From the series: Life on Dog Hill
Okay, let me level-set right now: this could be a parental defensive reflex. However, I’ve given this situation a lot of reflection and have concluded that, while I am being defensive, it is qualifiedly justified. In this case, my conclusion is that the problem is not the student, nor the work he submitted. The problem, I believe, is the teacher.
Let me step back and say that I take extra effort to be supportive of teachers. My husband and I have graduated six kids through the public school system in North Carolina and we are excited to see excellent progress in number seven, who is in the sixth grade. (I know, I know, but that’s a different story).
Teachers have one heck of a hard job and their salaries are insufficient for the burden of their responsibility. North Carolina ranks 47 out of 50 states in teacher pay and the average NC teacher makes $10,436 less than the national average. It’s a terrible legislative mistake to put so little investment into the teachers who help mold the minds of our children into the adults they will become.
Because my husband and I have such high regard for teachers, we make it a point to give positive feedback to teachers and encourage our son to do the same. Like anyone else, teachers like being acknowledged. Further, while the PTA membership is only $10, we sent in $50 to help cover teacher supplies. Just last month, there was a fund raiser to offer teachers and administrators food/gas cards as holiday gifts and my husband and I contributed $100. We appreciate teachers and are grateful for their committment to our children.
When our twin sons were in middle school where our youngest son now attends, we were regularly contacted by teachers who voiced concern about one or the other’s behavior or performance. When they were in eighth grade, I sat in an algebra class for three days straight because the teacher had repeatedy contacted me about disrespectful and disruptive behavior. My showing up for class was humiliating for my son, but from that time forward I never had a teacher contact me on account of disruptive behavior for either of them. The possible consequence of having mom show up for class kept them on the straight and narrow.
So understand, we have a history of being incredibly supportive of our schools and staff. That said, not everyone in the school system should be there; and, not all teachers working with our children seem to understand basic child psychology. In fact, I’ve questioned if one teacher in particular even likes kids.
Last semester my sixth grader spent three weeks in Health studying the dangers of tobacco. He really enjoyed the unit and came home daily with tales about the dangers of smoking. For the most part, this was a group project. However, for his independent contribution, Ryan had to come up with five questions and answers to demonstrate what he had learned. He put a lot of effort into his assignment, even coming up with a bonus question. When he turned it in, he was very proud.
Unfortunately, his hard work didn’t pay off when his teacher gave him a 60. Seriously, the teacher failed him for turning in the following:
1) Smoking is bad for you.
Answer: True. Smoking is bad for you because it has many dangerous chemicals, 27 are related to cancer.
2) Which can be caused from smoking? (Circle all that are correct)
b) Coco for Coco Puffs
c) The urge to eat food
d) Mad pogo skills
Answer: A: Smoking is known to cause cancer
3) Chew tobacco is just as bad as smoking.
Answer: True. Chew tobacco has small fragments of glass which cuts you lip so that the chemicals in the tobacco can get into your body faster.
4) Smoking enhances your chances of getting sick.
Answer: True. Tar from cigarette smoking blackens your lungs, leads to shortness of breath and can weaken your ability to fight respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.
5) What kind of diseases can result from using tobacco products? (Check all that are correct)
d) Cardio Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Answer: A, C & D
6) One of every five deaths in the US is related to smoking.
Answer: True. According to the Center for Disease Control, adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for more than 440,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States.
When I emailed the teacher about Ryan’s failing grade (surely it was a mistake) she responded that, “…his questions and answers lacked much thought or depth of understanding and he asked questions with obvious answers,” she wrote. “The answer to a true/false question about smoking being bad (or good) for you is pretty obvious. Most students knew, prior to us starting the unit in class, that smoking is bad for people.”
Really? Let’s check the algorithms for Google search which automatically brings up the most common searches on Google.
If you type in:
Is smoking ci
You automatically get this in the search bar: Is smoking cigarettes bad for you?
According to Google’s 2013 year end statistics, out of 5,922,000,000 daily searches last year (that’s billion!)… the most common question typed into the Google search bar is the very same question that Ryan listed as number 1 on his paper. (http://www.statisticbrain.com/google-searches/). Holy smokes! Can you believe all the idiots who would even ask such a lame question?
