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 test...it 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.