Why Did the Students Fail?

Each end of the marking period finds me playing defense. I have to be able to explain why certain students don’t make the grade in my class. I write a list and send it to the parents and guardians whose progeny is now on Santa’s Naughty List. Let’s run down a few, shall we?

  1. Low test grades – Junior didn’t study. Oh, he had baseball/soccer/hockey practice for three hours? Hmmm…. πŸ€”
  1. Low quiz grade – Juniorette didn’t study. I sent both parents and students flash cards at least the night before the quiz, and she had dance/gymnastics/volleyball club practice for three hours? πŸ€”
  2. Low project grade – Junior didn’t turn it in on time, completed, or at all. A conference to discuss your disgust with my grading policies or to decide if my parents “raised me right” is not appropriate at this time. πŸ€¦πŸ½β€β™€οΈ
  3. I can’t grade air. Good intentions to do the work or bad intentions of not doing the work ever merit the same result. When I receive zero work, I have to write zero for the grade. If I read minds and saw the “good intentions” of my students, then I should be using my allegedly psychic abilities for some other purposes. Like knowing the winning lottery numbers for the next three years.πŸ’²πŸ’²πŸ’²πŸ’²πŸ’²
  4. Angie Apathetic didn’t attend tutorials like you said she would. Two or three days per week was our agreement, and the little darling sits in the cafeteria/gym/foyer on her phone playing games instead of coming in to ask questions.πŸ€·πŸ½β€β™€οΈ
  5. But-But-But Bert turns it in. Late. After grades are submitted. Past the eleventh hour. No can do, kiddo.πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Did he listen to me when it was due one month prior? Nope. Bye-bye, Bert.
  6. Startled Stella cannot believe I won’t accept her assignment. “Is it on Google Classroom, like I asked?” “No.” “Did you flood my inbox with items that I have to wade through my Google Drive to retrieve?” Silence. “Well, Stella, I think you’d better do it the way I said because I am not in the mood to play a rousing game of ‘Hunt the Email’ today.” Note: this is said while I maintain the Shark smile on my face. Behind my black-rimmed spectacles, the corners of my eyes don’t crinkle but my lips rise at the corners. I look like I might actually bite if she does not start typing on that little Chromebook quick, fast, and in a hurry. Because Stella is a bright lass, she complies . Game. Over.


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Worn Out

By this time of year, I have written multiple office referrals, failure notices, detentions, and mandatory tutorial schedules. I have kept records of my interventions with the students who fail every test and quiz I give them. I took a two hour nap yesterday (Saturday) and another two hour nap today. I am worn out. Students want to be out of school. We still have 39 days left at this point in the school year. I want to be on my own schedule, too, but I know that I must wait for my reward. That is part of life. It’s “normal” to feel worn out in the early spring.

The misbehaving students, the hormonal students, and even the “on the fence about my behavior choices” students test our limits and patience. Kids have fights. They bring unacceptable items to school and get suspended. They sneak their mobile phones into the classroom and play silly games when you don’t happen to be right over the desk. They stare into space and dare you to make them learn. I would accomplish more if I truly had Mom and Dad insisting on better behavior at school. If some of my students who made poor choices were disciplined at home and contrite at school, I think I could accomplish quite a bit more. I cannot enrich my higher achievers because I am asked to do something about my failure rates. Those same kids perform poorly in multiple classes. My social studies class requires some reading acumen. Read the text with understanding. Answer questions that require thought. Make an effort to participate in discussions. Bring a pencil to class. Make sure you have the correct binder. Arrive to class on time. Please don’t make my time with you an ordeal of nerves making sure I am ever vigilant about managing your off task behavior choices. Please allow me to expend my energy expanding your world instead of controlling your impulses. Please. I am worn out. I go home and melt into a puddle. My family gets my leftover energy. I don’t have creativity for cooking innovative meals. I haul your work that I still have to grade home. If I have school aged children of my own, I have their homework to check over and their daily living to experience. I must manage bed time, adolescent angst, sports teams, and my marriage. Sometimes, if I ask you to sit for five minutes and read quietly, this gives me just a moment to breathe, regroup, and prepare for the next class. It is not laziness that makes me sit down with my shoes off after school. I have a life outside of school, and all too often at this time of year, I am too. One weary to do anything about it. Please show some mercy to your teachers. We are worn out. Worn. Out.


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Spewing Beats Stewing

The title sounds gross, but it’s better to get things out of the system instead of allowing them to fester and make things worse. I had several students absent on the last two days of the previous school year. Some of them had been disruptive to the learning environment. Others would not have caused a bit of trouble or planned anything “cute” as revenge of some sort. I read another teacher’s blog about some parents’ habits with their kids.