Sarcasm aside, while this may be a simple question, statistics clearly prove its relevance.
Ah, but the teacher continued with her explanation of Ryan’s failing.
“The point of having students create quiz questions (and answers) was to have them show me the depth of what new knowledge and understanding they gained while completing the project,” she said. “Nowhere in the unit did we discuss coco puffs, pogo skills, or anything like that.”
Since when is having a sense of humor a sign of failure? Only a teacher who didn’t bother to get to know her students could come to the end of the first half of the school year and not know that Ryan is a funny guy. He is a happy young man with a keen (albeit dry) sense of humor. Ask anyone who knows him. Even I laughed when I read his answer suggesting Coco Puffs and Mad Pogo Skills because I understood that Ryan was making the assignment fun.
Too bad this teacher takes herself so seriously that she couldn’t appreciate Ryan’s injection of humor along with his demonstration of understanding the serious topic at hand. Just four months ago, he lost his maternal grandmother to lung disease. A smoker all of her adult life, the dangers of smoking were made very real for Ryan. Believe me, he gets it.
When teachers like this one look so hard for reasons to fail students, rather than looking for indications that the student is engaged and comprehending the material, they undermine student success.
When a student goes above and beyond; for example, typing the assignment when that was not required and adding a bonus question, those are signs that the student is engaged and desires to do well. Teachers who don’t get this are not the kind of teachers we need in our classrooms because they strike at the very heart of successful learning—passion!
I’m not saying Ryan deserved an “A” but I am saying he definitely did NOT deserve an “F.” Interestingly, his grade changed. Prior to my contacting the teacher, his grade was three out of five for his questions but the teacher had given him a D. After our email exchange, the grade changed to 12 out of 20 and he had an F. Since most of the project was considered a group project, I can only guess that the teacher factored in group points. I asked her many questions about the group aspect. For example, if it’s a group project and my son failed, did everyone in the group fail? That question—and others like it—were ignored. As you can see from the screen shot of his grades, the failure made the difference between his receiving a “B” and an “A.” Although administration was notified of my concerns, they have taken a “hands off” position saying this was between me and the teacher. Not very reassuring….
As we move into a new semester, my son remains totally confused about what went wrong. Moreover, he doesn’t understand how going above and beyond earned him a big, fat “F.” For the first time ever, I told my son this was a problem with the teacher, not him. The grade is irrelevant.
The good news is that this teacher has moved on so Ryan won’t have any internal conflict about rising to her arbitrary expectations. The bad news is that this teacher has moved on to another school. There is the hope, of course, that in moving to a new school she will take lessons learned with her. Accepting the fact that she takes herself (and her ego) way too seriously would be a good start. Working harder to understand (and even try to like) kids would be an excellent next step as well. Otherwise, I’m predicting parents at her new location will become equally disturbed.
But that’s just my opinion.
Wow…I could have written most of that , including sitting in on Math class myself. Tell Ryan that I loved his humor and I would imagine that it held the other youngster’s attention longer than the same old same old. Also, did it ever occur to her that Ryan already knew most of what she taught…so not much new info to include? Some teachers just don’t get it….and ruin it for others.
Hi Kathy, thanks for commenting. It makes me feel good knowing that I’m not the only parent who has humiliated their kids by sitting in on classes. To this day, that is the single most effective thing I’ve ever done in terms of seeing results in school behavior. In Ryan’s case, I think what bothers me as much as the teacher not getting it is the administration’s lack of interest. When they don’t want to get involved, that signals to me a red flag. As for Ryan, historically his teachers have loved his sense of humor. I wouldn’t want him to change for anything!
On another note…this year Z’s Civics teacher keeps marking correct answers as wrong. When I brought the first 2 incorrectly graded tests to her attention it took her several unanswered emails, a short meeting, a phone call and several more weeks…oh and an email to the principal to finally correct the grades…a day before report cards came home. This was after she lost both tests that Z had brought back to school to show her etc. Oh, she also wrote on her report card that Z needed to study more. (She got a B)
This semester she has already marked another answer wrong…it was correct. I didn’t bother to mention it…probably should but she still has a B. She has started saying crappy things to Z. I emailed the principal asking if we “adults” needed to have a meeting. She emailed back that she’d look into it. I haven’t heard anything back, but Z says she’s not picking on her anymore.
She no longer sends tests or quizzes home, which is unfortunate because Z corrected what she missed and studied by them. 🙁
While there are many positive things to say about our school, it is not perfect. What I’m hoping to do by posting this article is make other parents more aware. I think lots of folks are asking themselves, “Is it just me? Will I look like I’m being overly defensive if I say anything?”
I’d like this post to become another avenue for sharing so that we can make recommendations for improvement, even if it’s training so that teachers interact more effectively with these kids. These kids are still young and can’t be expected to act like adults. They are transitioning tweens and they need a lot of understanding, flexibility, and patience!
I received an email earlier today from someone who read this post and said, “All I can say to Ryan, is that some people are jerks, and unfortunately, they can wield power over your grades.”
If that’s the truth (and I believe it is), it’s wrong. Teachers should be transparent and accountable. Administration should make sure of it.
I’m sorry Z has also had a bad experience. This was not our first run-in with this particular teacher either. I didn’t even mention the intimidating comment she made to Ryan in the first quarter. I called her out on it and told her it bordered bullying. Sigh….so many good teachers but it only takes one or two ineffective ones to ruin a school’s reputation.
Well, I just asked my daughter about this teacher, and she liked her and thought she was a good teacher. BUT she gave this otherwise straight-A student a C on an assignment, and when asked why, the teacher said she did not remember! Did not remember!–need I say more.
With appropriate, timely feedback on assignments, remembering would not be an issue! Thanks for sharing!
While I have not had the above happen to such an extent, one thing I am very frustrated about, and this issue seems to happen more at the HS level, is the sharing of answers on tests. The kids in the morning classes are pressured to give up the test questions and then the kids in the later periods don’t bother to study. Smart phones have made this almost seamless. The kids in the earlier classes have a harder time earning their grades honestly, while our students are learning what an easy A is like–no work, but bumm the answers off some willing student. This issue is rampant and unfair and our district really needs to address this issue somehow. Other than telling the students “not to share answers” because that does not work, the peer pressure is too strong. Have you seen this issue with your older children? It is especially rampant the harder the class, such as the AP classes.
Hi Anita, thanks for your comment. I think you hit the nail on the head when you refer to the pressure that kids are under to share and the general feeling among students that, “It’s no big deal.” And yes, I did experience that with my older boys. When they were caught they received a failing grade — which is absolutely appropriate! BUT, for every pair that gets caught sharing, there are so many others that keep on doing what they are doing. I think the only solution is different tests for different classes. Unfortunately, that makes a lot more work for the teacher. With enhancements to technology, the kids could test on computers and questions could be randomized and auto graded. Not sure with all the budget cuts that a technology solution is realistic. A great topic for further discussion for sure…
At my son’s HS, they give different test…Unfortunately, they also almost never show the students their graded tests or only show them for a few minutes…all to prevent them from sharing with other classes. I think it’s better to correct whatever you answered incorrectly, otherwise you’ll always think your answer was correct…and then miss it again down the line. ????
My son is in a different class than yours. But my son also got an F on the same assignment. He is typically an A,B student, loves school and tries hard. He said they don’t get their scores back nor feedback regarding why they were given any grade/score. It hard to understand what they did wrong and learn from those mistakes without appropriate and constructive feedback.
You are absolutely right. In Ryan’s case this score wasn’t even posted until the last day before school break and Ryan never received any feedback. After he spoke to the teacher about the grade and I followed up, she offered that he could submit new questions. However, since no feedback had been provided there was no way to know what was wrong with what he had submitted the first time!
Providing timely, appropriate feedback is certainly an area for improvement. Otherwise, where is the opportunity for learning? Failing children who love school and give their best sends the WRONG signal. How can we fix this?
