Thursday, April 17, 2008

Raving Mad Rants

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. - Jacques Barzun.

I'm struggling with whether to tell you a nice / funny story, which is most tempting, or to go on a rant. The present inclination is to rant.

Most of you know that I teach...or teach sometimes. I had taken a bit of a step back from it and was pursuing other interests, but still keeping my fingers in the pot, so to speak. And then late winter I was asked if I would step into a position, at least temporarily. The teacher was leaving and they needed someone quickly, however, it was a tough position to fill as it was French Immersion. I've worked at this school before and really like the staff and have a lot of respect for the administrators, so I agreed to take it on until the end of June.

In many ways, I really enjoy French immersion. Although we don't stream our kids for the program, overall, they tend to be highly motivated students with supportive parents. Sometimes, however, that "supportive" translates into "pushy" and out of touch with reality. This past week, I've been writing report cards. I've also been chasing down students for missing assignments and missed tests and at the same time giving them an idea of where they stood academically. In the process, I've fielded numerous calls and had some "emergency" meetings. The following are a few examples of how some of them went.

I had one mother come in with her daughter absolutely frantic when she heard that her daughter had only achieved a C+. I explained to this mother that it wasn't the end of the world, her daughter had a C+. Now you must understand that a C is supposed to be considered average. Therefore, anything above a C is above average. One really can't have everyone in the class having an "A" or an "A" would have no value, it would simply be average. An "A" is supposed to be exceptional. In fact, the definition we are given is "someone who exceeds expectations and outcomes." Now a student who hands in projects late and fails to take responsibility for making up missed tests hardly sounds like an exceptional student who has exceeded expectations. All that aside, at this point, the mother says, in front of her daughter, mind you, "You don't understand, this IS the end of the world for my daughter." My first thought was, "Your poor daughter, you are setting her up for a miserable life and failure." One can't always be the top and the best at all one does. And if one expects to always be, isn't he/she being set up for horrible disappointment. Isn't it more important that one enjoys what one does and feels motivated to continue...not so stressed that one doesn't even want to try? Isn't it more important for one to have acceptance and support from a parent regardless of academic performance?

On to my next story...a father called me and started out with, "I've never done this before but..." I am thinking, please don't do it then because I'm going to end up being really embarrassed for you. He continues on, "I understand that my son has 84%, do you think you could boost his mark by two percent so he gets an A?" Whoa! What's that about? First, a B is a pretty good mark. Second, what kind of message does that send to a child? I had to explain, NO! That is a very slippery slope. If I raise one student's mark by two percent, then to be fair about it, I would have to raise all my students' marks by two percent or be accused of playing favorites. If I'm raising everyone's mark, what's the value of the mark? What does that teach a child about work ethic and what sort of satisfaction does that give a student in terms of personal achievement? Could a child really be proud of receiving something that he/ she doesn't deserve and didn't earn? What sort of incentive would there then be for the child to work hard next time around? And if that's the way the system works, why would I bother writing report cards at all? Why wouldn't I just send the report cards home and have the parents fill them out with the mark they wanted their child to have. That would make everyone happy, it would save me the time of having to mark and write reports (which really is very time consuming), and everyone would be happy with their mark.

I had another mother come in with her daughter, and you must understand that this was after term cut off and the day that I was supposed to have my marks into the office. The mother said that her child was surprised at and disappointed in her mark. The more the conversation went on, however, the more obvious it was that it was the mother who was surprised and disappointed, I say this because of disparaging comments the mother made to her daughter regarding the quality of her work. This was another child with a "B." The mother wanted her child to be able to redo all assignments and tests. The child had already redone one test. Is it fair that a child is able to use her tests as practice sheets until she gets the mark she wants? How fair is that for the students who studied hard the first time and only wrote the test once? The other issue is that each time a student wants to rewrite, I need to rewrite the wouldn't be fair to give the exact same test. If I did, it would mean that the students who only wrote the test once, wouldn't know the questions I was going to ask, but the student who writes it three times most certainly would. Also, if I have all this extra rewriting of tests and marking, then how am I going to adequately prep for the classes I have to deliver? How fair would it be to the other students that I deliver a less than satisfactory lesson because I am busy rewriting tests and doing extra marking so that one parent is happy and that I meet my obligation of getting my report cards written and handed in in a timely manner.

