Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is That Your Version?

I had a run in with a lady on my job. She told a student that because she missed a day of school that she didn't have to take my test (emphasis on my). Of course this is not SOP so I stepped to her and let her know that. I don't think she really understood the seriousness of what she did so I drafted a letter to her to let her know.

October 22, 2007

Dear Ms. K,

I decided to follow up our verbal conversation on Friday, October 19, 2007, with a letter. If my tone came across as mean-spirited let me offer an apology. However, let me hasten to say that I do not apologize for the substance of the message that was delivered to you. As educators, we have to be mindful of students’ attempts to circumvent authority and accountability. Keisha’s intention was to use the absence to negate having to take the test. The insinuation here is that one day’s absence compromised an entire unit of study and that students bear no responsibility for material covered in absentia. She was fully capable of attempting the test. Furthermore, any student that performs poorly on any test that I administer is re-taught and allowed an opportunity to retest. This is a policy that applies in my classroom and is availed to all students. Keisha is also fully aware of this policy. It was with this advanced knowledge that Keisha approached you to conspire against my classroom.

I am deeply offended that you would overstep your authority, advise Keisha that she did not have to take the test and that this message was conveyed by a child. Minimally, if you had a concern about the information you had received from Keisha, professional courtesy dictates that I be given an opportunity to speak on the matter prior to your taking a course of action based solely on one-sided information.

I have an obligation to the state of North Carolina to ensure that Keisha is successful on the geometry end of course test. As a matter of fact, ensuring students’ success on the end of course test is a major responsibility of my job and as such has a primacy for me. To be clear, I do not owe you an explanation about the curricular decisions that I make in my classroom so long as I make provisions for the modifications that Keisha is afforded. Please understand that when I do make a decision it is not to harm students, but to help them and to help me get a better idea about what I can do to help them reach and demonstrate mastery.

There should be no confusion about what students are expected to do. It is unfortunate that the student made a poor choice in this case, but I cannot blame her for her poor decision, since she felt justified, having acted at your behest. If the student dialogues with her guardians about how I told her to do one thing and you told her to do something to the contrary, that may raise the ire of the guardians who are not privy to all the details of the situation. In turn, they may come to the school to conference about this situation. Honestly, they would have a valid reason for doing so. When a child makes claims about receiving mixed messages, it is a parent’s right to conference with the involved parties in an attempt to sort out the matter. I hope that you are prepared to field any questions that might arise as a result of this situation. It is not my desire to conference about this matter, but if the parents request it, I will comply. I will be careful with the language that I use as well, so as not to make it seem as if there exists an antagonistic relationship between you and I. I will do this because I believe that as colleagues we need to be on one accord and display a unified front to both parents and students.

I am aware of the many ways that students try to manipulate adults. In this case, Keisha’s behavior, with your assistance, severely compromised her learning. Perhaps the bidirectional message is what is most egregious about this situation. In essence, with your telling the student one thing and me telling her another, my actions were misinterpreted as me trying to impose an undue hardship on the student. To the contrary, I know that brain-based learning suggests that students are more likely to retain information in their long-term memory with repeated exposure.
An enormous gap exists between what a teacher explains and what a learner understands. To reduce this gap, teachers need to engage students for deeper understanding and feedback with implicit and explicit learning strategies. If you don’t know what they didn’t get, how can you elaborate effectively? Making corrections as we go along is a critical approach for teaching with the brain in mind.
(Jensen, 2000, p. 35)

As you can see, my policies are in full keeping with best professional practices. I do not apologize for having high expectations for my students, as I am critically aware of what is necessary for them to be successful in this course and in life. Moreover, when it appears that we, as colleagues, are divided in our approach to handling student affairs, the involved student suffers. In this case Keisha compromised a beneficial learning opportunity. This situation is indicative of what occurs when educators do not grant each other the professional respect and courtesy that is necessary for the school to work harmoniously.

Nevertheless, in an effort to foster greater communication about Keisha’s progress I will make available a copy of her latest progress report to you. In addition I am enclosing a copy of the course outline so that you can peruse it and familiarize yourself with the content therein, including the established policies and procedures for my classroom. If you need clarity about the content of the documents that I am sending, please contact me.

Respectfully submitted,

James Bailey


cc: The principal
Assistant principal (primary evaluator)

After the letter was submitted the assistant principal stepped to me to let me know that I had her full support. Then Ms. K gets someone else involved and spins the story. Supposedly the girl was ill in class on the day of the test and that's why she didn't want to take it. I asked Ms. M who brought me this information why Ms. K dind't communicate that to me when we had our verbal conversation and how come she didn't say anything to me after I gave her the letter. Of course Ms. M couldn't answer for Ms. K but I made it clear that this sounds like journalistic spin to me-- you know how they say that Gore is president, but then recant when that's not the angle that they were going for.

In other news things are pretty much okay. I got word that I would be receiving a bonus in my upcoming paycheck. Yay! I have an assignment due for class this Tuesday that was really due last Tuesday but SHE showed up again. The realism is that I should be doing my assignment now, instead of messing with this blog. Let me hop to it.