I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my last piece (Let me tell you why teachers are quitting). There’s nothing more frustrating than being able to identify a problem with a system and being unable to come up with a viable solution. And then it hit me.
The problem with how this year is going in education is that we have yet to acknowledge that most of us entered the school year with predisposed perceptions of how this year would go. And because it probably didn’t go how we had anticipated it, we were left to struggle with reconciling between our hopes and the reality.
Here is the thing: Good teaching is about teachers taking a risk and revising our plans according to what the students produced. My guess is that the majority of us had to reassess and readjust more than we ever had to. So if teachers were able to make mistakes and recalculate, then why wouldn’t we expect the students to?
The first quarter of the year was a slap in the face for students after a year and a half of not being inside a school building. Some teachers may have tried and failed to execute pre-2019 lesson plans on students. Some students suffered from such low self-efficacy and were so overwhelmed they choked. Teachers had to revisit expectations of how to even behave like a student because the kids had forgotten. The first quarter was all of us testing the waters and many of us failing to some extent or another because we just had no idea what to expect.
No one was given a manual for how to begin the 2021 school year. Not administrators, not superintendents, not teachers. So first quarter was just a giant experiment. Now come second quarter, and many students have gotten the hang of what to expect. But the problem is that their first quarter grades are weighing them down. As I am writing this, I have certain students’ faces I can see in my mind’s eye. They are so discouraged by their performance in first quarter, they are beginning to lose hope although they are kicking like crazy in the deep end.
My proposal is this: Superintendents and school boards at the high school level, encourage administrators to give the okay for teachers to match their students’ second quarter grades. Let’s all just admit that first quarter didn’t go exactly as planned and none of us knew what we were up against. Let’s take a slice of humble pie and say these are unprecedented times. Let’s push the reset button. Show these kids that you do care about their welfare and their future.
The semester ends for most of us in January. These semester grades will affect these kids’ GPAs, many of them being affected by their first quarter grades which will affect which colleges they get into. The impact of these semester grades will be long-lasting and cruel if we do not do something now. So, superintendents, I implore you: Make the call and press reset. If you are fully committed, speak with the union presidents and discuss drafting a Memorandum of Understanding to revise our current teaching contracts so all teachers can be held accountable to help our students succeed. If a student has a higher grade in second quarter than they do in first quarter… let them keep it. Backfill their grade. Because that is what high school is all about: Second chances.
Teachers: I know you must be thinking, I thought your last article was about lessening the burden on teachers! This leads to more work for us to do before the semester ends! Hear me out. If we supersede first quarter grades with second quarter, this may mean less intervention planning for us. Less emails to parents and counselors about failing students. It means that for those students who are desperately trying to raise their grades from the damage that had been done first quarter, we can now release them from our intervention rosters.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions. Last year’s Washington state emergency exception for pass/fails was removed for the 2021-22 school year. But again, must I remind everyone that the pandemic is not over? There are no supports for us this year despite the fact that there is still an alarming number of students failing even though schools have been re-opened.
Superintendents and school boards: It’s your move.