These incidents were highly disappointing for me and make me wonder at our society. I'm expected to deliver a quality education, yet asked to do things that would undoubtedly erode the system and make it meaningless. Such acts show a complete disregard for the educator and lack of respect for education in general. I am truly saddened as I hope for the success of each and every one of my students and spend countless hours over and above my obligations to ensure that my students meet the learning outcomes and attain that success. I want my students not just to succeed academically, but to become outstanding productive citizens and able to think for themselves and contribute to society in meaningful ways. I want them to be able to believe in themselves enough to take the risk to try new things even if they don't succeed the first time. I want my students to find passion and joy in their lives. I don't want my students to be burnt out before they are even twenty because of external pressures that have been placed upon them. There are many parents out there who do appreciate educators and also have these same goals for their children. To you I am truly thankful. Your children will be just fine.


rowena said...

Good grief, I'm sorry to hear of such, such, outrageous behavior from parents. But I'm glad that you leaned on the side of 'rant' -- What nerve! The trolls!

Mone said...

I cant believe what some parents are trying to do to raise the grades of their kids (shakes head)

Carla said...

Rowena, I know. Things have gotten really competitive. The thing is, by the time these children graduate from high school, no one will care or even look at how they did in grade 7 and 8. But the life lessons they've learned, they will carry with them forever.

Mone, I know, I know. It's crazy, isn't it? And for what?

Guilty Secret said...

Oh my, I feel your frustration. I must say, that was one eloquent rant!

It it so sad, so many of these parents need lessons in acceptance and managing expectations. They would be so much happier if they learnt to let go a little.

Carla said...

Guilty, The truth is that the students would be much happier as well. Sure we all want our children to be successful, but there is more to childhood development than high marks in school. These are good kids, they need to be appreciated for who they are and encouraged to do their best, but not to be made to feel like failures if the don't attain the highest mark.

Pamela said...

It's the trend. Everybody gets to be happy. Don't disappoint anyone - it's the feel good thing.

I'm glad you stood your ground.

poetic scotland said...

Sadness is for the children, whose parents are blinkered of their own status...

You captivate the reader and through your intrigue of photo's envisage how perhaps you are seen by with whom you have contact within the education field.

One can only sympathise with both you and the students - and the slippery slope called - teaching.

Well done Carla.

Carla said...

Pamela, And we're all blissfully oblivious to reality. I wonder how long we can keep that up without medication.

Peter, The reality is that we all are confronted with slippery slopes within our lives. What we do in those situations is a testament and show of our character.

Fede said...

Hello Carla, nice ranting.

I suggest you give your students an A. Unconditionally and from day one. It might work...

I am not totally insane, just a little bit. There is already a book on its way to your place. I am not telling the title (yes, same old rules), but I promise you can open the box even with students around this time. The second rule is also valid: if you have read it just pass it on to someone else.

Good night and good luck.

Carla said...

Fede, Very fine line between sanity and insanity and probably doesn't take much to cross it. One of these days I'm going to have to blog about this stranger who I've never met who sends me books.

Pink said...

This happens a lot in England too, where, if you had a headache when you took a test, you're entitled to have your grade bumped 1 percent.

Course our kids here are graduating without being able to read.

I don't think this is ABOUT a lack of respect for educators although it results in that feeling. I think its about a middle class drive to be upwardly mobile.

It is an obsession of the middle classes and pervades all aspects of life from kids grades to kids sports teams to getting into the best schools and driving the nicest car and having a home in the nicest neighbourhood with the most recreational toys.

it starts young because the young are seen as extensions of their parents.

sad for the kids, really.

hang in can be the one person in their lives that doesn't treat the child instrumentally.

