Monday, January 6, 2014

"It's Starting Before High School." Gary Weighs In On the 7th Grade Teacher.

A seventh grade teacher’s candid email to The Washington Post has shed some light on our country’s tragic education system, in which schools are refusing to punish students for bad behavior.

When WaPo’s Valerie Strauss asked readers the question, “How hard is teaching?,” a veteran seventh-grade language arts teacher in Frederick, Maryland responded with a lengthy note explaining her school’s frustrating policies that ultimately led her to quit her job.
The educator shared why she first decided to pursue a teaching career: she wanted to show young people that education meant “exploring new things, experimenting, and broadening horizons.” But, her dream quickly met reality:
Forced to abandon my hopes of imparting the same wisdom I had gained through my experiences and education, I resigned myself to the superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity. I decided that if I was going to teach this nonsense, I was at least going to teach it well.
This reluctant, yet effective strategy left ten of her students with ‘Fs.’ The grades did not go unnoticed by the school’s prinicipal. She called her into her office and told her the following:
They are not allowed to fail.
“If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.”

Taken aback, the language arts teacher realized just how poor the school’s standards had become:
What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers, I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them, I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time, I was not excusing their lack of discipline, I was not going back in time and raising them from birth, but I could do none of these things.
Nor should she have to. Because of the school’s ridiculous policy of passing students who clearly did not put forward the effort, she decided to quit.

Students need to learn responsibility for their actions. If they refuse to do the homework yet still manage to pass the class, what have they learned? That won’t fly in the real world. If you skip work a couple days out of the week or slack off on the job, would you really still expect to get a paycheck?

Not everyone is going to be picked for the starting lineup in kickball. Not everyone is going to be on the honor roll. Nor should they. Having to earn one’s grades promotes a certain drive and discipline.

Bravo to this (former) seventh grade teacher for exposing her school’s low standards and refusing to be a part of it one day more.


  1. Since something on this was already posted right below your contribution, I'm confused about where to comment on these. Can we somehow combine them???

    1. I'm watching Auburn vs. Fla. State and The Bachelor. Work it out.

    2. The Bachelor is now playing for Fla. State? I'm confused. But I don't know much about football, so that's probably not surprising.

    3. I never feel so bad about humanity than after the first episode of The Bachelor.

    4. Oh, yes, the "free spirit," did you see her? I swear, there is so much desperation on that show. Yet, I cannot stop watching.

  2. Pretty sad, in either version. I don't like failing students (and, actually, rarely have to fail a student who actually made any real attempt to complete the work; it helps that I'm teaching college juniors and above, so there's been some weeding-out done before they get to me), but a system where students' failure -- especially, their failure to even attempt the work -- is blamed on the teacher just won't work. I do think I'm seeing some of the effects of this philosophy: while most students do, eventually attempt the work, others simply disappear, and a significant number (more than in years past) try handing in wildly off-assignment things apparently created for other classes, in hopes of getting credit (they did something! once upon a time! doesn't that count, forever?!?).


    (As I wave my staple gun, dribbling with blood.)

    1. When I started my teaching job, I, along with all the other new instructors, took a 3-week in-service session on how to teach, prepare lectures, and so on.

      After my first term was over, I met with the chap who supervised group I was in. When I mentioned that, in one course, 20% of my students failed, he was shocked. Apparently, that was seen as a failure on *my* part to motivate or teach them properly. Never mind that they did poorly on their exams and never bothered consulted with me outside of lecture hours.

      Of that 20%, I'm not sure how many actually finished their studies and actually graduated.

  4. My department has done a lot of hand-wringing over the past several years about persistence and retention rates. Last year's meeting was a presentation of the stats, with much "what are we going to do about this?" discussion. It seems that a high percentage of students who are admitted needing a lot of remediation are not persisting though the final course in the writing sequence (which also means that they are not persisting through to the two-year degree, as the course is required to graduate). Leaving aside my department's Christ complex, there are so many variables that are well outside our locus of control--number one being their preparation in secondary school.

    I have likened myself to a brick wall, as I teach primarily first-year students. Many of my students (better than 75% on average) are able to figure out how to get over the wall--they do the work I require for 3 credits, and they move on. The rest of them slam into me at full speed because their old habits (late work, incomplete work, inappropriate work) were acceptable to their high school teachers (because their teachers are forced by school policy to accept all work, no matter how late in the term it's turned in, so that the school can keep it's grad rate up). Some of them figure it out at midterm, and apply themselves. The rest disappear or continue to turn in garbage, and they fail (anything below a C- means they will have to pay to repeat the course). My philosophy is that someone has to hold the line, and since I have tenure, I am not subject to the vagaries of Student Evals (though mine are consistently high, despite my reputation for being "hard"). That is not meant as a humble-brag. I am starting to think that even the ones who fail (and return to take my class the following semester) are grateful that someone is finally holding them to a standard.

    1. If you don't, someone in the world outside academia will.

    2. I'm not sure exactly where the line lies (and it probably varies by population), but if 75% of students are successfully doing the work of the class, and gaining from it (or at least apparently doing so; as we've already mentioned this week, retention beyond the semester isn't always what we'd like), and if a substantial number of the others are failing because they simply aren't doing the work (not genuinely trying and failing), then I think that's a successful class.

      Of course, I know that I'm highly unlikely to get any disagreement with that statement here. What I'm not sure of is whether the administrators who detect a problem in a 25% failure rate understand *why* the 25% are failing.

      Also, why does the engineering school get away with >50% failure rates? Yes, math and physics can be difficult, but so can constructing an intelligible sentence or paragraph (especially if you haven't done much reading during your first 18 years).

    3. The engineering school doesn't really get away with >50% failure rates here at Middlin' State: the higher-ups are nearly always on their cases, except whenever they pull in a major grant or donation. But all right: it is easier to make the case that if you compromise standards in math and physics, the students in these classes will go on to design, build, and maintain bridges that even university administrators and their immediate families will drive over.

      Although I don't hesitate whenever I use this argument, which I observe so far is highly effective on university administrators, it strikes me as not the whole truth. I think that >50% failure rates should be tolerated in English classes, too, if they are warranted and deserved, because passing anyone unable to construct a coherent sentence will have dire consequences if that person proceeds to write the manual for a nuclear reactor---and similarly if this person writes anything to do with law or government (therefore history and philosophy classes don't get let off the hook), nor mathematics (therefore business doesn't get let off the hook), etc. It's quite easy to extend this idea to nearly the whole of the academy.


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