A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ms. C Battles the Pink Robots

-- Musical interlude courtesy of Oklahoma's favorite non-country bands, the Flaming Lips, (no offense to the All American Rejects or Leon Russell or a host of others)--

Her name is Ms. C,
She's a black belt in karate,
Working for the district
She's decried as being too strict...

We come to the dog days of the semester, dear friends, when one's past inaction comes back to haunt one. Behold the conversation betwixt moi and a young lady I will call "L'enfant avec un enfant." L'enfant was out of class for the last half of first semester having her baby. She then missed part of second semester. Her homebound teacher claimed she completed tons of work to the tune of a 90%, which is about 50% higher than she ever attained when she was in actual attendance in my class, and this with a newborn home, to boot. She has been meeting with a guidance counselor for hours now to figure out how she's going to "get her credits." Counselor had called me, and I told her L'enfant was not passing, but with a good exam grade, she could pull it off.

She is not passing any class. She passed my class first semester due to the miraculous intervention of the homebound instructor. When she came back, her preferred position was trying to see how long her head could stay down before I made her sit up. Four unfinished assignments turned in during that time, and quiz scores in the mid-40s. I saw her after school with her baby, but she did not come to tutoring.

I warned her-- gently, but repeatedly at the time, that I do not give extra credit in place of assigned work, and she would regret those missing assignments and low test grades, but to no avail. If she expected me to "yell" at her so I could be the Bad Guy, she was in the wrong place. She's been working real hard-- for the last 6 weeks. She is not passing now, although she turned it on the last few weeks and has now entered the same star system as a possible passing grade.

L'enfant saunters into my classroom with a smile on her face. "Ms. C, I am here to BEEEEGGGGG!"
Moi: "What in the world are you begging for?"
L'enfant: "I need to pass!"
Moi: "Yes, you certainly do. But isn't the last week of instruction a bit late to be having this realization?"
L'enfant looked at me, a bit taken aback, but wheedled: "Can't I please have some extra credit???"
Moi: "Now, kiddo, I warned you that I don't do that. You're the one who decided to take an extra six weeks off after missing the first two weeks of the semester..."
L'enfant: "But that stuff was BOOOORING..."
Moi: "Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm sure you will never encounter anything else in your life that you need to do-- even if it's boring. And now you want ME to make up something "fun" so that you still don't have to learn the material..."
L'enfant: "You mean, you won't do it????" And her mouth drops open and she walks out the door.

By the way, this entire scenario was played out in front of other students. The only way they could tell I was annoyed was by my narrowed eyes and clenched jaw. And one of my kids brought me a brownie so that I would unclench my jaw-- how they know me!

So whose affrontery galled me more: the counselor, or the student? Unsure, but how dare that counselor send her into my classroom filled with students (and about five others, apparently) to try to manipulate me? And by the way, she can still pass the class-- IF she does well on her final. But that would require work, and would not be a SURE THING-- not like a bunch of ersatz extra credit (which she would do a half-hearted job at, if patterns hold, AND I would have to design it and grade it) to remove the pressure of ever actually demonstrating that she has finally learned the material.

She is behind the 8-ball right now, in more ways than one. The only way she's going to get through life successfully is through development of discipline and a work ethic. And no, I think because she has another person depending upon her, she especially needs to demonstrate some knowledge, not just earn an empty credit.


At 5/20/06, 4:58 AM, Anonymous Marcia said...

Well done. Le petit enfant will only reap the rewards of a mother that is willing to do a least a modicum of work. Let's hope other people care about her enough not to give a free pass.

At 5/20/06, 11:23 AM, Blogger graycie said...

Good for you. Stick to your guns.

I, too, have a young lady (sans enfant) in a similar situation concerning passing my course (her second try at this course). She was repeating the first semester, and during that time her family 'went to NYC for awhile, so I wasn't in school anywhere." She neglected to return to my class after the family's return to our part of the country, and so failed to pass the first semester. Since she had passed the second semester of the course last year, she did not have to repeat it. (Our school system has a bizarre method of retention and repetition of failed courses.)

In any case, Miss L asked me to help her pass the first semster, even though she had forgotten (or whatever) to attend my class. I agreed to teach her after school -- she would have to actually learn the lessons that she had missed. (I agree with you completely about extra credit.) Miss L worked with me for about 3 weeks and then disappeared from our after school sessions with no notice to me and reappeared several weeks later at the end of the grading period when I was swamped with work. I told her, in a quiet and clear conversation, to figure out how to convince me that she was serious about a commitment and to talk with me about that after my end-of-term work load eased up. I never heard from her; never even saw her in the halls.

Yesterday the teacher whotaught the same course that she had failed the first time last year asked me what the story was with our Miss L. I explained and he told me that the guidance counselor had approached him about helping her to pass that same first semester, since she is now "afraid" of me. The counselor had never said a word to me -- never asked what Miss L had tried in the past and how she had handled those earlier opportunities. No, just went right to Mr. Last-Year. After my explanation, Mr. Last-Year is not willing to give his extra time for Miss L to slide past the requirements. I will talk to the counselor to explain "the rest of the story."

Sometimes it feels like we are on opposite sides -- get'em through or get'em to learn. Those shouldn't be opposing goals.

At 5/20/06, 8:43 PM, Blogger The Science Goddess said...

Amen, sistah! Hold the line.

At 5/21/06, 8:42 AM, Blogger Princess of the Portable said...

