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High-School Teacher Trouble
Q: My tenth-grader has been an honor student since middle school and never made a grade below a B until getting a C in English this year. She has a foreign exchange teacher and cannot meet his expectations. At a conference, he confirmed that everybody has been flunking, and he has to give the students a second chance on everything to try to pull their grades up. My daughter currently has all A's in her other classes except for a B in drama and an F in English. I know my daughter did not walk in that class and decide to not do any work or to do lousy work so that she could make an F. She has become very stressed and fearful of this teacher because she says that she's doing the best she can and she's still failing. For an honor roll student to be making an F in any subject while still doing quite well in all other subjects says something to me, and I'm not sure what to do on this.
A: No two teachers ever grade precisely the same way. Some have very tough standards and expect a lot more from their students than others whose classes are a breeze. Also, it is a lot easier to grade work objectively in courses such as math and science because answers are generally right or wrong. After all, 2+2=4 not 5 to all math teachers. On the other hand, grades in English are far more subjective. On a paper about Hamlet's character, one teacher may value original thinking and overlook grammatical errors while another may focus more on the quality of the writing.
Despite the difficulty involved in setting fair grading standards, a red flag goes up indicating problems when an honor student, like your daughter, suddenly starts getting F's in just one class. It may be that her English teacher has no idea of what the typical standards for work at this level are in American high schools. There is also the possibility that he is having problems explaining exactly what he expects from the students.
You have expressed your concerns to this teacher. The next logical step is to set up a meeting with the chair of the English department. It would actually be best if your daughter and a group of her classmates discuss the teacher's grading with this person. They must not just complain about the grades they are receiving. Instead, they need to bring many samples of their failing work to the meeting. The chair should be able to see at once if this teacher is employing unreasonable standards. If so, the chair should be able to work with your daughter's English teacher to help him grade more fairly -- an important consideration because grades are so important in the college admission process.
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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.