Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Biggest Misconception About Teachers

It's May, the end of the year. The only point where the teachers are as exhausted and "over it" as the students are. One of the most tiresome aspects of this part of the year is the constant influx of students who suddenly care about their grade when they never have before. This is the time of year when I get quite a few emails about what they can do to raise their grade and if they can still turn something in that was due 5 weeks ago for partial credit. I can be frustrating, but it's part of the job.

The other day, I was talking to a co-worker and friend. We were swapping "war stories" and she made an interesting comment. With a big smile on her face, she said, "You'll never believe this, but I haven't failed a single student all year!" 
I was taken aback. We both teach an advanced English course, so it seemed crazy to me that she didn't have any students failing her class. Not a single one out of her 150 kids was failing? That seemed too good to be true. What was her secret? Was she inflating grades or did she have some teaching method that I needed to come steal?
After I picked my chin up off of the floor I asked her how she accomplished that.

"Oh, it's easy," she said, "I don't fail students."

Her grin took on a slightly smug quality, as if she knew something I didn't. I could tell I was missing something, but I couldn't figure out what. I blame the exhaustion, or I might have picked up on what she was saying sooner. Frankly I am ashamed I didn't catch it immediately.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about teachers. She didn't say none of her students were failing. She said that she hadn't failed any of them.

Teachers don't fail students.

It's that simple. If a student in my class receives a failing grade - or any grade for that matter - that is their grade that they earned. I did not give it to them. 

This is such a simple concept but it's one that a lot of my students (and some of their parents) are severely lacking. The truth is, even in my advanced class, a student isn't going to fail as long as they turn in work that is on time and complete. Even if the answers are wrong, they will still probably pass; they may pass with a D, but they'll pass. 

Every student who has ever failed my class has done so simply because he or she refused to do his or her work. It's my job to teach responsibility as much as it is my job to teach grammar and literature. My students have to learn to be responsible for their own work and their own actions. Most of them are, and most of them - even when they know they've let something slide - own up to it and know that they have to pick up the slack. Even still, I've had a few who have asked me why I gave them an F. The truth is, I didn't. I don't give anyone grades. You earn them. 

Skirting responsibility has become entirely too popular, and teachers have become scapegoats for everything from grades, to curriculum, to deficiencies in teaching special needs students, to test scores, to anything else you can possibly imagine.

So, to my students: this is good news. Own your grade. This means, if you have an A, be proud that you have earned that A. You have proven that you understand the material and that you are more than prepared for the next level. If you have a D or an F, look inwardly to determine what the reason is. Look to see how many assignments you are missing, or how many you turned in late. Be honest with yourself about why you have the grade you have, and then figure out what you need to do to avoid that problem in the future.  For some of you, that means stepping up and doing your work. For others, that means talking to your teacher about what you are having trouble understanding, and getting extra help. 

To my fellow teachers:
It's almost summer. We got this.

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