This week concludes my response to a concerned parent, Nanci, who emailed me some questions she has about her children’s schools. Nanci wrote that she wanted to hear what teachers thought of her concerns, so please don’t be shy about contributing thoughts and comments.
In a situation where an administration receives feedback from numerous parents that a new teacher is proceeding with poor teaching, frequently changing deadlines and rubrics, and harmful grading policies, WHY does the administration not assign a supervisor to micro-manage and closely remediate the teacher for the balance of the year?
The school may have assigned a mentor, but in my experience, no one is available to take on another teacher’s work load to the level of micromanagement and remediation. (If a teacher gets fired, that would free up some money to pay someone else to do the job.) Let’s say another English teacher got assigned to me. That English teacher already has a full class load of her own. How is she supposed to really improve my teaching while handling her own course load? Schools don’t usually have teachers with little to do. If that teacher tries to help me, she’s going to do it in half hour bursts after school or during lunch. The problems you describe, like changing deadlines and grading policies, have to do with organization and experience. It is very difficult to really help someone with a month long unit plan while teaching and grading five class sections of your own. Schools have not made the financial commitment to pay for that kind of support for new teachers. I currently teach and live in
Why do schools NOT have a standardized grading policy? Wouldn't it make sense to universally say that tests are 40% of a high-schooler's grade and that 40% must contain at least 5 tests?
As an English teacher, I give very few tests, so I would rail against such a policy myself. I think school systems are often too big to make such sweeping policies. In my experience, the county system restricted how much of a percentage homework could be and wrote a specific curriculum for each course. In English, the curriculum determined how many major essays needed to be completed each semester. In our department, we standardized how much of the grade each of those essays should be. After the essay grades and the homework grades had been determined, the rest of the average was left to the teachers’ discretion. So for example, a new teacher would be told, “This semester you need to do Essay A and Essay B, and they each should be 20% of the grade. Homework can’t be more than 10%.” The other 50% could be divided up as the teacher saw fit. I’ve actually never had a “test” category at all. I have “Quizzes,” and they usually make up about 10%. I guess if a school told me to have 40% tests, I’d have to call an essay a test. I don’t know for the life of me how I’d come up with five in a semester…
Here’s the thing: I know I’m a good teacher, and that’s not who parents are worried about with grade questions. However, education cannot make rules for the lowest common denominator, or it will lose people like me. Discretion to customize my teaching is very important to me. I’m comfortable with parameters, like curriculum requirements or a grade cap on homework, but if teaching comes in a can, I may not want to do it. I now love the part new teachers struggle with—the planning, the customization, the organizing. Somewhere there are adult people who had me my first year of teaching, and I wish I could go back and teach them again with what I know now. The medical profession has a very long training and residency program; education does not. It doesn’t expect that much training, and it certainly doesn’t pay enough to support it, so sadly for our first students, many of us teachers learn on the job. Learning how to manage a fair and effective class average can be part of that learning curve, and if new teachers had more support, system-wide grade standardizations wouldn’t be necessary. Nanci, your questions go to the heart of the matter. In today’s more challenging classroom climate, are Americans willing to pay for more prepared, more qualified teachers or not?co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher