education, grades, grading, teachers, teaching

Professional Discussions

When I was in college my professors warned against extended stays in the teacher’s room, and for a long time I avoided this meeting place, but recently, I have been spending a lot of time there. More so for the need of air conditioning and the desire for a sounding board or two, than for anything else.

On a particular day a few weeks ago two of my colleagues were chatting about a student who cheated on an assessment in their class. They were trying to determine the consequence he would endure for such a desperate act and here is what they came up with: The student would receive a bit more than half credit (of the grade earned) on the assessment. The justification for the decision was as follows:

“If we give him half credit, it will kill his grade.”

“Okay, so we will give him a little more than half.”

“Should we allow him to retake it?”

“No. He knows what is on the test now, so it wouldn’t make sense to have him redo it.”

“Okay. So his grade on the assessment is a 65.”

“Sounds good.”

I did not comment on their decision, but I was thinking about what I would do in the same situation.

I try to make sure that my professional decisions concerning assessments and grades are fair and thought out. So I took some time to reflect upon the situation I overheard and decided that this is what I would do if I were faced with the same dilemma: I would allow the student to retake a different test that focused on the same skills. Now, I don’t know if the assessment that was administered in the other teachers’ class was skills-based or otherwise; I didn’t ask, but my assessments are skills-based, and since the hypothetical situation I was exploring was based purely on what I would do in my classroom, I used only that information to form my decision.  

Here are the reasons why I would allow a retake:

  1. I try not to mix behavioral consequences with academics. If a student is talking to their peers, on their phone, or cheating in some way on an assessment, they deserve a consequence for that misbehavior; they do not deserve a reduced grade or a zero on the test. This muddles their grade and does not accurately show what they know about the concepts on which they are being tested.
  1. When a student cheats it means a few things could be occurring. The student was lazy and/or did not study. The student doesn’t care about school–or my class–and just wants to get through. The student felt desperate. The student lacks confidence. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Yes, I want and need to know why the student cheated so I can help him/her, but I also need evidence of what they know and are able to do, so in this case a retake is a necessary means to an end.
  1. It is not my job to score a student’s assessment–or any assignment for that matter–based upon their behavior or anything else but their work. It is my job to objectively assess their performance on assignments so they (and all stakeholders, really) have an accurate understanding of their achievement. I can’t do that if I sacrifice their grade for their misbehavior.

I don’t presume to know the answer to the student cheating situation, but I know that when my students and their parents see the grades from my class assessments and assignments I want those grades to reflect each student’s knowledge, skills, and abilities, which is why I would require a retake.

Regardless of the decision that was made between the two teachers, or the one I would make, I wish I could have found a way to say something about the situation without sounding abrasive, intrusive, or holier-than-thou because we need to be willing to have these professional conversations–even if we are uncomfortable “butting in”. (Good thing I have this blog, right?) I just didn’t feel it was my place to say anything; these teachers know their classroom procedures and assessments best, but I do hope that we start challenging different types of thinking in non-abrasive, non-intrusive, and humble ways. Not because one way is right and the other wrong, but because we need to consider different perspectives, listen to others’ professional opinions and evidence, and consider the procedures and norms of each other in order to find the best solution to any situation. My goal is to take what I outlined here, and bring that into professional conversations with my colleagues. Because I don’t know whose decision was “right”, but I do know it’s worth discussing. 


I’m Just a Teacher…

This four word phrase is as offensive as a four letter word, people; and I want it to exist as much as a first generation ipod in the era of streaming music. (Do you even know how out-of-date, off-the-radar, so-vintage-you-can-find-it-in-a-thrift-store old those things are??)  

I have spoken to so many teachers who have said, “S/he won’t listen to me.  I’m just a teacher.  What can I do?” This is the saddest, most pathetic thing I have ever heard.  So, please, for the love of old ipods, stop saying it!  Instead say, “I’m a teacher and I know what to do, so you need to listen to me.”

Teachers; dear, tired, over-worked, under-paid, busy, caring, loving, helpful, sincere, funny, optimistic, energetic, smart, and kind teachers, you can be the reason things change.  Here is how you do it. (Note that despite the linear fashion in which the following is written, such things do not occur linearly, and should not be taken as parts of a list that have to happen in order, but rather, as parts of a whole–the “whole” being to influence positive change.)


1.) Show your professionalism: YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL (despite what the government, media, or even parents may say).  You know your stuff.  Support your thoughts and ideas with logic, evidence, and research. (And this is not to say that if something isn’t published in a book or article then it’s not worthy of being cited…action research and evidence gathered from experience is valuable, too.) But remember, if you have an idea and it cannot be supported, you need to revise that idea.

2.) Be a wo/man with a plan. If you see that something is not working, find a way to fix it before you barge into someone’s office and barrage them with complaints about the system.  (I’ve been here, and it’s not pretty.  I have learned that I need to have some leverage before I go on a soapbox rant.) Of course, support your well-structured and duly-outlined plan with logic, evidence, and research.

3.) Find a friend.  Guaranteed, there are many other teachers that feel the way you do about how something is being implemented or run in your school or district. Find like-minded people to help you in your pursuit to make positive change.

4.) Open your mind. Sometimes, even when we disagree with a new initiative or idea, we need to find a way to accept it and integrate it into our work.  Distinguish the parts of the plan or idea that work for you and your students and work on tweaking the other parts to work in your classroom.  

5.) Speak up.  If you see something and you know it’s not right, say something.  I’ve discovered that some issues that mean a lot to me are not on the radar of my superiors.  And why should they be?  Principals and other administrators are busy running a school and don’t always have time to talk to me about the significance of writing folders–which, if you ask me, is of utmost importance to me and my students–or the minute issues of various departments in general.  If you want something changed, say something.  

Remember, you are not “just a teacher”.  You are a teacher, and sometimes that means schooling others about issues that you believe deserve attention.  Your thoughts, ideas, and opinions are valuable.  Do you know why?  Because you’re a teacher.  Go you.


If You Were Truly Brave, What Would You Do?

I have been reading (on and off) Rick Wormeli’s latest publication: The Collected Writings (so far) of Rick Wormeli and within the first 40 pages he puts forth a professional charge I think all people, not only teachers, should fulfill. He suggests, “write your personal list of what you would do if you were truly brave.” Although this sounds a bit like a bucket list (which I suppose it is), it’s more like a “Someday I Will…” list for your profession.

Here are my top 15 (in no particular order)…

1.) Require all administrators to teach at least 10-12 years before advancing into an administrative position–especially one in which he or she is required to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

2.) Get rid of tenure for the ability to negotiate promotions, salaries, bonuses, etc.

3.) Demand rationale (and then conversation and suggestions) concerning important decisions made by administrators and politicians that directly or indirectly affect teachers and students.

4.) Do away with traditional “grades” and move to a mastery-based evaluation system.   

5.) Make learning more important than compliance.

6.) Create a fair and objective teacher evaluation tool that actually helps teachers improve.

7.) Do away with standardized testing.

8.) Create more intense, serious, and relevant teacher preparation programs.

9.) Abolish “everyone gets a prize” and “everyone wins”.

10.) Ease the cognitive dissonance many teachers have concerning doing what’s right and doing what they are told (is right) by those who do not understand education.

11.) Do away with SGPs.  How a student performs on a test taken once a year should not reflect upon a teacher’s quality.

12.) Not allow any one person or group of people to determine the way a district or school runs.  It should be a collective effort.

13.) Have administrators, parents, and community members trust teachers’ professional judgment concerning students, learning, teaching, and education in general.

14.) Do away with government intervention about “the right way to ‘do’ education” or at least go to Washington and teach officials about education and its importance to the future of our nation (as compared to the importance of power and money).

15.) Make it easier to get rid of incompetent, uncaring professionals in the educational field.


That’s my list (for now).  What’s yours?



A Boss or a Leader?

Own Morale

Part of being a leader is owning the good and the bad. I think that’s hard for people. Everyone wants to be great and do well and no one wants to admit they dropped the ball or failed at something. But what I’ve learned so far is this: be honest with yourself and your staff, accept defeat honestly, challenge defeat honestly, and follow through honestly. When you are honest with yourself and others the follow through will always be positive and success is much more likely to occur. 
I think a leader is honest and a boss tries to appear honest. And this involves trust too. Your staff has to trust you. They need to feel secure when they interact with you no matter the topic. And leaders listen and synthesize. A boss hears you and files your concerns away–or ‘delegates’ those concerns to someone else (note the sarcasm–delegates means ‘passing the buck’.). If, as a leader, you are looking for people to follow your initiatives you need to listen to them and be honest with them in order to build trust. You need to do this genuinely–well, as genuinely as possible. (Some people need to complain…and not that their concerns aren’t valid…they just don’t know how to present them at that moment without venting.) So. To me, a boss is someone who wants to look like a leader, or enjoy the perks of a leader, and someone who tells others what to do and how to do it with no concern for their point of view or feelings, but a true leader is an honest person who listens to their staff, and leads them in the right direction through being a positive and honest example.