Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Teaching the Needy

Last school year, I was the teacher and director of the seventh- and eighth-grade choir at our church's school. From this experience, I finally solidified my conviction that I'm not cut out to be a classroom teacher. I love directing choirs, but I can't stand doing annoying classroom-management things, dealing with parents, and worst of all, grades. I felt a big connection to the students because I went to the same school as them for eleven years. I had some of the same teachers they still have. But is it just me, or have schools changed since I was in eighth grade?

The reason I ask is because of an experience I had a few weeks ago. I no longer teach the aforementioned class because the junior high music program has been revamped a little and is team-taught by the Cantor and the band director. Cantor was on vacation for a few weeks, so I was called in to sub. Cantor asked me to teach them about flat keys and assign homework on that topic and then work on some sight-singing and harmony things. Piece of cake, or so I hoped.

So we went over flat keys, they seemed to be getting it, so I passed out the homework packet and made sure they could follow directions and complete the assignment. That's when the flood of questions came. They needed to know everything, up to and kind of including the actual answers. Some questions were asked many, many times because they weren't listening to my answers or they weren't worded in the exact perfect way to make them understand. About a third of the students, who obviously knew music better than the others, rolled their eyes as we spent a good 15 minutes making sure that everyone else was going to know how to do the homework.

I had experiences similar to this last year. About three or four times throughout the year I assigned homework or a quiz, and I came to realize that if anyone got anything less than an A, they thought they failed and I could reasonably expect an email from the parents asking why they did so poorly. And no, they DIDN'T want to hear that their precious child was goofing off in class and not paying attention and that's why he or she did not get a top grade.

I'm all for making sure every child does well, but some are just more capable than others. Some of them had the advantage of being in band or piano lessons and so they knew more about music. Others were just more intelligent and could simply retain the information I taught them better. How was I to reward their superiority if "excellent" becomes merely "average"? There was no way. An A is an A. In elevating the weaker students, the stronger ones' accomplishments are diminished.

In the infamous Homework Assignment debacle, the students asked questions and I answered them. (And these questions weren't strictly about the subject matter, mind you. They were about what the instructions meant and what the answers should look like, even though the worksheets included examples.) So they asked more questions, and in the interest of fairness, I continued to answer them. Everyone in the room seemed to wordlessly agree that if anyone failed this homework assignment, it would be my fault for not explaining it properly--for not doing everything for them but actually writing in the answers. Because I was only a sub, I didn't care very much to correct this assumption. But it is indeed, or should be regarded as, an incorrect assumption.

The A grade should be reserved for the students who truly deserve it. They are more intelligent and attentive. Those students who do adequate work should get a B or C. And those who don't pay attention to receive instructions or don't understand the content should be allowed to fail. They should be given opportunities to improve their grades, but they should be evaluated fairly on the basis of the quality of their work because that is what they will truly learn from.

Because I established myself as the person who was going to all but do their homework assignment, they came to expect that service of me. Therefore, it would be next to impossible for me to suddenly say, "No more questions! This is the homework; do your best to figure it out on your own!" because that would be unfair. The better students who didn't need me are either frustrated because they can receive no recognition for being superior, or they simply settle into the comfort of knowing there's no way they can fail. And the weaker students diligently fight for more and more help, confident that if they still can't scrape a B, their angry parents will make sure their grades are raised.

The word "fair" is being redefined. According the dictionary, it means "marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism" and "consonant with merit or importance." Now it seems to mean, to students and to left-leaning government leaders, "as close to exactly the same as possible." The poverty line continues to rise as the "rich" line lowers, and this trend will continue until the wealth is evenly distributed. And what happens when enough people realize this is a bad idea? Nothing, because no one's going to take away tax credits and government programs for the poor. That would be unfair.

Of course, everyone wants to help the poor. But tax credits and programs need to be funded, often from the "rich" or businesses, which comprise PEOPLE. I say, let the excellent excel and don't simply tax them more. And let others learn from them and be employed by them. THAT is fair.


Our Family said...

Amen, sister. Preach on. One of the many reasons I am so glad that I only have one pupil now, instead of 120.

Hannah J said...

That's part of the reason I'm shooting for teaching college over high school, and high school WAY over elementary. Of course, there are always the helicopter parents.