Fede said...

Yes, why don't you tell us a more about this mysterious stranger?
Are you hiding anything from us?

The Fool said...

H'lo Nomad. I have to nod towards Pink on this one. I believe that Capitalism - our very basis of economics - is in the shadows on the fostering of such a large scale, societal pathology.

I once watched a parent belittle their child, and push them to the point of neurosis because they wanted the child in a "gifted program." The poor child was cursed with being average, and did not qualify on the tests. After being harangued to assist her in bypassing the testing requirements (cheat), I just had to speak up (I was a yong and foolish teacher at one time...I've gotten better). I told her in an open meeting, "I am sorry to inform you that your child is not gifted. Your child is just bred snobby." Yes, I received a letter of reprimand...but it felt good to make square with her at the time.

Have a great week.

Carla said...

Pinks, Yes, there certainly is that aspect of keeping up with the Joneses. My understanding is that for some, it's all about seeing their kid's name in print under honour roll or principal's honour roll. It's a tough business. I guess I don't feel that anyone is doing the kids a favour by increasing their mark if they haven't fully met the learning outcome. At some point, it will all catch up with them.

Carla said...

Fool, Yes, I do believe you two are onto something with this one. Economics drives a lot in our society and often it's not for the best. I too sometimes have to bite my tongue. It amazes me how little shame some people have. But I guess when so many people get away with this sort of behaviour in all aspects of their lives, education being the least of it all, it doesn't do much for discouraging others to join in.

Anonymous said...

I work in mental health. These parents mean job security. All that unhealthy guilt and shame to process. Blockheads. Now, what was the funny story?

( By the way, I love the gargoyles!)


jillie said...

That is just mind boggling! It makes me wonder what kind of parents these people are. Hmmmm...Good for you for standing by your beliefs and letting them know that.

Here, teachers would rather just pass the student on to the next grade rather than helping them out and finding out what help they need. It's a wonder that ANY of our graduating students can even read let alone comprehend anything.

It's going to be a sad world in about 20 years if our academic level of graduates will be at the 3rd grade level.

Hang in there Carla ;o)

VE said...

Great topic of conversation. I remember my very first college course. It was a basic creative writing class at the community college in a small town. The first day, the class size was 38. The second time we met there were only 12 left. I found out later the reason everyone else was gone was because the teacher didn't give A's. Well, I didn't really care; I kept with the class and the highest grade I got was a B+ but man I really felt good about it and of all the classes and teachers I've had over the years, his class is one that I still remember.

Now, I am not a fan of grading on a curve though. I believe that A work is A work no matter how many you happen to have in the class. I also believe that grades shouldn't come as a surprise either.

Carla said...

Randy, I know it's more the parents' issue then the child's. The unfortunate thing is that it will be the child's issue later on. Okay, will get right on that funny story.

Jillie, Yes, apparently sometimes it's easier to just pass a child on, especially if a difficult parent is involved. That way it becomes someone else's problem. Unfortunately the problem soon affects everyone and makes everyone's life more stressful.

Carla said...

VE, And you probably remember quite well what you learned in that class and feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that you earned the mark you got. I agree with you about the curve bit. I never grade on a curve. If a student has earned the top mark, I give it to him. Sometimes one gets a class just full of brilliant students, and other times, the majority struggle. I would never penalize a student because the majority of the class is doing exceptionally well. I do, however, believe that students who continually hand their work in late and don't take responsibility for their learning are usually not "A" students.

JBelle said...

