Our first teacher to be selected by the panel as a finalist for two entries is a retired high school English teacher from California who prefers to be anonymous. She looks at two very interrelated topics that frustrate and undermine teaching efforts every day in every urban high school in the USA – the minority of parents who actively enable their children to fail, and the pressure to pass failing children.
Her excellent submissions follow this introduction.
In the three years of research, surveys, and hundreds of interviews of urban high school teachers and students that went into writing Lifting The Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education, perhaps the saddest finding was that teachers felt 24% of their students did not care what grades they got, and the shocking statistic that 63% of students believe that their parents do not care what grades they got as long as they pass and graduate. Now – truth in advertising – this latter 63% statistic is one I do not personally believe. I am convinced by being in the trenches of teaching, that most parents (80% seems to be a reasonable guesstimate) do care, and do support their children’s education. Of course a teenager tends to see things differently!
But the problem for teachers is the disruption in classrooms, the inordinate time in meetings, and the constant conflict and frustration of the 20% whose actions actively enable their children to fail.
Teachers, on average in the survey, had 3.1 very difficult interactions with parents each month, and only 30% of teachers felt they received strong or very strong support from administration in such conflicts. Another shocking statistic from the research: teachers found that 71% of the time they asked for a parent conference about a struggling student, the parent either did not respond at all, or simply refused in an email or phone call with “…don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
So here are two posts by anonymous, a retired high school English teacher from California. The first is a look at the minority (thankfully!) of parents who make teaching so difficult with confrontations and threats of lawsuits. The second is yet another example of the unintended hurtful consequences of standardized testing mandates.
Thankfully, 80% of high school parents are great and supportive – But all teachers know the time sink and frustration just a few “Cheer Moms” or “Sports Dads” can cause
It only takes a handful of “cheer moms” or “sports dads” to undermine a classroom of otherwise great students. Here are two all-too-real examples:
“Cheer Mom:” Chatty, flirtatious “Cara” had eked out a C-minus the first semester of Junior English. Her refusal to read The Grapes of Wrath earned her an F in the spring. Cheer Mom then called a meeting demanding that Cara be excused from the novel. When asked her objection, she insisted Cara doesn’t read big books, not because of limited reading skills but because she’s too busy with cheer practice and games to do the readings. She proudly explained that Cara had been cheerleading since 7th grade, she practiced 15 hours a week, and took extra workshops.
We ended up meeting with the vice-principal. Talking to mom was like talking to a wall. She pointedly ignored me and turned her attention to the vice-principal. “Cara liked that man and the mouse book last year. It was just 100 pages, and with her busy schedule she can’t be reading a 600 page book!” I was startled when the vice-principal seemed to agree with the mother saying, “She has the right to choose…” until she added, “…and not completing her assignments is choosing failure.”
Enabled by her mother, Cara did fail. Maybe she’ll have more time to read now that she no longer has the grades for cheer.
“Sports Dad:” Jason’s dad accused me of hating athletes, losing his son’s work and not helping his son in class. He saw no connection between the 7% Jason had earned and his effort in my class. In meetings with a vice-principal and the student, Dad would get so angry that he would pound the table and occasionally lean across it as if to strike me. During these outbursts, my male v-p would look down at the papers before him as if engrossed by the words on the page and Jason would just grin. Only the fact that I had Jason sign a copy agreeing that he had not turned in his assignments prevented more attacks on me from his dad.
I explained that it was Jason’s job to keep his grades up for sports, and that he hadn’t turned in any assignments for me to lose. As for in-class help, the only time he raised his hand was to throw papers, pennies or food across the room.
With his father enabling Jason to continue to fail, the gap between his points and the overall points along with M.I.A. assignments continued to grow weekly as he doggedly retained his F. By the end of the year, the file I’d made on this non-working student was extensive but I think someone should have started a file on Jason’s dad who seemed quite capable of crossing the line into violence during his tantrums.
California STAR Testing – Yet another example of pressure on teachers to teach-to-the-test and to change failing grades
With state testing becoming a pressure cooker, my high school principal had teachers take time out of our regular curriculum to prep with specific test questions. She also held a student only rally in which students were promised a class grade bump if their scores were higher than last year’s. We discussed grade bumping at our department meetings, and my English department refused to give a higher grade to a student for what they did on one test, concluding that what they did in class was the only fair way to assign their grades.
Sure enough, students demanded grade changes after the test. One student with 50% demanded a passing grade. When I refused, her parents threatened to go to the school board, sue, etc.
My principal tried to throw me under the bus by repeatedly making me meet with the irate mother and crying student. After two heated meetings, I called the union. The union president sat in on the next meeting telling both the principal and mother that only a teacher can change a grade.
My principal then came up with a rally flyer. It said that students whose scores improved could receive a 6% bump in their class grade. She said I had to change the grade since students received this written notice. Another meeting was called. Armed with a copy of the flyer, I told both mother and student I would honor it and give her the 6%. Her grade, however, would not change because 56% is not a passing grade.