Sunday, December 14, 2008

Too much time covering my backside!

I am a little frustrated. Our team took off from school after third hour on Friday for a hockey trip, and after two games, we traveled 170 miles in a blizzard to make it back home last night. After church, I headed up to the school this morning to catch up, but I had a great substitute so I knew that wouldn't take very long. I ended up spending a lot more time at the school than I really wanted to, however. The reason: I had to spend so much time covering my backside. And why do I have to cover my backside? Because I have a number of kids who are failing and a number more who are close to it, and I know that if any of those kids fail or if any of them become ineligible to play a sport, and I haven't kept the parent informed every step of the way, fingers are going to end up being pointed at me. The student's failure will become my failure.

I want to make it clear that our community has a lot of kids who do well, and I have my share of them. I just wish I could spend more time on them. The problem is that we also have too many kids whose concern and effort in school is mediocre to miserable. I have set my classes up in such a way so that if kids consistently do the things they are capable of doing, they are going to have a very good chance of earning at least a B. If they get a little lazy for any length of time, however, they're going to be in danger of failing, and if they're in a sport, there's a fair chance they'll find themselves on our ineligibility list. The benefit of doing things this way is that some kids who have a tendency to get lazy get shocked into performing as the year goes on. Last year, twenty-five out of eighty sophomores in my American History classes failed the first quarter, but only a handful failed the last one.

Making sure that every parent of every potential failing student is informed every step of the way is a major headache. When a student falls into failing territory, I have to make sure I immediately inform the parent. If the kid moves into D territory for awhile, then falls back into F-land, I have to notify the parent again. Likewise, if I put a student's name on our ineligibility list for extra-curricular activities, I have to inform the parent, and if he or she gets off and then has to go back on, once again, I have to re-notify the parent. In our second and fourth marking periods, this gets quite confusing because it's possible for a student to be failing the marking period, but not the semester and vice-versa. And you just know that, despite the fact that only a few of the parents I send reports to ever respond, if I forget to inform just one, that will be the parent who will want to make an issue of it.

I am not against trying to keep parents informed, but there has been more and more emphasis placed on doing this. Along with this has come the very clear message to the teacher that you'd better not fail kids if their parents haven't been fully informed. The obvious solution for teachers is to not fail students unless they are the absolute bottom of the bottom-feeders. Unfortunately, a lot of teachers choose to take this approach. This is just one example of the many things that have been done during the last thirty or forty years to discourage teachers from imposing any consequences on any students.

There are those who believe that the key to getting better effort from American students is to get teachers to have more creative lesson plans. I'm all for creative lesson plans, and that sounds so wonderful, but I don't think that's the answer. I have rarely been able to wow any of my non-performers with any of my lesson plans, no matter what I've tried, although I have been able to impress many of my kids who were already trying. I think it's much more important that there be meaningful consequences for those who don't perform. The more difficult we make it for teachers to impose those consequences, the less likely it is that they will.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do no one any favors by removing consequences from choices, whether they be students, mortgage holders, corporate executives, or elected officials. If bad choices do not have bad consequences, good choices will not be made.

12/15/2008 3:37 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

You'd think that if sports were important to these students, there would be that minimum effort there. We get grades about once a month by email.

FWIW, I reason that if G is working and getting D's or F's that the IEP needs to be tweaked or something needs to be worked out at school. He will have screaming fits for hours over teeny bits of homework, but somehow at school he is more likely to be in "school" mode. Our elementary teachers kept trying to convince me that it's because THEY are consistent (implication, what's wrong with YOU, lady?), but I think it's his mindset that when he's home he's HOME and not going to do schoolwork.

Once you get into middle school, I've found the teachers to be more helpful and understanding of the real nature of autism. :] At least so far. The only thing that concerns me is that G does math well enough that they want to put him in regular ed. for that class. He won't function (I don't think) in regular ed. even with an aide. Too many expectations, other students and distractions. But they want the "least restrictive environment" stuff and think he's up to the math.

I think some of the little buzzwords in education actually work against each other. :]

12/15/2008 3:46 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

I think the solution here is to find better ways to keep parents informed. If a computerized grading system or computerized eligility lists were used, they could generate the parent contacts needed (with the addition of "contact Mr. Fermoyle for more information"). Once you have these things in a database, it's really not very hard.

Who mails things? If you just bring a bunch of letters down to the office, do they stamp and mail them? Are you allowed to make the contacts via email?

And, I doubt it's a mere coincidence that the one who makes an issue of it is the one who wasn't informed. The rest know they don't have cause for complaint on that score.

12/15/2008 8:51 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., some athletes end up being ineligible because they've gotten away with lousy efforts in the past, so they can't believe it when someone actually clamps down on them. You tell them over and over again, but they just don't believe it will actually happen. There are some others, however, who are just so academically lazy that they can't get themselves to do simple assignments even if not doing them means they're not going to be able to play.

Crypticlife, we do now have a system that allows parents to go in and check their kids' grades anytime they want to. We've only been doing it for about a year, though, so we still have to send out the deficiency slips. I also do have an American History email group for any parents who want to be on it, and I send them our schedule of assignments each week. Maybe you're right. I hope you're right. Maybe after awhile the decision will be made that sending out the deficiency slips is no longer necessary. I can always hope.

12/15/2008 5:36 PM  
Blogger denine zielinski said...