  1. Enabling bad behavior.Β “I can’t discipline him or take away his XBOX. He won’t give me the controls.” A well-wielded claw hammer will deal with the XBOX controls nicely when Junior is asleep.
  2. Being a child’s friend. Nope, you’re mom or dad. It’sΒ your job to make and enforce rules, even when they are unpopular.
  3. Badmouthing the teacher in front of the student. This never has a happy ending.
  4. Not being connected or seemingly concerned (no response to emails and phone calls about academic and/or behavioral issues).
  5. Expecting life to be “fair” or easy for their students. Some students have legitimate educational issues that may or may not require meds. That’s fine. Expecting me to bump a grade on a project because Mom disagrees with the rubric is not going to work.
  6. Expecting a student to pass a course’s marking period with zero effort. I cannot grade air. If I could grade good intentions successfully, my failure rate would be close to zero. There is always one bad apple who doesn’t care what I think. Nor does the bad apple care what Grandma, Aunt Bunny, or Santa Claus things. Bad Apple has it all figured out. “You can’t make me.” Correct. IΒ can make your life miserable with lunch detentions and TNRs (Thursday Night Reflections – three hour long detentions for academic and behavioral concerns). Bring. It. On.
  7. Writing emails on Friday after school hours expecting an immediate response about a daily or minor grade. Not a test grade. A daily or minor grade that will not affect the student’s grade point average for the marking period.
  8. Wanting to meet multiple times about the same issue we discussed in the first meeting last semester: he’s avoiding work, being stubborn and insubordinate, and doing things to aggravate the other kids to the point one of them nearly took a swing at him the other day until they heard me walk up behind them. Fix it at home.
  9. Demanding special treatment. Period. You’re on the school board. You’re the PTA president. You’re related to the mayor. You’ve been to the World Series the last twenty years. Nice try, but no cigar. It’s bad for your health.
  10. Taking kids on vacations during the school year does not place an emphasis on their educations. It would be fine during the days off; however, trips are planned for Disney World, Universal Studios, or overseas when we have grades due in the next week or two. Could you give me the assignments he will have for the next week since he’s going on a cruise with our family? Sure. Junior’s going to concentrate on my assignments while he cavorts at a water park, theme park, beach party, etc. And that online component will be easy with the Internet so readily available. Here’s the ship’s Wifi code. Good luck, kid.


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A Wee Bit of Advice

This is the text of an email I sent to my students a couple of weeks ago. I need to make a poster or something that will stick to their minds permanently.
The fifth marking period begins Monday, February 25. Students, make sure you do the following:
1. Write your homework in your planner.
2. Complete your homework and turn it in on time.
3. Have a quiet place to study for tests/quizzes/completing HW.
4. Come in to tutorials for questions or a quiet place to work.
5. Clean your room. Pick up your laundry from the floor.
6. Take advantage of retakes when you need to do better on a test.
7. Remember to be kind, and do good.
Why did I write this informational list? I still have students who don’t write down homework assignments or want to email meΒ the night before a test to ask me what they need to study. At that point, I don’t feel particularly polite, but I can write cordially like the best of them. My face probably looks like I’ve eaten or smelled something foul. They email to ask what is due the next day. Was that assignment we worked on homework? When is it due? Generally speaking, I don’t email back until the next day when I deem a question unworthy of answering at that time of day. At this point, I know who the jokers are. I wait until I arrive at school the next morning and then respond. I only use the student’s school-related email and carbon-copy their parent(s). No one can say my tone or text is improper. And they can’t hear my grumbling in my brain, either.


I had to explain to some students that even if LeBron James or Attila the Hun walked into my classroom, I am the MVP. Period.

Looking around at your friends, being off task, and not following directions is not an option. Futures are at stake. Period.



Crush Time

Get those recommendations completed. Yesterday. Schedule that parent conference. Grade the papers. Update the gradebook. Answer the phone. Don’t sit down in the interesting class. Circulate. Circulate. Circulate. Grab a drink of ice cold coffee. Wince a bit, but keep moving forward. Write that email. Or two. Or more. Be in your duty spot. On time today, thank you. Slip off shoes behind the desk. Remember the copies you needed. Slip shoes on again. Navigate the mass of humanity in the hallways. Make them walk. Make them turn around again and walk. From the corner to where I am standing. Shut the locker. Pick up a perfectly good pencil. Notice you have 60 seconds to visit the bathroom before your long stretch of your day comes. Break up a fight. Pick up the fight’s loser’s broken glasses. Snatch a wad of Kleenex from another teacher’s room. Stop his nosebleed. Take the combatants to the office. Walk into your class late. Remind them you are in charge. Don’t sneeze or laugh, or your body will embarrass you. Regret that third cup of coffee. Take a deep breath. Answer questions. Talk until hoarse feeling appears. Teach. Teach. Teach. Conduct after school tutorials. Visit the bathroom. Head to the copier in your house shoes. Round up miscreants who loiter in front of the school. Make them come to your room to work. Feed them a snack to keep their blood sugar up. Drink your hot tea. Grade papers. Contact parents about missing work. Text your spouse about another late night. Curse the copier’s recalcitrance to work at 6:16 P.M. Stub your toe on the way out. Recoil in fear as an angry driver cuts you off in traffic. Hold your tongue in the speedy checkout lane. Smile when the student who refused to work waves at you in Mama’s presence. Remind yourself to visit another grocery store. Remember you left your badge at work. Drive back. Wait for custodian friends to let you in. Grab stack of papers that need to be graded before progress reports. See those forms for feedback on students with learning disabilities (SpEd/Section 504) sitting on your desk. Take a breath. Grab them and put them into your bag. Go home. Collapse. Get up. Repeat the next day.


