I promised myself when I became a teacher I would never be that parent. I have dealt with overbearing, unreasonable parents, and I know that many times, they do not and cannot see clearly when it comes to their own children. We live in a society where personal responsibility is deflected because someone is to blame. I promised myself that when my children reached school age, I would not be the parent calling the school and creating a stink; I would make my children take responsibility for their own grades and actions.
With that being said, yesterday, I felt that I needed to be that parent. I needed to at least speak up for my daughter who was afraid to speak up for herself.
To preface my story, Carson is a good student. In the four years since she has been receiving letter grades, she has only had a B on her report card once or twice. She likes school, she is a voracious reader, and she loves learning. She is the type of student who works on projects and writing assignments on Friday night so that she has ample time to edit and revise.
Yesterday was 4th quarter progress report day. Her school sends itemized progress reports that delineate each assignment. When she got into the car, I cheerfully said, “Let’s see it.” She burst into tears. I grabbed the report and scanned the grades. Two Fs! Carson has never received an F in her life, and here she was with two of them.
I calmed her down. I knew she would not intentionally avoid an assignment or sabotage her own grades. I asked her to explain to me what happened. Carson told me her teacher missed two days of class two weeks ago. In her absence, a substitute was hired to conduct class. On each day, she had handed out assignments for the kids to do. The substitute did not understand the assignment fully and she ended up confusing the students. She said she was not the only one who received Fs.
“Did you tell Miss T_____________?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. Tears started to flow down her cheeks again. “She said we couldn’t blame the substitute because we couldn’t follow directions.”
Oh no, she didn’t! I was furious. As a teacher, I know what can happen when a substitute covers class. Sometimes assignments are done incorrectly. I also know that if my best and brightest said that the substitute was confusing, I would give them the benefit of the doubt.
So what did I do? What I love to do! I composed a letter.
Dear Miss T__________,
I am not upset about the progress report brought home today. As long as my girls are trying their hardest and doing their best, I am proud and content.
However, I do think Carson tries exceedingly hard, and I feel that two of the grades on this progress report are bogus. Each assignment was accomplished under the tutelage of a substitute teacher. I understand that you chastised the students after you graded the assignments and told them that they should not deflect blame onto a substitute, but instead, they needed to take ownership for not reading the directions and doing what the assignment asked.
In Carson’s defense, she said she did read the directions but the substitute teacher confused her. First, I would like to address the Subtracting Integers assignment. She said she knew to change the sign and subtract, but she said the substitute said if both were negative than the rules changed. She listened to the instructions of the teacher that was present, and because she listened to the substitute, she received a 15/54.
The second assignment in question is the preposition assignment. Carson said that as a class they had been working on adjective phrases, so she was thrown by the switch to prepositional phrases. Secondly, she said a fellow classmate asked a question and when the substitute could not answer the question, she asked the class for a consensus on the correct answer. It is obvious to me that the teacher did not understand the assignment herself, so by asking for a consensus, she thought the students as a collective whole would be able to help each other. Obviously, she was incorrect in this assumption, and from what Carson has reported to me, the majority of the class failed this assignment.
I have been teaching for fourteen years and I know when students are trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Nonetheless, when I have good students score so egregiously poor on an assignment that I left with a substitute, I question 1. My assignment, 2. My substitute, 3. The instructions I left with my substitute, and then I give my students the benefit of the doubt. I would hope that you would agree with me that our job is not to punish students for misunderstanding, but to encourage their growth and understanding.
I would hope that you offer the students enough opportunity to pull up their grades. Carson is very upset by these assignments and I do not want her to develop distaste toward school at the end of the year.
If you would like to discuss this with me, please feel free to call me. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my grievances.
I am happy to report that Miss T____________ called me at the end of the school day, and she plans on offering ample opportunities for the students to improve their grades.