The end of the school year is a rough time, especially for seniors. First, let’s be honest – there’s the prom to think about. Then there’s pressure about college. There’s uncertainty concerning summer work – whether you’ve got it, need it, or doing everything possible to avoid it. Finally, for many there’s a big black hole where the future should be.
Now put graduating on the top of the list. Lots of students don’t need to worry about it. It’s kind of like the end of a movie that you don’t like – but know is coming in about 15 minutes. You just sit it out. For others, graduating is like doing that last chore that you dread. It’s something that is just unpleasant, but you know all kind of people expect it from you, so you do it.
Then there’s the anxiety created for some kids who know they just might not make it. They see the gates that lead out to the ‘real world’. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, but… there’s one person standing in their way. It’s the last gatekeeper.
Sometimes that person is me.
I’m not sure how it works out this way, but it does. US History gets on the list of the classes you have to pass before graduation. Maybe they skipped it in sophomore year. Maybe they failed it 3 times. For whatever reason, I become the teacher that some students need to pass before they graduate. The problem is that ‘some kids’ don’t realize it until the last two weeks. Sometimes they don’t know it at all. Guidance counselors ask if there’s any way so and so can pass. “Can I have all my late work now?” “Please” is sometimes optional, but that’s ok. It’s not about me at that point. I have to remember that.
What do you do? One student has a 48 average one quarter and a 73 for another. The school says that they have to get about 65 to get a D and pass. They’ve missed 27 days of school in the semester, including 16 in the last month or so. The numbers don’t add up. On the other hand, maybe that same situation needs some context. The step-father just died. The student has been making work up online by staying in touch with the teacher a couple of times a week. Maybe the IEP allows for alternative assessments and extra time to make up major assignments. What if a scribe is required? Or tutoring?
Do they pass through the gate, or not?
I hate that call.
Should there be exceptions for students that try? Should there be a different set of rules when the stakes are raised? Do I ‘hold the line’ against all that stand against me, whether its guidance, administration or parents? What if the school doesn’t want their grad numbers to dip? What if (gasp) I get overruled up the chain of command, after the fact? Yup, that’s happened.
I wonder what this says about me as a teacher. On one hand, I want to be fair and consistent. Numbers are numbers. On the other hand, I have bent the numbers from time to time because I’ve lost sleep over what is best for the student in the long run. Do I rationalize my decision by saying that they did actually learn things that weren’t reflected in their grades anyway? What does that say about grades?
Clearly, I am a troubled gatekeeper – but at least I am reflecting on it. :)
Some do get the ‘None shall pass!” Others get a pat on the back and a tilt of the head as I move aside. Some get a well-respected handshake and well-wishes. I’ll still question my decisions each time, but not my intentions. At least I’m clear on those, and maybe that’s enough.