Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

There's nothing like a good professional quandry at the end of a day.

One of our counsellors came into my room to discuss a student. This particular student has not attended my class more than twice all semester. There have been out of school suspensions, in school suspensions, and just plain truancy.
Now, according to the counsellor, the student is plenty smart enough to pass the course--I'm inclined to believe her. The question: would I be willing to provide enough work from fourth quarter to help the student pass. You should be wondering how it is possible to pass a semester with only one quarter worth of work. Well, in my district, we help students out by not allowing them to receive anything lower than a 45 percent for the first and third marking periods. That way, a student can try to earn a 75% during fourth quarter, plus pass their final exam, and earn a 60% so they can pass. Lovely.
I told her I'd have to think about it.
So blogging colleagues and education watchers, what would you do? Would you give the student all of fourth quarter's work with only two weeks to go in the quarter?
Here were my thoughts, in order:
1. Hell no.
2. How about I give him an exam like the one the state uses? If he can pass that, he clearly has the ability!
3. How about I just say, "It's the Year of Jubilee; all debts are forgiven," and just pass him. I mean, that's what they want me to do, but they can't come out and say it. So, they'll ask me to let him do the work and then he can "pass."
4. Is what I do here really called teaching?


At 5:09 PM , Blogger Cassy said...

Hell no is right. Kids deserve a second chance - but when that becomes a third, fourth, fifth chance - they learn that they don't really have to do what's expected of them. I teach 4th grade, and even at this level I say " a due date is a due date" -
amazing how the system sets it all up to do OK now, and fail later in life.
Hey, I like your blog and the way you think.

At 5:24 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Thanks Cassy. This request has put me in a funk. It's almost like the counsellor, who no doubt is speaking for the administrator, has little respect for what we've accomplished this semester.

At 6:05 PM , Blogger Jim Connolly said...

Let the student know what's on the final, then take it at the same time/place as all of your other students, without any extra accommodations: if they pass that, they've proved they know what they were supposed to know for the semester, which is, after all, the goal. If not, then they fail.
Let's face it: kids have "other stuff" going on in their lives, and we as educators don't always have the inside info into what that stuff is. This is a reasonable compromise, giving the student the opportunity to earn a passing grade, without giving them an unreasonable advantage over other students. Heck, set the maximum grade they can earn at a D. It's passing, but not a "good" grade.
Realistically, no matter how smart the kid is, they most likely won't pass the final without having been in class regularly, no matter how smart they are. With this compromise, you're showing you're flexible and caring about the kids, but not bending over backwards to let a kid slide by.
Certainly not an easy question to have to answer. I wish you well!

At 6:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

They will pass the student anyway...either on their terms or yours.

At 5:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The work we give students over the course of a semester is not a test to see if they will work hard (some kids don't have to work hard to master it, others can work 'til they drop and not get it), it is meant to help them master the information and the skills our course presents, usually so that they can do more advanced work and thinking. If this student can show a sufficient mastery (65%) of the all of the skills and information you have presented he/she gets a passing grade, whether he/she got that level of achievement by doing your work or not. Otherwise the failing grade stands.

I have provided such students with the course curriculum (books, stories, poems, vocabulary, grammar skills, and essays), as well as a list of assessments (papers, projects, exams) I have used to discover student mastery of the course content. If they can return to me at the end of the time left with completed projects, acceptable papers, and can pass the series of tests and exams, then they pass. They never have.

But, Cassy, it's not about giving chances. This is education, it's about learning subject matter. We become bullies when we make it about bending students to our sense of how they should act, and we overstep our knowledge when we claim that they will succeed if they conform to our way or they will fail if they don't.

At 2:03 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I disagree with "Joe":

"We become bullies when we make it about bending students to our sense of how they should act"

Teachers upholding reasonable performance expectations are not bullies; they are the rightful authorities over their classes.

"we overstep our knowledge when we claim that they will succeed if they conform to our way or they will fail if they don't."

That is not an overstep; it's the way of the world. Students need to be prepared for what awaits them. If you don't do your job the way your boss wants you to do it, you are fired, i.e., you fail.

Furthermore, showing that you can follow the prescribed process can be as important as showing that you can create the desired product.

At 2:48 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

In theory, I think we aren't too far apart. I have transcendental tendencies that provoke me towards civil disobedience and marching to the beat of my own drummer. But in practice, I tend to follow Peter's line of thinking. Not out of absolute agreement, but because the system we work in expects it.
I'd be all for getting rid of the current process. If a student enters grade 9 with grade 12 reading and writing skills, why are the forced into that path?
I want my classroom to be about learning, but frankly, the system isn't all that into learning either. We have to give grades for what kids prove they can do.

At 5:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, how are you handling it?

At 4:10 PM , Blogger Mimi said...

That is tough!! I would be inclined to say no. I don't think it's asking to much for kids to "conform" to the simple idea of showing up to class, taking personal responsibility and showing effort. What would we be teaching children if we let all that go and made it about subject matter mastery alone?

At 9:15 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

It turned out to be an easy problem to solve. The student, who was instructed by the counselor to attend every class session for the remainder of the two weeks, didn't show yesterday. Therefore, I went with the summer school recommendation.

At 6:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad it worked out. I hope the kid gets his act together.

At 11:58 AM , Blogger Azri said...

From my opinion, we should give advantage if it is the first time mistake. So he should know that he have make a mistake and will never make a mistake again next time with you or with other teachers. But if the student have commit such a behavior before this, so there is no forgiveness for him anymore....

Pet Treadmills

At 11:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I should leave this alone—I’ve practically bitten my tongue through trying to—but here I am anyway.

Cassy and daun--School in America is not about x number of chances; it is THE chance, chance after chance after chance from day 1 to day 2340. This is not the same as “letting kids walk all over you.” That statement implies that their failure is an attack on you, whereas it is really an attack on themselves. Our job is to provide a variety of ways to have that student succeed.

Peter--School in America is not about imposing the imperfect moral values of teachers on imperfect students; it is about helping them to develop their own ever-evolving systems, based on principals expressed in the U.S. Constitution. And this is done by engaging them in the conversation, valuing their voices, believing in their desire to live in a world where they and those they love can leave in peace, happiness, safety.
When you claim that the way of the world is bosses firing people who don’t do what they say, you are just plain wrong—if you’re the only one who can do the job, they don’t fire you; if you mother owns the company, they don’t fire you; if they are under the gun themselves and it will make them look bad, they don’t fire you; if they want to sleep with you, they don’t fire you; etc. Doing what you are told is one way to succeed—sometimes, under certain conditions—but it doesn’t always work and it isn’t the only way. Kids (who happen to be people the same as you and me) know this and know that what we really are saying when we refuse to bend is “I’m big, you’re small; I’m old, you’re young; I’m right, you’re wrong; and there’s not a thing you can do about it!” In other words we are being bullies.

If schools in America are about learning (academic information, academic skills, critical thinking techniques, understanding of human behavior and its consequences, and an appreciation of learning) then the structures must be ones that allow and encourage this learning to happen. But the consequences for challenging those structures must not be imposed with arrogance, must not be destructive to the individual, must not be zero-understanding, even if they are touted as zero-tolerance.

Our job is to teach our subject to every kid put in our class. We are paid professionals and in accepting the money, we accept that requirement. So, when confronting quandaries such as the one you described our job is not to force the kid to fit a structure (or crush him, or discard him if he can’t), but to make a structure that will help the student to succeed.

At 1:43 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

A few thoughts of my own:
This district, as I am sure many others, doesn't allow for structuring to the needs of the students. For instance, in looking towards the future, I've wondered how my school can influence those students who hate school, skip classes, fight in the hallways and disrespect the staff--even ones who are trying to help them. So I took a lesson from influence masters and surveyed about 100 students who were skipping their adivisory period and hanging out in the cafeteria (while security allowed them in). I asked one question: Who are the five most respected students in the school? I compiled the list and created a second list of twenty students whose names appeared more than three times.
I brought this to an administrator who said it was interesting, but left it at that, adding, we should do that for the whole school--next fall.
But why not now? Why not look compile such a list and invest some time in these students over the summer? I may just do that on my own. If we are serious about changing patterns of behavior in such schools, we have to change our approach. But NCLB, and I am okay with the law, has created leaders who focus on the result and not the process.
Yet, with all of my hope for change, it is unrealistic to believe that, even with great teaching, every kid will be successful in the time frame that we've laid out. Because, holding to your thoughts, we cannot force them into our mold.


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