Remember the beautiful cell model Kacey made for her Biology class?
Remember how proud I was of her? Remember how sure we all were that she would get an A on this project?
The day the project was turned in, Kacey came home mildly upset. It seems that when she arrived at class that day, one of her classmates was already there, having been frantically putting the finishing touches on her model. Apparently the teacher had given this classmate a heads-up that she should have a written page listing all the cell components as well as their functions and the girl managed to get it written out before class began. This girl told all the other kids that they were supposed to have this written piece, but no one else had been aware of that requirement. Kacey thought this was extremely unfair. She didn’t think it was clear that the written page was part of the assignment.
I asked to see the instructions she was provided and she gave me this:
I read through the first part. “Use unlikely stuff to depict the structure and function of the cell, with emphasis on interrelationships among parts.”
I was a little confused. The teacher uses a word like “stuff” then goes on to talk about “interrelationships among parts.” I had to wonder if your typical 15 year old grasped what was meant by this phrase.
I suspected this is where the problem was. I asked Kacey what she thought “interrelationships among parts” meant. She said she didn’t know and I told her it was her responsibility to ask about those things she didn’t understand instead of assuming she had covered all her bases.
But she was still very worried about her grade. She had put hours of hard work into this project and was afraid she was going to lose points over a technicality. So we promised her we would talk about it with her teacher at parent/teacher conferences later that week.
So when conference day rolled around, I made sure to bring the instructions with and when it was time to visit the teacher, we listened as she gave us a breakdown of Kacey’s performance in class. Overall, it seems she is doing very well.
Once the teacher was done telling us what she wanted to tell us, I brought out the instruction sheet and asked if we could talk about it. I very nicely explained that Kacey was worried that she was going to lose points on her project because she didn’t understand there was supposed to be a written piece. I explained the conversation I had had with Kacey and asked the teacher if she could clarify what her expectations were on the project.
I could see the teacher’s face sort of freeze up. For some reason, she was upset that I was asking her about this. She wanted to know what the problem was. I told her that Kacey didn’t understand where in the instructions it said there should be a written piece to accompany the model.
The teacher reached over and underlined the words “interrelationships among parts” while shooting me a challenging glare. (See where she underlined it clearly for simple, little ol’ me?)
“Right here,” she said.
I replied that I didn’t think those words specifically implied that the students were to describe the cell components and functions in written form. I was irritated at this point and trying not to show it. I calmly suggested that if I didn’t quite get what that meant, it might be possible that a bunch of 15 year olds wouldn’t get it either.
Her reply was, “If Kacey didn’t understand, she should have asked me.”
Mark joined the conversation and said that it sounded as if the entire class misunderstood. I told the teacher that we had no intention of undermining her, we simply wanted to understand ourselves what her expectations were. She was clearly miffed at the fact that we had questioned her at all.
Mark made things worse by asking if Kacey completed the written portion over the weekend, could she possibly get partial credit for the missing piece? There was a LONG pause before the teacher finally agreed, emphasizing, “She can’t have full credit, but I might give her a few extra points.”
We agreed that was fair, but I left the conference worried that we had done nothing but irritate this teacher, even though all we wanted was to understand ourselves so that we could pass the information on to our daughter.
I was right to be concerned. This is the grade slip Kacey brought home:
Does anyone else notice a sense of vindictiveness in this grade slip? The teacher initially gave Kacey full credit for neatness and effort, then knocked that score in half when adding a mere 2 extra points for the partial credit Mark had asked if she could have.
I. was. LIVID!
We apologized to Kacey for making the situation worse. She’d have been better off had we never said a word. But she just laughed it off. She said she was glad that we had called the teacher out on her “questionable” instructions and had learned her lesson about asking questions when she wasn’t sure of the requirements.
I was really irritated by that grade slip for several days. The teacher had sent a very clear, very unfair message that she is not to be questioned. But I have since adopted my daughter’s attitude. If Kacey can let it go, I guess I can too. Lesson learned. But trust me, my daughter will never have that teacher again. I’ll make sure of that.