Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 05 2012

So level-headed.

I am notoriously unfeeling. Alexis says, “But that’s just Caroline,” whenever someone complains about me seeming callous. I can be pretty excellent at eliminating emotion and getting down to it, tearing through problems and blatantly telling people they’re wrong.

But every once in a while something will sneak up, and it’s like havingĀ  thumbs gripping your shoulder-blades and fingers stretched from behind, across collar bones, then slamming you down into the earth. You’re wrong.

I can’t imagine the high school teachers, when grades and graduation become so intense, and parents spit fire about homework. This is a new feeling, to give a student a zero because no name was placed on it and have a very rational parent who I have had a great relationship call today to first tell me she would directly refuse to schedule a meeting to discuss it (“I’m coming now”), second hang up on me mid-sentence, and third say about my policies, “But doesn’t that sound insane?”

Well, no. Not if your child wants to succeed in college, or life, or get any credit for a scholarship application or anything else important. If she doesn’t learn to put her name on her paper now, even if it’s the first and only time she forgot, when will she?

Granted, I’m stubborn. Stubborn because I’m obsessed with rules, because I like having reasons for things, I like black and white. All other students that didn’t put names on got zeros because I threw their paper out. This girl’s I happened to give back because I recognized her handwriting. Mistake.

But I completely appreciate and admire the determined parent. I would much, much rather have this than the parent I’ve literally been calling twice a week for the past five weeks all to no answer.

Last, if you’re wondering how Brax is doing…

8 Responses

  1. els

    Totally with you, man. Parents get to me.

  2. Kurt (Community Manager)

    Congratulations! Your post has been featured on the Teach For Us homepage.

  3. not impressed

    So you your grades show remember you name rather than what you’re assessing. Great work if that’s what you were measuring.

    • not impressed

      your, rather

  4. disheartened

    Congratulations, you have succeeded in teaching a child that if he/she cannot be perfect then he/she is worth nothing – ZERO. The rest of his/her work and effort is garbage due to one mistake. He/she is no better than the child who does not even try to turn in an assignment. This attitude from teachers led a child of mine to determine that since he could never be perfect….he might as well not try. Imagine what a 10% -20% reduction in grade would teach….putting my name on my paper is important and if I forget I will not get as good a grade…to be more successful, I should be more careful… work is still worth something but there is room for improvement….

    • I completely understand where you’re coming from, especially because you yourself are a parent and have insight to things I don’t.

      In this case, I think and am pretty sure that I did not teach the lesson you mentioned to the student that got the zero on this homework assignment. Without that grade, she had something between a 94-96% in my class. With the grade, it went up less than 1%. A zero is jarring for anyone to see, but it didn’t change anything about her overall performance, participation, or quality of work in my class. She was and continues to be an excellent student. While that grade itself had no significant impact on her term or final grade, I agree that it did impact her pride (and her mother’s).

      In fact, I think she might have learned the exact opposite lesson. She learned that if she cared enough, and worked hard enough, and told the right people, she WOULD succeed– which she did. Eventually, after the angry phone call mentioned here, her mother came up and we all met with an administrator. The end of the conversation was the result you mentioned here– she lost a few points instead of the full grade. I am impressed and excited and glad when students care that much, and my opinion can always change. Keep in mind, I wrote this blog post last year, and currently in my third year I am still constantly changing and adapting to my work.

      A major lesson I learned was to put policies, like zeros for papers without names (which is relatively common for small, lesser-credit assignments like homework for many teachers) in writing.

      I am sad about your student’s outcome. I would hope, and assume from the excitement you put into this comment, that solid support from home helps counteract whatever damage his teachers unfortunately put onto his sense of self-worth.

  5. Anon

    It’s kind of horrifying that the only lesson you learned was to put policies in writing…and as a teacher (though initially TFA-educated) of middle school students, I call in to question the wisdom of the zero practice. Do you have any research to support the efficacy of your policy? I would think the research on learned helplessness would suggest that policies like your’s would crush student self esteem and do little to realize the “high expectations” you want to see manifest in your students’ work. I echo disheartened’s concerns, and I think your policies are a direct result of TFA’s “No excuses, high expectations!” model carried to an extreme.

    • I think I mostly responded to these concerns in the above comment, but in short: you’re right. Always learning. Hopefully someone else reads this and learns from it.

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