No good deed

I dropped an email to a parent of a student today.  The student, who is new to SA, started out the year getting D’s and low C’s, scraped a C minus for first quarter, and as he’s learned how to take notes, study for the kinds of tests and quizzes I give, and follow directions for his writing assignments, his grades have risen.  He’s still one of the weaker writers in the class, but he’s been conscientious, and his grade for this quarter is currently a B minus.  There are about four weeks to go in this quarter, three of them before winter break.  The parent has been emailing about once a month for an update, and I thought I’d drop a line with the good news about the conscientious behavior and the improvement. 

The first part of the parent’s reply was a thank-you for the update.  The second part, though, stated the parent’s expectation that the student would continue to raise his grade “to at least an A minus.”

Look, I think it’s good to aim high, but:

a) I object philosophically to a parent’s requiring “at least” a grade in the Excellent range.  Not everyone is objectively capable of Excellent work in any/every subject, for one thing; for another, a student who stretches himself and earns a B or a B plus might have a very rich and important experience doing so, an experience which it’s ridiculous to devalue by bemoaning the fact that an A wasn’t earned.

b) This student can probably get A’s on reading quizzes, but for him to earn A’s on longer writing assignments would require not just diligence, but a developmental leap forward.  He writes mostly simple sentences and needs to be prompted to combine them.  His working vocabulary is below average for his grade at SA.  His reading comprehension skills are not all that strong.  I will happily work with him on all these things, but I’d be surprised to see him develop the ability to write an A paper within the next couple of months.  I’d be very surprised and pleased if he were to write one by the end of the year. 

c) I don’t think this is the world’s most motivated student.  He seems pretty motivated to please the parent, but somewhat passive and clueless otherwise.  Example:  A little over a week ago, he came in to see me at lunch, and the following scene ensued:

Student: (Wandering vaguely in without notes or books)  Ms. Something, my parent told me to stop in and ask you how I’m doing in English.

Me: I would be happy to talk with you about that, Student, but first let me ask whether you feel prepared for the vocabulary quiz that’s scheduled for our class right after lunch.

Student: (Clearly didn’t remember that there was a quiz)  Oh…well, see, I left my vocabulary book at my other parent’s house, and I haven’t really been able to study.

Me: (Shoving a book into his hands) Then borrow this copy of the book and review your vocabulary now–I’m here if you have questions–and come see me about your grade later.

Doesn’t really sound like an A student, does he?  But what do I say to the parent?


One response to this post.

  1. I hate the assumption that every student should be able to get an A! I emphasize to my students that B is “good” and A is “superior, exceptional,” but many of them (and their parents) don’t want to recognize that intellectual ability and intellectual work may also play a role.


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