and why?
- If you could have 50 of one item, what would it be?
- Which song is your jam?
- What was your favorite childhood toy?
- What do you think you will be doing ten years from now?
- If you could choose any other time period to live, when would you choose and why?
- If you could spend a day with anyone from history, who would you choose and why?
- Which of the four seasons is your favorite and why?
- If you were the ruler of the world, what things would you banish?
- If you could do something you have never done before, what would you do?
- What is the best thing you have ever done?
- If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?
- What is the best thing about being a boy / girl?
- What is the worst thing about being a boy / girl?
- If you had three wishes, what would they be?
- What is the most difficult things about being your age?
- How could school better prepare you to be an adult?
- If you had one week to live, what would you do?
- What is the best present someone could give you?
If you are anything like me, you have run into a lot of people who tell you that teaching must be easy. They say things like, “I’ve thought about teaching, after I’m done working” or “How hard can it be?” or “I don’t know why you’re so busy all the time; you’re just a teacher.”
They day you are running late and need to make copies, the copiers will be jammed — all of them.
When you are halfway through a long teaching unit, you will get three new students.
Your administrator walks into your classroom during the last hour of the day, on a Friday, after a pep rally, when you are sick.
The parents you really want to talk to do not show up to parent-teacher night.
The one kid who always pushes your buttons is never absent.
Students enjoy the lesson plans you think up in your car on the drive to school more than the ones you spent hours writing.
You spill coffee on your shirt the day you wear that cute new outfit you have been saving up for.
The school WiFi will go out the day you plan for that awesome technological lesson plan.
You have permanent bruises on your legs that are exactly student desk height.
When you are sick, you suck it up and go in anyway because it’s easier to go in and feel like you might die than to put lesson plans together for a sub.
They day you give a big test, there will be a fire alarm.
Parents blame you when a student is failing your class, even though the student has refused to do any work in your class.
You write the due date for a big assignment on the board, on the assignment sheet, and you mention it every day in class. Students continually ask you the due date.
You go two weeks without a meeting, and suddenly you have three, all on the same day. At the same time.
The one time you go out with your friends to have drinks, you run into all of your students.
You finally get a chance to have a sit-down lunch, and administration decides it the right moment to hold a fire drill.
On the morning after you stay up late to perfect your lesson plans, you will realize that you are out of coffee.
After years of perfecting your curriculum and honing your lessons, the standards change.
When you are trying desperately to quiet your class, one student will make a joke so good you have to fight not to laugh along with the kids.
You spend hours researching and writing a presentation, and then that one kid asks you a question you don’t know the answer to.
It’s finally the weekend, and you cannot sleep past 5:30 a.m.
It’s Friday night, and your family thinks you suck for wanting to go right to bed.
That one kid that really pushes your buttons will give you the best, most thoughtful thank you note at the end of the year.
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When I first started teaching persuasive writing, I got really bored of the typical persuasive writing topics. The kids hated them; I got bored grading essays. Enter the alien report. This is absolutely my all-time favorite writing unit that I teach with my students. It gets them out of their writing “shell,” cleverly introduces the persuasive writing genre, and, most importantly, lets me find the joy of grading essays again.
This is a complete unit, divided into nine steps:
This unit is perfect for grades 7-10, and it calls on prior knowledge of the five-paragraph essay and possibly MLA formatting.
This is a print and teach unit — no need to to anything else!
I recently discussed the ideas of advertising and persuasion with my 10th grade English students. “Be wary,” I told them, “because everyone wants to sell you something.” Isn’t that the truth, though? And isn’t it true that we teachers are trying to sell something, too? A lesson or a unit or perhaps even good manners?