Blame the teacher
I got an email yesterday from one of our administrators, and after a tough day I was ready to blow a gasket. After a parent of one of our underachieving students stopped in to complain to the administrator, the email was sent to all of the girl's teachers. I don't blame the administrator for sharing his concern with the teachers involved, but I was furious at the parent for trying to blame us for the lousy job that he is doing as a parent and his daughter is doing as a student.
First of all, I always enjoy it when a parent has a complaint about a teacher, and rather than seeing the teacher, the parent goes straight to an administrator. Courageous! In this case the parent complained because of the lack of communication that he had been getting from those darned teachers. He was upset because his lovely daughter is failing four of her classes (that I know of), and he had only been notified of problems by two of us. He also complained because we hadn't been posting our schedules of assignments on the school's web page so he could keep up on what his daughter was supposed to be doing. The implication was that if only we would keep him informed he would make sure that his daughter was keeping up. BALDERDASH!
I happen to be one of the teachers who did contact this parent. I've sent home two progress reports in the first six weeks of school informing the parents that their daughter, despite having plenty of academic ability, was performing miserably. Our school's website has been an on and off proposition, so I don't use that, but I do have an American History email address group for parents of kids in my classes. Each week I send my group the schedule of assignments for the upcoming week. In the first progress report that I sent to Mr. Concerned Parent, I invited him to send me an email so I could add him to my group, and I let him know that this had made a big difference for a number of my students last year. You would think a parent who was so big on communication would jump at that opportunity, but I never heard from him. I also never heard from him after the second lack-of-progress report, and neither of the progress reports resulted in any change in their daughter's complete lack of effort.
Since I was one of the teachers who did contact this parent, I assume that he wasn't complaining about me, but I resent what this clown was trying to do. Because two of the teachers didn't contact him, his daughter's total lack of effort somehow becomes the teachers' fault. If for no other reason than to protect themselves, I think they should have contacted the guy, but if my contacting him made no difference whatsoever in his daughter's performance in my class, why would the other teachers contacting him have made any difference in theirs. For whatever reason, this guy has a daughter who just doesn't give a rip.
Any time I think about the amount of time I have to spend each weekend making sure parents of non-performing kids are notified, especially considering the meager response that I get for doing it, I get angry. The parents of this kind of student who respond or take any meaningful action are definitely a minority, but you can bet that if the teacher misses somebody--and that is so easy to do--that we will hear about it. At the end of our administrator's letter, he told us that the parent requested that we begin printing out progress reports each week and leaving them for him in the high school office. Oh goody! One more thing that I get to do!! Add that one to the list!
If you are wondering why it is easy to miss somebody, here's why. I have six different classes and about 150 kids. I send out progress reports to parents of any kid getting a low C- or worse at the end of the second and sixth weeks. Then, whenever a kid falls into failing territory after that, I send those parents deficiency slips. During the last three weeks of the marking periods, I also send out reports to any student who falls into C- or D territory. In addition to that, I have to send out groups of progress reports to three different special education teachers for the kids in their caseloads every week. Finally, I have to submit a list of failing kids to the office so they can be put on our scholastic ineligibility list for extra-curricular activities, and I know there will be hell to pay if I didn't inform the parents of every one of those kids that they were in failing territory.
I think informing parents as early as possible is a good idea, but this is something that has been completely turned around. Maybe I'm forgetting, but I don't remember warnings being given to students' parents when I was going to school. Report cards were just that: "report" cards. That's when teachers informed parents how their kids were doing, and if a student got an F, it was the student's fault. Parents wouldn't have dreamed of trying to pass the blame onto the teacher because they hadn't been warned. But now, that is exactly what happens. Contacting parents early used to be something extra that teachers did to be helpful, but now it's gotten to the point where some administrators say, "If you haven't warned the parent, you can't give an F to the student." It doesn't matter if the kid failed because he didn't bother to make up a test that he was conveniently absent for, and it doesn't matter if he failed the class because he went into the tank for the last two weeks of the marking period.
I am as conscientious as I can be in trying to keep parents informed when their kids aren't doing well, but I resent having to fear that I'll be the fall-guy if I miss somebody. I'm also embarrassed by the fact that some teachers feel like they've got to pass some kids who don't deserve it due to the fact that there are parents will try to crucify them because they "would have taken care of it if only they had known." And finally, I resent the amount of time I've got to spend worrying about those kinds of parents. The bottom line is this: if a student performs miserably in a class, whether or when the teacher gave a warning should be a minor concern. The student should fail and the student is the one who should be held responsible for that failure. And if parents want to find anyone else to blame, they should begin by looking in the mirror.