If more teachers held the line with these students (and apparently some counselors - eek!), the students might come to the realization that work is actually required to pass a class. I teach an elementary school, so the pressure "to get your credits" is not there. I do, however, have to deal with parents and students who want their child to get a "good" grade because of all the work they've done.

Unfortunately, in many cases, parents are misinformed about the actual level of work and haven't bothered to find out the real truth until the progress report or report card come out. Kids lie when faced with the possibility of trouble, I know I did, but I always paid for it later - after my mother called the school to find out the "real" story.

I make it very clear at the beginning of the year that I do not hand out extra-credit work when the assigned work was not completed.

This year, I have one student who comes to mind. I have been after this student all year to stay after school for help (we offer late buses 3 days a week), he refuses. I ask him to retake tests he's failed, he refuses. I ask him to work in class, he mostly refuses. I ask him to study, he refuses. The look on his face when he sees his grade on any progress report would almost be comical if it wasn't so miserably, horribly sad. He is always surprised. He is always mystified. He always asks what he can do to raise his grade. He follows that up with the exact same behavior that earned him the grade in the first place.

I have run out of ways to get him to understand that he has a part to play in his education. He simply whines and tells me that his other teachers are nicer than I am. He does the same level of work in those classes, but for reasons I cannot comprehend, manages to pass those classes. I'm tired of being on the limb all by myself, but I don't see it changing in the near future.

At 5/21/06, 9:54 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks for the shared sisterhood. I'm feeling the love a lot more than I was the other day....

Why is it that we all feel beseiged by this idiotic mentality? One earns the credit when one demonstrates the knowledge. Period.

A credit, or, a grade for that matter, is not an entitlement. Schools have done so much to entice the kids to keep their bodies in attendance that the message being sent now is: Do your time and get your diploma (or a passing grade or promotion to the next grade without the passing grade).

And this is why public education is held in such disregard.

It sets my teeth on edge when people who think this way (yes, you, Ms. Robot Counselor) call themselves educators.

Graycie, that "I'm afraid of her" is a favorite tactic of students at my school, too, with any teacher who doesn't give certain kids what they want. And in this case, she already received a fraudulent credit for first semester. I cannot stand by and help it happen a second time.

Princess, it is amazing to see the disconnect between quality work-- I won't say effort, because that's actually a different problem for another day-- and grade earned even at the elementary level. I taught middle school for a million years, so I already saw this time and again while there. But of course, at our middle school, you could heinously flunk every single class and still be socially promoted. Then when the kids get to high school, they can't understand why they're still freshmen after four years. But the "pass- 'em- along" mentality actually reinforces to them that just biding their time is the correct tack to take. Meanwhile, they're entering high school having gained no skills or knowledge for those three middle school years, and then wonder why they are set up for failure.

And Ms. Robot Counselor, don't give me that tripe about the studies that show if you retain a kid, they are doomed to drop out. I want to see the studies that show what happens to kids who are passed on with failing grades when they hit high school. I'll bet you they fail and drop out just as much as the socially promoted kids.

The kids who witnessed this little exchange, by the way, were horrified at L'enfant's gall, and they immediately guessed which counselor had sent her to my room. Their basic take? "Why should we sit here and do our work when she thinks she can talk you into a bunch of extra credit?" So there's hope.

At 5/21/06, 5:45 PM, Blogger graycie said...

". . . if you retain a kid, they are doomed to drop out . . ." I've been seeing/hearing/reading this for a long time. I don't doubt the correlation, but I do think cause and effect have been "confused." (That's as polite as I can make it -- any closer approach to my opinion of those who actually believe that retaining a kid caused him/her to not to dothe work or learn the material in the first place would result in language that -- Well. Ahem. I'd best stop here.)

At 5/24/06, 1:09 PM, Anonymous Half Canadian said...

What's the difference between a student whose been held back and drops out and a student whose been passed on but never learned the material?

One devalues a high school diploma.

At 5/24/06, 3:21 PM, Anonymous ns said...

Stick to your guns. Do not pass this student.

A family member of mine is one of those high school students who never demonstrated the material but was passed on from class to class.

He graduated High School... but now, works at a deli (making $8 an hour), cannot move out of his parents house, and he's 25 yrs old! He is a total loser.

I think he failed himself, but the public education system sure ALLOWED him and ENCOURAGED him to fail himself.

At 5/24/06, 5:50 PM, Blogger happychyck said...

Hooray for the teach! I always say, "Why should I give you EXTRA work when you can't complete the every day work I gave you?"

I can't tell you how many times I've had to go toe to toe with students and their parents over this. It's not a difficult concept. Thanks for keepin' the standards high!

I give out extra credit opportunities to everyone periodically--things like extra questions on an assignment, or turning in a project of paper early. The students who take advantage are rarely the ones who should...

At 5/24/06, 10:03 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

half canadian and ns: And the problem is, there are way too many HS grads with no real credential stories out there, and it creates the opening for the public school bashing movement which is so tony now.

I just can't do it. But I'm the bad guy who stands in a poor kid's way. And I will- until she learns the material. I happen to think that it's rather important that she know what due process is, for example. Consequences: actions. And her most important little consequence is depending upon mommy to be able one day to go out and get a real JOB....

happychyck, I have used exactly the same phrase, usually followed up by: "And who's doing more work in this scenario??? Hmm?? Maybe I should get some extra credit..."


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