Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7

Friday, September 16, 2011

Please join me while I rant

Each day my youngest son comes home from school is quite an experience. (He's a high school freshman -- all-boys Catholic high school -- first year at school-school since kindergarten.) I always ask how his day was, and then I ask if he received any homeworks, tests, papers back with grades -- it's a constant accounting of the grades at this point. Some teachers send weekly progress reports, and the school sends bi-weekly interim grade reports, but no parent likes surprises, so I like to keep track as we go.

Because Noah was homeschooled for all of grade school, there has been more of a learning curve for him, and in ways I could not have anticipated.

I already mentioned in a previous post the problem with homework. There is none at home and there is a lot at school. He needed to have homework in his final few years at home. Just to prepare for working on his own and the longer day.

Deadlines have been an issue, because at home I told him what he did and he did it. He didn't have to plan ahead, no long term deadlines.

He also didn't have to be particularly neat. I know I should have demanded it, but if I could read it, I let it go. If you have a child who will eventually go to school, you might learn a lesson here. Noah's religion teacher says "if it looks like trash it goes in the trash." That includes spelling errors, too (they don't get trashed, but if the answer to the question is "catechumen" and you spell it "catechuman" it's just the wrong answer, no credit for knowing). If, however, your handwriting is messy or the paper is dog-eared, it goes right in the garbage. No credit.

Today I actually laughed at loud at the ridiculousness of school in general. I'm not anti-education, but I have seen both sides and I know that a lot of what is wrong with education is intolerance and ignorance of what is important in life.

Exhibit A:

Noah has not gotten the art of "headings" down. At home he didn't have to write his name on the paper or the date. He handed his papers right to me and I graded them. So here's another lesson to learn if you will be dealing with school at some point: teach them how to head a paper. Noah's English teacher is a lot less tolerant of his mistakes than some other teachers. So far, out of five or six homework papers he hasn't gotten the heading right yet. And instead of bringing him up to his desk and showing him the right way, the teacher uses his passive-aggressive red pen and scribbles all over the paper. The homework that came home today was the last straw. I could not believe that he even originally scored the paper 16/20 but then decided to take off three additional points for the wrong heading and actually changed the grade. Heavy sigh. I raged for ten or fifteen minutes before I just decided to sit down and rant to you, dear friend.

Tell me what is the point in writing something like this? Is he just an angry, frustrated man and this is the only way for him to vent? Because you and I both know that this does not teach. This belittles. It shames. It sickens me.

Fortunately Noah shrugged and said "I know how to head the paper now, mom," but I don't know if he really does, and I don't know if he felt just stupid and worthless after reading that remark.

I know that there are much better ways to teach, and the system of education in this country rarely gets it right.


  1. Barbara, I think what this teacher did was uncalled for. Has he addressed Noah in the past about this issue? If he has, another reminder would be in order, BUT to word it in such away, unnecessary. To take off points seems pretty petty. Is there a place in the syllabus that indicates 3 points would be deducted if the heading is in the wrong place? That takes him from a B to a D, a huge drop. Was this a quiz or just homework? How much does the score count towards his final grade?

    Also, really, the note about him being the "only one". While it may be true, there is no need for the teacher to point it out. It makes the teacher come across as angry and bitter actually. The circling of the incorrect date, (did he write it wrong or get the actual date wrong?) the reducing of the score of the assignment and the note about him being the only one makes it seem like the teacher has something against Noah. Also, what if one or more of Noah's peers saw that?

    I know of the school you are sending your sons to. I know it is a tough school and the boys are expected to perform at a certain level, however, I also feel that Freshmen should be granted a small learning curve. It is a "feeder" school so to speak. Each boy in his classroom has come from a different background. Some are probably "going to school" for the first time, some are coming from local public schools and some from other diocesan schools, so they all have been taught different ways to "head" a paper.

    I know HS is the time for young men to spread their wings, so would it might be possible to have Noah talk to him to see if he could do something for extra credit to make up for the -3 points?

