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.