Reading your posts is like talking to myself...LOL! I'm a first year Civics teacher and am utterly shocked at all that goes on in education that I did not have a clue about. I feel like all of the responsibility is on my shoulders...none for the parents or the students. I am covering my backside every minute of every day. I even keep a journal of those students who attempt to sleep, come without books, notebook, and even pencils! How can anyone function in school without a pencil? Then, the parents are crying due process because their kid "earned" a failing was my fault, not the students. Very frustrating....non-educators do not have a clue!

12/16/2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

By the time they are in high school, students NEED to begin to accept the consequences of their own actions. Helicopter parents NEED to realize what a very wise guidance counselor used to say: "It is better to give kids some leeway and allow them to fail when we [school & parents] are around to help them than to coddle/enable them so much that they never experience failure until they are one their own - without us around to counsel." Few faculty meetings or PTA meetings ever heard wiser words!!!

12/17/2008 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Sunny said...

I too spent a bunch of time last week doing the same thing. My kids are GREAT, but they don't all perform where they should. I get frustrated because we do have a computerized grading system accessible by parents, and I work hard to post grade immediately and add comments about students being able to retake things or to turn things in late for partial credit. Unfortunately, not all parents check it. I have called several parents and when I ask if they have access to the grading system, they tell me they are trusting their middle schooler to keep track of things. This almost NEVER works. Let's see, a middle schooler gets a 3/29 on a quiz and can retake it the next morning before school. S/he has to decide between telling his/her parents that they failed a quiz to get a ride to school and miss a charity basketball game OR just take the F. What do we think the average 12 year old will decide to do?

Not only does my system use a computerized grading program that parents can access, we each have a website where we post assignments, reminders, information, etc. I post something every day--sometimes twice a day. And each student is given an agenda by the PTA.

So, my question after my ramblings above, why are we responsible for communicating with parents when they don't use the tools we provide them? I know the answer and I do believe it ismportant, but it sure is frustrating...

12/20/2008 3:30 AM  
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12/22/2008 1:05 PM  
Blogger Deb S. said...

Just stopped by to say Merry Christmas to you and yours.

12/23/2008 6:49 PM  
Anonymous mindful said...

I don't think I can say it any better than what "Anonymous" sais, so I won't even try

12/27/2008 8:21 AM  
Anonymous cranky said...


This is one of numerous reasons that I left the classroom this past summer. I transferred to our technology dept. and I don't regret it a bit. I miss my best students, but the those students were a small and ever-shrinking minority of my overall numbers. I do feel sad that I can't share my knowledge of history with students any longer--I read those books now just for myself. But then I see my former colleagues miserable in long after-school meetings where the obvious truth of student achievement is ignored in favor of promoting fads and platitudes. It's like watching a school-centered version of Office Space. I just couldn't do it anymore, and while I hope one day to return to the classroom, it won't be in a public school, that's for sure.

12/29/2008 2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After 38 years of teaching, I'm finally getting wize to all this "cover your behind" nonsense. I tell the students/parents "your grade reflects what the student EARNED" and leave it at that. If parents or administrators persists in making a failing grade my issue, I simply ignore them i.e. I do not return phone calls , emails, attend meetings etc. I tell them the truth: "I have 175+ other students that need my time". Try it you guys. john

12/30/2008 6:41 PM  
Anonymous cranky said...


If only! The administrators I worked for would never accept that. If someone said that who wasn't tenured, there would be a near 100% chance of him or her being fired. For tenured folk like me, they control the class assignments, and I guarantee you my AP class would be reassigned to someone else or cut "due to understaffing" or some other excuse. The attempts to maneuver tenured people into quitting or retiring via schedule manipulation were obvious. This extends from the school level up through the central office staff. There is much negativity directed towards the teachers' unions, and much of it is warranted in my opinion. But when shenanigans like this happen, not having one hurts.

12/30/2008 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello! Thank you for your work on this blog-growing up in the teacher world of education and then coming into the research world--I can see your point. And the point made in the article below. How or what policy ideas would you suggest? What practical laws could be put in place that would focus on disciple and student efforts?

I will check back daily to read your response:)

1/08/2009 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Betty said...

Keeping parents constantly informed is a full time job. I remember when a three week progress report and a report card were all that was needed. Next, it became imperative to call parents about every zero. Sometimes that would mean more than 20 calls a day out of 150 students. The interesting thing is that the calls had little success. The work usually didn't show up the next day either. I am all for communication with parents, but it seems to be getting out of hand.

1/09/2009 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job you are doing. Check out the book titled "The Supreme Court and Whistleblowers: Teachers and Other Public Employees" available on and at Barnes and Nobles.

1/12/2009 4:31 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

I'm imagining you'll be back to your bloggy self pretty soon? Missed ya!

1/12/2009 4:58 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

My God-- except for the hockey thing, I could have written this post!

1/21/2009 6:52 PM  
Blogger gasi said...

My response is personal responsibility has followed common sense, its not common.

My wife Eleanor and I have just retired from public school teaching and have decided to do a different educational blog.


I am asking you for your first impression. If you like what you see please link to our site. If you think we have something that others can use you might write a blog entry about your impression of our site or just tell others. Your recommendation will go a long way in getting others to check us out. We can only be successful if we meet a need and do it well. Please give us your honest feedback. Also remember that we are just getting started and we will be adding material daily.
Thank You
Vern & Eleanor Smith

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1/28/2009 5:38 AM  
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3/03/2009 12:09 AM  

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