  2. Barbara, I think you are justified in your rant. It was completely inappropriate for the teacher to not only lower the grade, but also comment the way he did. Such a belittling manner. It's shameful.

    Really, if it annoys him so dang much, then he should quietly take Noah aside and show him exactly what he expects. *Especially* if he is going to dock points for it in his grading.

    For the sake of your son I hope this gets worked out for the best.

  3. Oh, I don't know if it's hormones or what, but this made me cry. I just don't understand it. Is the teacher mad because he has been homeschooled?

    That's why a lot of public school kids aren't learning that much, because of teachers like this one who are picking on the stupid little things, not the big things.

    I don't understand why a religion teacher would be marking points off for mispellings. I can see circling it and letting the kid know it's spelled wrong, but to count it as wrong? Isn't, especially in religion, it better to understand the concept rather than the spelling of the concept?

    Something new for my husband I to talk about and reaffirm our decision to homeschool.

    (I get the all boys school, for high school, I don't mean disrespect,so I'm not thinking anything bad about you choosing this-- I always say "One year at a time" about homeschooling. I just think it is like this in the younger grades too and it is one of the many reasons we homeschool)

  4. One more thing:

    Where is the dang heading supposed to go? I teach upper right corner, like Noah did. I guess I'm teaching my kiddos wrong.

  5. While I agree that it's petty for the teacher handle it that way, and the wording he used isn't really appropriate, I suspect that he just feels he's doing the kids a favor. You mention that your son has repeatedly messed up on the heading. It's one thing if the teacher never actually told your son how to format the heading. I think you'd be justified in getting angry then. But, it's another thing if your son just ignored the directions.

    When kids get to college, they have to follow the conventions set out by their teachers, and that includes heading papers in a specific format. There's no five or six tries to get it right. The issue isn't just a matter of where the heading goes. It's part of following directions for an assignment.

    My oldest is an 11th grader, and a full-time dual enrolled college student this year. Her English professor has different specifications for formatting papers than those her chemistry professor uses. She can't just ignore the formatting requirements, because she doesn't think they're important. Maybe your son's teacher thinks he's helping prepare these kids for future high school and college courses.

    As far as the wording goes, I suspect the teacher just mistakenly thinks a little peer pressure ("You're the only one still doing this wrong") will motivate him to follow directions. After all, peer pressure is a strong motivator for a lot of highschoolers.

  6. I agree with the point about preparing the kids for following the rules of future courses and employers. Whether the kids think it's important is immaterial, they should follow the instructions given.

    However, and this is a big however, the way this correction was done came across as clearly meant to shame your son. I don't think it sounds like he was trying to use a little peer pressure, I think it was crass and designed to make him feel badly. He could have easily and privately said "I am taking points off because I explained this to you before and you are the only one who is not complying." That would have accomplished the same goal,including the element of peer pressure, but kindly.

    We went through a little of this with Fiver already. Because of his OT and muscle weakness problems, we never made him be particularly neat. We were feeling pretty good about it being legible. But his teacher really came down hard on him on his spelling tests. Even though the words could be read, he would get the whole word marked wrong for not erasing cleanly or for capitalizing the first letter. I was angry because he had spelled the word correctly, but I figured he should learn this lesson now. The big difference is that his teacher was strict but not unkind, and he learned what was expected and moved on.

    I can understand your feelings perfectly, Barbara. Some things are not worth breaking a kid over.

  7. Beth,
    I am so mixed about this school. I have seen, personally, that these young men are better people for graduating from this school. But it's like knowing that your son will be a better man for having gone through Marine Corps boot camp, but still not liking what happens while they are there.

  8. Kelly,
    I said exactly what you did. The teacher saw, obviously, that Noah was having a hard time figuring out his expectations for headings. No, not rocket science, but he was a clearly not getting it. For WHATEVER reasons. Maybe he's thick, maybe he's stupid, maybe he was just trying to annoy the guy (he wasn't), but why couldn't he have asked him to see him after school to explain his expectations? Instead, like I said, he used his passive-aggressive red pen repeatedly.

