I’d planned to write about grading today, but got distracted because I made the mistake of checking a local newspaper forum (about three thousand miles from me) that had an irresistible thread about a student who got about the worst treatment grade-wise from a teacher that I’d ever heard about. Long story short, after exhausting all district appeal options, the family sued the county school district and the teacher. I intend to reconstruct that conversation later because it’s truly enlightening.
The really sad thing is that the state has a law (I verified this) that says a teacher’s grade, for a single assignment or for a report card, cannot be changed unless there is a mathematical error. The judge dismissed the case, and the educational merits of the case were never discussed.
I thought I was talked out, and the forum thread had forked into other questions regarding teachers and discipline. I tried to stay away, but failed. A question came up that may be worth putting out here. Besides, it gave me a chance to vent in a somewhat civilized manner. (That danged Billy-Bob — and Rufus, who didn’t make the cut on this blog — didn’t agree with me that the student had gotten the very short end of the stick. Martinets, both of ’em.)
Billy-Bob: I have one question for you, Repairman. What is your discipline procedure for your class and your students?
Repairman: That’s easy, Billy-Bob. It’s called mutual respect. If a teacher needs kick-butt disciplinary procedures in his or her class, they have a problem. In most years I could count the number of disciplinary office referrals I wrote on one hand. Some teachers at my school broke a thousand by several hundred. Disgusting.
I never dinged a kid’s grade for a behavior problem. And virtually every kid who turned in an assignment late had a good reason and did not make a habit of it. The mythical stack of forgiven late papers never appeared on my desk.
When teachers justify dinging kids’ grades for reasons like “teaching real world responsibility,” I have to laugh. The real world doesn’t function like that, only desperate little people clinging to the illusion of control. In the real world, real people with real values and real smarts seek the best in achievement, functionality, and profitability.
It’s a small minority of parents who buy into punitive grading, based on my experience over the many years of “back to school” nights, and parents are usually darned glad to hear a sane and humane educational philosophy from their child’s teacher. One, I might add, that is based on research not a personality disorder.
Billy-Bob: I’m a huge fan of respect Repairman. I think it can go a long way in diffusing a lot of problems. However, that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how respectful you are, every organization with more than 1 person HAS to have disciplinary procedures. You’re telling me you’ve never had disciplinary problems with a student or is it you’ve never had one you couldn’t handle?
Repairman: Billy-Bob, if I have written even one referral, it means I could not deal with the situation on my own — like when a student commits a Class A offense in my presence. Example, starting a fight. If I didn’t report it, I’d get in trouble with admin.
But you’d be amazed how much inappropriate behavior can be headed off by putting expectations in place at the very beginning of the year. And then you follow through with respect, firmness, understanding, appropriate social distance, and even vulnerability without weakness (letting students know you don’t take yourself too seriously, apologizing for mistakes, being able to laugh at yourself if you do something dumb like cause a roll-up map to jump off the wall…).
To avoid writing a complete book, here and in subsequent posts, on what I believe are good teaching practices, I’m going to list some great books with links. Every teacher should read them, and other folks interested in education will find them illuminating.
The first — and this should answer a great many of your questions, Billy-Bob, is The First Day of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry Wong. We give this to all new teachers and expect them not just to read it, but to internalize the principles and ideas, and use them as a jumping off point to develop their own student-friendly classroom management and grading policies.
Second — and this could raise another whole controversy, is The End of Homework by Etta Kralovek and John Buell. This book challenges the notion that every teacher should assign lots of homework every night.
Third — a book on education in general, The Right to Learn by Linda Darling-Hamilton. It will make you think about education.
Classroom Assessment for Learning from ATI/ETS, and Ken O’Connor’s two excellent books on grading that are essential reading for teachers who wish to maximize their effectiveness, Grading for Learning, and A Repair Kit for Broken Grades.
That’s a substantial investment in books, but perhaps the county library would responds to some suggestions for titles, and you might even be able to borrow from the Chippewa County Schools Curriculum and Instruction library.
In any case, if you consult those books, I can avoid calluses on my fingertips like I seem to be developing as I type.
If you want to revisit my own guidelines, they’re on post #298 of this thread.
As with any other occupation or profession, the learning’s never over, so all those recommendations are just a start.