The new F | Mark’s Remarks

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I recently had a student look me in the eye and say “I have a problem. I have a B-.”

I looked back at this student and said “Is that your best work? If so, that’s a good grade. If not, there’s room for improvement.”

There are several other responses that went through my head. In my 30-plus years of teaching, I can list a number of similar conversations I’ve had with students and parents – plus the scads of people who don’t know jack about education yet want to impart their wisdom to me and the rest of us in the profession.

It continues to slay me when I hear comments from kids and parents letting me know their  student has never made a B. “You gave my child his first B. 

Gave? Most teachers would like to say things like “So what?”  

When I first started teaching, we had two very capable and excellent teachers who taught in the upper grades. They were good teachers. They were tough.  They held kids accountable. Many kids would say they hated their classes, but none of the kids could deny they weren’t more than equipped with knowledge when they left those classes.  

As with most things involving education and small-town politics, a few parents started squawking and throwing a fit because the classes were too hard.  So, those teachers were moved elsewhere or given new teaching assignments.

Ridiculous. Stupid.  Asinine. Plus, it was a shame that more kids couldn’t experience being taught by those two teachers.

I had a mother once tell me she could tell me how to teach because she paid taxes that paid my salary.  I asked her if she thought she could tell a policeman not to give her a speeding ticket or arrest her if she broke a law. She was the same parent who told me that her daughter shouldn’t be making a C on any assignment. I told her that kids were given practice work, extra support and also follow-up/re-teaching.  

At times, they had to be held accountable for taking their time, checking their work, and actually reading and following directions.

Since I began teaching older kiddos, I’ve heard additional interesting things.  One student told me that getting a C at our school was like getting an F.  However, this was a few years ago. I’m now thinking that kids think a (gasp) B- is more like an F because it’s so close to a C.

Society wants to blame teachers. I will tell you I have watched enormously talented teachers who work hard to motivate, support, reteach, give second chances, and even inspire students. But they still have kids who just want to slop through the assignment and be rewarded with a good grade. 

I suppose the same can be said around the world and indeed, in far more professions than education.

I’ve written about this before but it warrants repeating. We’ve had honors classes in our school district for years.  For some reason, parents throw a fit if they think their child should be in those honor classes and aren’t. I guess it’s some sort of status symbol or license to brag. I don’t quite understand it.

Kids are tested. The kids who make certain test scores qualify for the honors class. It doesn’t matter if a kid makes superior grades in a math class; if he didn’t cut the mustard and get a top test score, he’s not in the honors math class. 

Plain and simple. Parents need to face this fact, butt out, and check their pride at the door.  Sorry, but that’s the way it is folks.

The “honors” classes have faced such backlash because certain students don’t make the cut. Therefore, more kids have been let in.  

Then, as you may guess, there have been complaints that the honors work was too challenging. So, guess what? The honors class is no longer challenging and becomes a regular class.  

The parents who squawk ought to be ashamed. You are responsible for the “dumbing down” of our country.

But I can still say my kid is in an honors class! Nothing else matters!

These are the same reasons schools have 57 cheerleaders on a squad and all the homecoming queen candidates get a crown, but I digress.

My own children have had experiences with honors classes. My oldest son, a writer, asked a teacher if he could be considered for honors class. She told him she didn’t think he was organized enough to succeed in that class.  

And she was right. He would have bombed immediately.  He’s a good kid, but is organizationally challenged. This was recognized by his educated, experienced and professional teacher whom we hold in high regard. And she spoke the truth.

He worked his tail off for a couple of years and eventually made it into the honors class. On his own.  Without my interference.  And I certainly did not throw a fit when the teacher said such things to my child. After all, I agreed with her and so did my son.  

She spoke the truth.

My younger son got into an honors math class and a couple of his friends didn’t.  Those parents were fit to be tied and called the school.  One parent actually asked me how my son got in and her son did not.  

Really? Holy smokes.  Should I have said “My kid made a better score, nanny-nanny-boo-boo?” I could have resorted to such verbiage as the conversation was immature and low-class.

Both my boys took a challenging composition class in college. This was the sort of class where you were thankful for a passing grade of D. They passed and are better writers because of it. Many students had to take the course a second time. 

My daughter, working on her nursing degree, has had the same experience with biology and anatomy, yet can now spout off a wealth of knowledge about the body and all sorts of ailments. She had major stress and had to work her tail off to get a decent grade in both classes.

Parents, when are we going to butt out and let schools do what’s best for our children?  True, you’ve got some crappy schools and teachers but for the most part, you have professionals who know what they are doing. 

Be aware, stay tuned in, but also know when you should butt out.

For the students and parents  complaining about the B-, my advice is to work harder, ask for help (which your teachers offer umpteen times a day), take initiative and have some pride in your work.  

And please remember that a grade is earned, not given.

Oh, and one more thing:  when the environment you live in dictates that a B- or C is “like an F,” please remind those dictating to you that a C is still average.  Stop making your kids feel like they have to make A’s.  Worry more about the learning than the grade they are making.  

And whether or not the people in your life tell you this, I will: sometimes, average is our best.

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