Sunday, October 21, 2007

Explain Yourself

Our department head was recently accused, in an email, of being a racist, and grading a student as such. She had to attend a meeting with the parents, student, and 3 APs last week. I spoke with her in the English "office" (or, closet) beforehand, and she was already in tears, mostly over the accusation of racism.

The grade in question was for last year. The student's mother is a teacher at our school. The student made a 79 for the second semester, but it was not high enough for acceptance into our Engineering academy.

All English teachers know of this parent. Every year, one of the English teachers gets her son. Every year, the English teacher gets an email accusing them of racist behavior in regards to grading this student when he fails to complete his work. His English teachers have all sent these on to Admin. She also has a daughter, who does her work. No one has yet received an accusatory email about the daughter.

The parents did not complain until after school was out and grades mailed. They sent a single email to the Department Head near the beginning of June, did not copy it to any admin or academic counselors.

Our department head is unable to access our school email system at home. I know that when I had dial-up connection (up until this year), I was similarly unable to access it. Generally, she goes up to the school during the summer holidays to check her email (as I used to). This summer, we were all locked out of the building as they re-wired for security cameras. (A task which was not completed, and has left exposed wiring hanging out of walls and ceilings.)

The parents accused the Department Head of not responding in a timely fashion. But yet, they did not begin their email campaign to her until last week - 6 weeks after the beginning of the new school year.

Admin required her to change her grades for that student so he could enter the Engineering program. The charges of racism were not addressed, as they have not been for the last 3 years.

When I first started working at this school, I learned a very painful lesson about admin support as well. I had a student who refused to work, his mother complained, and I was made to restructure my entire gradebook to accommodate him and his performance, rather than distribute grades fairly among students. I spent a lot of that year helping hard-working students excel, since their homework and major grades were rendered null for the student in question, who could only be graded on his daily work in class - and other students actually wanted to do more.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

I've fought many battles with this school which I've not spoken of, and probably won't until a far later date, or in secrecy. Luckily, due to copious documentation, I won them.

The sad thing is, CYA is my guideline, even when preparing lesson plans. I understand what even my department head doesn't - the school is hugely unmanageable, even for admin, and teachers will fall - unless they have incontrovertible evidence to support themselves.

Do you need me to tell you I have detailed phone and email records, as well as student writing samples and copies of graded rubrics going back three years? It isn't that I mind parent inquiry. I find parents who are actively engaged in inquiry into their students' progress are generally my allies in making certain students achieve the course objectives (though I've already had to fight off my share of parents who, mis-informed by students seeking parental leniency, have become unduly irate with me this year).

I just would very much like to not be afraid to be a teacher. This year is exhausting us all, and this recent decision by admin has left us all slightly despondent and discouraged. End whine.

1 comment:

Jose said...

I understand your sentiments. I hate when people use the term racist when it's not that kind of situation. I know what racism is from my own high school experience, and honestly, it wasn't due to a lack of work that my grades in English slipped. It annoys the sh*t out of me when people bring up racism because it makes it even worse for times when there ARE racist situations. Grr.

In any case, good post. Peace.