Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Putting Responsibility Where It Belongs

One of the concerns/complaints I've heard voiced from staff members at my school is that teachers are being held responsible for--to cut to the chase--other people's responsibilities.

It's not enough to send a child to the office for misbehavior anymore. In all but the most extreme circumstances we have to document that we've previously contacted the child's parents before we can send a child to the office.

We cannot just assign detention anymore, and expect that the child will show his/her parent the detention slip and have the parent sign it. Now, parents must be notified before detention can be served.

We are doing more interim progress reports now than in the past, because some parents claim that they didn't have enough warning of baby's impending failure.

Parents claim that they can't ensure their child does homework unless they, the parents, know what that homework is. We teachers now maintain web sites listing homework assignments.

Too many tardies or cuts will earn a student Saturday School. So that students can get close to the line but not go over, we used to hand out attendance records to each student once a week.

And so it goes.

There was a near riot when we teachers were told that we had to notify parents about each detention. Why, the detention form actually states on it that it's the student's responsibility to inform the parents about detention (which is served the day after it is assigned). Detentions, especially for "school" offenses (like tardies) as opposed to "teacher" offenses (like chewing gum in class), dropped off. And then someone figured out that we could make technology work for us. We've long had the capability to "robo-call", and that functionality is used to remind parents about Back To School Night, notify them about a lockdown at school, etc.; now we notify a secretary, and she adds that student's name to the "your kid has detention tomorrow" robo-call each evening. Problem resolved. It's still not putting the responsibility where it belongs, which is on the student, but at least it's not on the teacher as much as it was.

Another situation wherein the teacher has always had the responsibility is notifying students about grades. I always posted grades (by student number, not name) every week or two so students would know exactly where they stood in class. It's their grade, I reasoned, and they should know what it is.

But I'm not going to accept the responsibility of posting grades anymore. Our district uses Zangle, an online comprehensive student data system. Teachers, counselors, and administrators all have their own little corners of Zangle; teachers use it for grading and attendance.

Now, if students want to know what their grade is, they can look it up online themselves, as our students have been given their own Zangle access similar to what their parents have. No computer or internet access at home? We have plenty in the school library--or even the public library. Want to know what tardies and cuts you have? Look it up yourself.

I like this. Our school has approximately 1600 students, so we're saving 1600 sheets of paper a week by no longer handing out the attendance records. I'm saving 5 pieces of paper a week, plus a lot of printing, by no longer having to post grades.

And the students and their parents are reassuming some of the responsibility for monitoring student performance.


Viki said...

We have a similar system to Zangle here in Louisville JCPS. Now if some of the teachers would have us email that we have seen the grade that week instead of printing it out and signing the paper for the child to take back to the teacher...for credit no less.
Sometimes it boggles the mind.

This is the same Algebra 2 teacher that uses groups for lessons. The groups get points not the individuals. If no one answers, no points. The teacher doesn't really want my child to answer, because she wants the others to try. However, If no one else in the group will pick up the white board and write an answer (because they are not sure how to do the problem) My kid will pick up the board and write the answer KNOWING she will then get yelled at for not letting one of the other kids answer, but she will not lose points either.
Is this a win win or a lose lose situation?

Sometimes group work is like punishment for being smart.

Question: Is this teacher really just using my child to help teach these kids or is she trying to hurt her grade?

Also, would it not make more sense to put the kids who know what they are doing in one group and let them fight over the white board. So the other groups can then finally ask for help? Or is the real purpose of these groups to be so mind numbing and frustrating to the intelligent kids that they give up or blow up?

Darren said...

Group work *is* punishment for smart kids.

Before assigning malicious motives to the teacher, though, consider that group work is the latest fad. "Employers need kids who know how to work together!" is a mantra I'm tired of hearing.

Group work also makes life easier for the teacher. So, the teacher could be brain dead and lazy and still not be malicious.

Viki said...

ah but Darren, my kid corrected her at the beginning of the year, so it could be malicious.
She was not grateful for the catch at all.

If the other kids in the group can't grasp the concepts well enough then they Can't work Together.
IF they haven't grasped the concepts by this time of the year, they wont or can't.

In the work place it still ends up with one or two people doing most of the work and the supervisor taking the credit most likely.

It may be different in a Lab setting, I don't know, haven't worked in one.

Ellen K said...

We don't use Zangle for grading...yet. But we do use another online system. Almost every adult with a job has some type of email. So in theory, parents have constant and ample opportunities to access online grades (which our administration mandates that we must update every Monday...or else). Yet we still kill thousands of trees printing progress reports every three weeks. Students, in theory, are supposed to return them signed if they are making lower than a 75. In reality, it's a phone chase as teachers spend literally hours trying to track down an actualy working phone number for every student. I still have five who have no valid phone number for an adult. I talked to a parent today that claimed "someone" changed her password and she can no longer access the online gradebook. I have a pretty good idea who "someone" might be-and she has a 46 in my class. So my question is, if we have this capability to post grades online, why is it OUR job to spend time and money printing progress reports for parents who have email access? Is there to be no responsibility on the part of parents to ask about their children's grades? After spending yesterday calling parents, I am dismayed how many do not have a clue what their children do every day. If parents don't care, and students don't care, it's pretty discouraging to think I am the only one who cares if a kid passes my class, or any class. At some point parents have to take up their share of the blame.

Anonymous said...

Teaching through group work is "mandatory" in our classes at my school. It is part of our teaching evaluations--both formal and informal.

Darren said...

If the kids are supposed to teach themselves, it's kinda hard for the school administration to hold *you* responsible for their learning, isn't it?