Frustrated Teacher – Part 2

I composed a post the other quickly detailing the difficulties of a class I have. The majority of the students have a history of failure and have just been passed through year after year. I couldn’t even get that group to turn in a summary assignment that we started in class.

I appreciate the comments I received: advice, commiseration, and support.

Generally, I start with simple assignments such as the summary to build the students’ confidence and then we gradually build to the more complex skills. However, this group of students refuses to do anything outside of class: no vocabulary practice, no rewriting, no reading, nothing. If this continues, they will not make it through another English course. Homework will have to be done; not everything can be done in class.

Besides this, the course has 6-8 required assignments which must be passed to pass the course. We are about to begin the first two (both small), but the students will have to do some work outside of the classroom. This is the great hurdle for me: convincing this group that the homework must be done.

I also believe that the general system of education has harmed these students in the past (social promotion, no requirements to move onto the next level course, etc.), but my school has enabled the unwanted behaviors as well.

I mentioned a year ago a program that has now been required of all Freshmen where students are blocked together. What I didn’t mention as particularly then as I will now is the hand-holding that occurs.

Some of the assistance is quite positive such as extra support from counselors, additional layers of intervention for math, and added time for tutoring. These actually help the students and provide a support system which forces the students to improve.

However, there is a downside too. Referrals are intercepted by office staff to have “talks” instead of consequences for misbehavior (it takes three referrals for admin. action with these students versus one for everyone else), the teachers are encouraged to make “deals” with students, the teachers are often (indirectly) judged by passage rates which encourages grade inflation, and at least three teachers with whom I’ve spoken have had to write out student assignments for them.

Regardless, whether the system or my school may share some culpability, ultimately the student is responsible. I do put some of the onus on the parents (as one commenter noted after my last post), but the student has to grow up at some point.

At what point do we stop providing the excuses for the students? The system didn’t prepare them well enough, they’ve been passed through, the home life is difficult, and so on. I don’t want to sound heartless, but an employer is not going to care about any of these pardons. Yes, the students are kids, and I do not believe in making non-academic items part of an academic grade, but at some point the students must step up or suffer the consequences.

And what frightens me the most is–above all else–is that these students just won’t have the skills or concepts mastered to allow me to mark a passing grade on their report cards. Timmy may arrive with a 3rd grade reading level and leave with a 7th grade reading level, but if Timmy doesn’t meet the course standards I can’t mark a passing grade. He may need more time than some of his classmates, but Timmy still has to meet standard to pass the course.

At some point the students have to do the work.

5 thoughts on “Frustrated Teacher – Part 2

  1. Melissa

    I can guess what will happen next – your administration will tell you to change your work, your standards – so that students can pass your class. It seems like the next logical step, right?

    My school is getting there. We have been told to allow students to turn in work until the end of the semester, allow multiple opportunities to earn grades each class period, seek out opportunities for students to complete make up and missing work, and to avoid giving 0s. When students earn below a 55 in a class, we must complete forms documenting our attempts to contact parents and remediate the student’s grade. We have all been informed that graduation rates and testing scores are our priority – therefore students must pass, pass, pass…

  2. Anonymous

    I worry about the “Timmy”s. If these kids do make significant progress, there ought to be some recognition of that, even if they don’t pass the course. I imagine it would be devestating to a kid if he made such significant strides only to find out he didn’t do “good enough”.

    Is there any way to pat the kid on the back but tell him he’s still got a long way to go?

  3. Jordan

    As a young(ish) adult currently in the process of switching my career to taerching high school English, I have been dumbfounded by what I have seen in classrooms. The lack of respect, discipline, expectations–some of the schools I have observed have been…I don’t even know…anarchy.

    I’ve never been naive enough to believe that students will always do their work, but I did believe that all students, somewhere deep down, wanted to learn, or, at the very least, cared about not failing. Now, I’m not even sure that’s true.

    I know that part of the problem is the bureaucratic, just-pass-them-through mentality and part of the problem is parent involvement, but ultimately, the biggest problem seems to be stedents’ complete lack of interest in learning, a complete lack of curiosity, and a seemingly deep-seeded hatred of school.

    As a teacher, how do you combat that? I have to say, I’m nervous…

    1. drpezz Post author

      Sometimes I wonder if–possibly because of the system’s failures (like social promotion)–students reach a certain point where it’s not apathy, but a fear of failure that prevents students from trying.

      I mean, why try if you know that you might try really hard and still fail? What kind of damage would that do to one’s outlook on the self, school, and life?


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