Hopeful to be Adopted Kid-1, RLT -0

In class I was telling my kids that I was weary of finding backpacks, pencils, lunch bags, etc. I expressed myself vehemently. One student raised his hand as I finished my rant. I loudly proclaimed, “I’m not adopting you!” with mock rage. His head dropped in feigned sadness and his seat mate comforted him. “It’s okay.”

I relented and deigned to inquire, “Okay, hon, what was your question?”

“Have you found my water bottle?” I stared at him for a beat. My class burst into laughter as I covered my head and ears with my hands in a gesture of defeat. I didn’t answer him. He won. Today.


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Are You a Bear?

I take off my shoes after the students leave. When it’s warm outside, I go barefoot or don an inexpensive pair of flip flops. The other day was warm, so I had no shoes on. No, I’m not a Kenny Chesney No Shoes Nation type of girl. A student who isn’t in my class says, “Every time I see you, you’re barefoot.” I looked at her in disbelief and asked her to repeat herself. Inside my jaw had hit the carpet.

“Every time I see you, you’re barefoot. Are you a bear?” There were other students standing around.

“Do you know who I am?”

“Mrs. Johnson.”

“Yes, and I don’t think we have the type of relationship where you can say that to me. Remind me of your name because I am sure we will speak again.” I am not a bear.Β  I become Mama Grizzly on field trips; she doesn’t know that. This young lady was striving to be funny. Please make sure your audience is receptive to a humorous overture next time, hon.


Why You Make Me…

Take your hoodie because you keep putting the hood on after I said take it off? Now you’re cold, and I have no mercy. “Pick it up after school, and don’t be hard headed.”

Let you leave last because you try to dart like a deer out the door first? “You’ll be one of the last to leave class today.” Natural consequences.

Tell you to throw away your gum or lollipops that dangle from your mouth like a skinny cigarette? You saw the sign on my door. I overheard a student say, “You don’t chew gum this period.” Hmph. They know.

Assign a detention after school or before school? You know to sit down, keep your hands to yourself, and speak to me like you have sense.

Remind you that I don’t lend pencils when you announce you came to class unprepared? I don’t celebrate lack of preparation with a balloon or stick of gum. You earn a baleful eye and a question, “Where is your pencil?” Bonus winners get the phrase, “When the pencils I find and put in Grumpy Cat’s box run out, then what will happen?” I find at least one or two good pencils in the hallway carelessly left behind. I give them to my math teacher or save them for the Chucks-Outta-Luck who don’t bring squat to class.

Give you the stink eye? Do I ever let you come at me when I start class unless it’s blood, bones, or sickness? No, get over your hurt feelings, and move on.

Raise my voice to be heard when I get ready to dismiss class? Your conversation about the weekend or Snapchat is unimportant. Unimportant.

Close the door in your face when I tell you that the reteach session is more than halfway finished after you ignore the sign and locked door, and you show up late? It is too late. Come back another time. Make other plans. Deal. With. It.

Clean the desks because you draw on them? You will get to clean desks after school one day soon when I catch you.

Remind you that you aren’t grown up and get to talk to me like you’re an adult? I don’t have to explain myself. If I choose to do so, it is my prerogative. And you cannot cross your arms, ball up your fists, or roll your eyes at me when you have just barely been born. Step back, child. I am more than you bargained for.


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An Observation or Two

One ridiculous question begets another. They seem to be contagious like yawns or ever present like dandelions.

“What page is it on?” Wordlessly, I point to the reference on the board. Another hand goes up. “Where do we look?” Thank goodness I had not lowered my arm. Now I wiggle my index finger. The social butterfly lands, tosses her hair, and smiles. “What are we supposed to do next?” If I am cross, I respond, “I wasn’t paying attention either. I don’t even know what I said.” Mariposa (Spanish for butterfly) looks sheepish reads the directions. Slowly I lower my arm and survey the class. Where will the weed of ignorance sprout next?

Some students believe I will eat them up. I keep salt and pepper handy along with packets of ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, duck sauce, hot sauce, and taco sauce collected from my various jaunts to fast food establishments. I show the “pantry” to unbelievers who leave wide-eyed and wondrous, glad to escape with their lives. Yes, seeing IS believing in this case. I have smiled like a shark as I herded my “snacks” out of school. I win.