I've started to respond to this piece several times and each time, given up in frustration. It's all already been said. And how teachers cope their other students has to be an equal, maybe bigger part of the job. Props to you! Props to ALL of you. But I do think reading the comments this morning was quite interesting. Capitalism? I'd have to disagree with that one! But if the parent were ambitious in business I might see where The Fool could come by that thought. My SIL teaches and when her kids were small, she wouldn't let them play soccer because the parents in her classes that were ... let's see... having trouble adjusting to being parents of average students...were, that's right! soccer parents. At the time, it was hard for me not to take it personally as the mother of a soccer super star. But as it all worked out, my daughter attended a fabulous school on a full athletic scholarship, went on to get her MBA and is a contributing member of society and has many, many friends and colleagues. My nieces and nephews have all had mixed success in college, no 100% graduation rate in that family and are all, did you see this coming?, bucking significant weight problems as young adults. They don't maintain relationships or commitments well and struggle at working through challenges. And they still live at home! Soooo. We all have our prejudices, I guess. The other interesting thing has been for my own children to respond to the parents that you describe in the context of their own workdays. They remain incredulous at the ignorance and at the stubbornness. And are grateful still, as am I, for their teachers who steadfastly held them to a standard of performance and guaranteed them nothing, except an honest evaluation and fair but kind feedback.

dawn said...

My dad was a teacher; junior high math and science. It was all he could do to teach his last 10 years for his full pension. The parents have so many expectations that are unrealistic. There is no discipline in some homes and there is none in the schools. Top that off with disrespectful parents who expect the world on a platter and it wasn't a great 10 years for him.

Anonymous said...

There is value in an honest failure accepted with grace and equanimity. Certainly more so than a parent-begged A on a grade sheet.

pandave said...

awesome photos. i love them all. i have a special spot for extraordinary doorknobs.

wow! really? kudos to you and the so thankless job you do. there are so many things wrong there with how the parents are behaving. but to you i say - thank you for keeping on teaching.

Carla said...

JBelle, Rethinking the comment about economics, I think I may have to agree with you. It might be a factor in some instances, but certainly not in all. There might be hopes there of guarantees of good jobs...but I think performance in school can hardly be taken as a hard fast indication of how a student will perform in university or how he/she will make his/her way in life. There are certainly many factors and surprises out there. My main frustration is I guess in the fact that I have a job to do...I do it the best I can and try to help all and be as fair as I can yet feel that some of these parents are running interference with no concept of what it is that we are here to do. Expectations are high, and I respect that, but some actions are simply counter productive and go against the good of all.

Carla said...

Dawn, I totally get where you're coming from. It amazes me when I look at how parents have changed even within a five year span. Some are pretty gutsy and contribute immensely to an already stressful job. But by the same token, I must say that I've met some amazing parents as well, who, along with their children, make the job very rewarding.

Carla said...

Anonymous, Some of our greatest successes come about only because of initial failures. At times, that is where we learn the most.

Pandave, I'm really taken by interesting doorknobs as well. There aren't many of them in these parts, which I guess makes me appreciate them all the more. As for the rest of your comment, I guess I would have to say that most people don't realize how stressful teaching can be. In recent studies, they have determined that well over 30% of new teachers quit and leave the profession within their first five years on the job.

John-Michael said...

One of the most beautifully articulated treatises on these coupled topics of 'Individual Responsibility,' 'Educational Integrity,' and 'Parental Modeling,' that I have had the privilege to read. Handsomely done! I am so pleased that I "followed your trail" from Jillie's comment area to your place.

Having had the Gift of parenting a son with cerebral palsy, and confronting the challenges of guiding his perceptions of his achievements and inabilities to achieve as he saw other doing, I value the lessons of and merit of "Have You done the very best that You, as an individual, can do? If Yes, You are at the top and the champion within your own right."

I am encouraged to know the committed and caring Educator that you are ... and saddened at the lack of deserved respect and honor given you and your calling.

Carla said...

John-Michael, Thanks for dropping by and for your comments. I appreciate your insight. It must have been challenging at times to parent a son with cerebral palsy, but then I think more often then not children are gifts to us to teach us something rather than the other way around. I think you are bang on about the lesson and merit of "have you done the very best that you as an individual can." Indeed that is of more value and that child has learned more in the long run than the child to whom things come easy and who has thus decided to not put forth his/her best effort. It would be nice if we would have greater recognition for those who are "most improved" even if they never reach that "A." If that were the case, I think achievement would be more fairly recognized.