17 February 2006

I am a conundrum (or should it be "I HAVE a conundrum"?)

Meetings with parents can be such a struggle. We’ve had our parent/teacher conferences over the last couple days, and I am so glad they are over.

Ironically, I usually complain about parents who aren’t involved enough, or don’t seem concerned enough. But for the first time I had such a hard time with parents of a kid who got a good grade, because they were angry (at me) because her grade was not higher.

My meeting with Nona’s parents was a frustrating one. What do you say to a mother who is almost in tears because her child only got an 85? Talk about irony. I usually get upset with parents who aren't upset over low grades.

I didn’t know what to do. I pointed out that Nona had missed some assignments and her notebook didn’t show the kind of growth I was hoping for. I found that she wasn’t trying as hard in the last marking period.

It’s made me realize that Region be damned, I have to come up with a more concrete way of assessing my students. Back in the allegedly good old days, the kids would read a story and take a test. At the end I had a bunch of numbers that constituted a big chunk of their grade. I don’t want to go back to that, but I’m struggling to find a happy medium. This 1-2-3-4 crap is not hacking it for me, especially when I wonder how to best translate those numbers into a traditional grading system.

Nona’s parents wanted to know if I’d made a mistake, and I said no. Nona then informed me that her partner on a project didn’t do any work, and that Nona did all the work. I didn’t bother to remind Nona that the project was from the first marking period and I gave her a decent mark in spite of the fact that neither child followed the directions for the task, despite two conferences I had with them.

What frustrates me too is the feeling that I got that they were pressuring me to change the grade for the sake of the number, without any concern for what I felt was a decrease in effort on Nona’s part, without any concern for the actual learning. During the November conferences, the same parents wanted to know if Nona had the highest average in the class (to which I honestly replied that she didn’t) and the father pushed me to tell him the names of the students who had higher averages. I told him that ethically I could not and would not share information about other children with him. There is one girl in the class who is a superstar, and Superstar and her family knew Nona and her family back in their native country. Nona’s parents are really perpetuating a rivalry between the two girls, which I find really unfair.

I also wanted to point out to them that maybe they were leaning on Nona too hard, because I sensed that her issues from the last marking period, however small, stemmed from a bit of rebelling against the pressure from her parents. But I didn’t. I recognize the cultural beliefs that are at work here, and I recognize that ultimately Nona’s parents just want her to be smart and successful. I know there are probably ways I could have dealt with them better.

It’s led me to ask myself what should the role of the parent be? Why should I be the one to decide what we talk about, what areas are off-limits?

The science teacher gave Nona a 100 for a grade. In all the years I have taught, I have never give a 100 for a grade. I don’t think I believe in giving a 100 for English, because no matter what there is always room for growth and improvement.


yomister said...

I, too, question the role of the parent in these conferences. In my short time teaching, I've found that many of the parents seem resigned to let me set the agenda and simply nod along as I drone on and on.

Katie said...

Remember that teachers do not "give" grades. She earned hers. If she, or her parents want a different grade, they need to work on that. Have faith in yourself. You sound like you know what you are doing.

I sound preachy, and I didn't mean to. I just face this all the time, and I always forget what I said above. Sitting there, looking at the parents, I always feel like it is my fault Sally didn't earn a 100. It is not. It's her fault. Shoot.