First of all, hello Sheila!!! I hope all is well! AND, keep pushing and being a champion for your son not so he doesn’t fail but that he learns. I happen to think we as parents fail our children when we don’t allow them to fail AND THEN LEARN from that failure – lot a “fail”ure in the sentence but it is true. With that said, teachers need to be aware of the immense power they have over students who truly want to learn, as most do.
Teachers have the power to crush the spirit, confuse the mind, and belittle the efforts and achievements that come with learning. My middle child had this happen to her in regards to her reading skills during the 3rd grade and this made a MAJOR impact on her and her desire to improve that skill over the next 3 years. It took a teacher who was truly, truly there to promote and educate young minds.
If teaching is not your passion, then you need to move on. In that position and at the age of the child we are referring to, that teacher has more impact, both good and bad, that anyone wants to admit. It also concerns me when those who do not feel that teaching is there passion are not held accountable for their lack of commitment to this job. You/We are training and educating the next generation of leaders, philanthropists, movers and shakers. It is an awesome task taken as a whole, so the importance of breaking that down into parts, i.e. grade levels, that are both doable for the students and society as a whole is absolutely paramount in importance.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not just educating a mind with facts, figures, and ideas, you are molding a human being who will, we hope, use critical thinking skills, logical analysis, interpersonal relationships, goal setting and a host of other skills that go way beyond any book written. WE DO THAT THROUGH DEEDS, ACTIONS AND WORDS AND THEY DO NOT ALL COME FROM A TEXT! Children learn from what they see, hear and experience.
Hear!Hear! Well said, Ginia. I especially like how you cemented your argument it at the end — teaching really is more than facts, figures, and ideas. Especially in sixth grade as kids leave elementary and step into middle school, they are learning how to self-express, self-advocate, and set and achieve goals. At this stage, teachers can help shape them or they can crush them. Thanks so much for sharing.
Actually, my husband and I saw that and chuckled. So,let me ask you… do you think my child’s work is a piece of failure?
Lady, you have a lot of time on your hands and plenty to complain about. You seem to be making excuses for your kid. This is boarderline slander. I hope you feel better about yourself now that you took it out on the teacher. Not sure what makes you an expert on education.
Granted, I did use a lot of time to write this weekly post because I wanted it to accurately tell a story and express a concern—funny that bugs you so much!
Lady, you do have a lot of time on your hands. You’re the type parent that teachers just love!! Your kid is always right and hardly ever wrong. With the history you mentioned of your other son, I’m sure your youngest son is a chip off the ole block. I appreciate what you and your husband have done for teachers in the past, they all deserve much more. I speak with knowledge of the subject after retiring from the public schools in this area. I’m sure the teacher you bashed has many more positive stories than the one isolated instance that was close to you.
My, my, such anger and bitterness coming from a retired teacher. Sad, too, that you bash my children whom you don’t even know…
What a huge waste of my time reading this. Much respect to all the teachers out there that have to deal with difficult kids and difficult parents.
Since when does advocating for transparency in grading practices make one a difficult parent? Since when is it okay to label kids difficult just because their parent raises a concern in a public manner? My guess is that your opinion would be very different if the shoe were on the other foot.
I have never thought a parent difficult if they wanted to discuss their child! For one, apparently they are interested in what is going on in their child’s life rather than just shipping them out of the home for the day – free baby sitting. Secondly, not sharing grades in a timely manner allows no such interaction to take place but maybe that’s what some educators desire – their own little kingdom where they rule supreme. I have definitely met both.
In my opinion, timely feedback is always essential to a student’s wellbeing, whether the situation is in elementary, high school or college. Good effort should always be acknowledged. I too would have questioned any F that my child received. An F means Failure in a student’s mind. If the child knows that s/he failed miserably because of a lack of attention or failure to study, there’s no need to question the teacher after speaking with the student. But if the grade comes as a complete surprise, then why not question the teacher? I would seek to explore why it happened and what can done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Was there a misunderstanding of the assignment, etc.? I think Sheila’s questioning was just a reasonable expectation of a concerned parent regarding her child’s educational experience. Go Sheila!!