  9. Jamie,
    My husband suggested that this teacher might just be out for him because he was homeschooled. The teaching "industry" despises homeschoolers. And it's really very ridiculous because a lot of what they believe in (in theory) runs parallel to what homeschoolers believe in. It's not like everyone in the country is going to homeschool and put them out of work. Hahaha!

  10. Jamie,
    PS The heading is supposed to go on the left side. The problem is every teacher wants it different -- different placement and different information. It's the third week of school. Sheesh.

  11. Sharon,
    I agree that this teacher is trying to prepare them for college. But it's the third week of freshman year. And what he did was not done in charity. This is a Catholic school. Is that how Jesus instructed?

    I understand that teachers find things such as "headings" important. I guess my question is "why?" That's what I meant when I said "a lot of what is wrong with education is intolerance and ignorance of what is important in life." Headings are not important. Learning is important.

  12. Thanks for your understanding, Aimee. Tone is everything isn't it?

  13. My new-to-the-school-system 7th Grader was reading over my shoulder and agreed, "Yes, that's mean."

    Love you, Hon. If nothing else, Noah is learning that there are people like that teacher out there and that, well, we have to learn how to put up with them.

    Doesn't make it any easier on the moms, though.

  14. Thanks, Mags. Gonna be a long year.

    And thanks to your wing man! ;-)

  15. Barbara, it's not just homeschooled kids who have heading problems! My daughter (sophomore) runs into that every semester, since they begin a new set of classes twice a year. 4 teachers, 4 different procedures.

    I agree with the other commenters here that the teacher was out of line in the way that was handled. A "see me" at the top of the paper could have led to a short conversation with your son about what's expected.

    Headings are there for the convenience of the teacher who needs to know whose paper it is in case things get misfiled. It's really hard for teachers to sit there with several unlabeled papers, trying to figure out to whom they belong. So they do have a purpose, and when I was teaching I required them.

    I also encourage my kids to do a modified heading on homework done in notebooks: subject, date, page. Otherwise, they've got all these random lists of words or whatever, that mean nothing without a context.

    Is this just an issue of the luck of the draw regarding Noah's teachers--did your other boys have this problem when they entered high school?

  16. I'm thinking about showing this to my daughter the teacher. Why can't there be consistency about headings in the school? They're obviously completely arbitrary!

    Over the years, we've had teachers who are just plain mean and belittle students, which irks me NO END in an pricey, pious, Catholic school! But we've instructed our kids that it's their responsiblity to get their education; if the teacher can't teach, learn it on your own like Lincoln did. Unfortunately, part of their education was to learn to "play the game" in school. :-(

  17. I'm sitting on your couch, Barbara. I'll never forget my oldest son's high school honors convocation right before graduation in early May 2007. There were 12 seniors standing on the stage who had received the highest awards...out of the 12, 5 of them had been homeschooled at least through 7th grade!!!

  18. You didn't think neat handwriting was important to teach your child?? That is ridiculous.

  19. Barb,
    I know why headings are important. Yes, the name needs to be on the paper. The date is helpful. The title of the assignment is in the center of the page at the top. Does the teacher to know his own name? The class he teaches? Is it crucial that it be on the left and not the right? I understand following directions. I totally do. If there was an all-school way to do this that would be great. But, it's all about breaking them down. My other two had a different freshman English teacher.

  20. Thanks, Cheryl. You come sit on my couch any day. :-)

  21. Katy,
    I taught my son handwriting -- we had a formal curriculum -- from grade one to six. I challenge you to name a school that makes time in the schedule every day for handwriting in sixth grade. In many public schools they are not even teaching cursive any more. I didn't say neat handwriting was not important. I did not expect perfection. If I could read it, I let it go. My son's religion teacher expects perfection, and if you are teaching 135 15yo boys, that's like banging your head against a brick wall.

  22. That was a mean thing to write. Some people are just mean. Some people need more coffee...or in my case chocolate. Some people need to stop teaching.

    Hang in there!

  23. I am sorry your son had to go through that. There are ways to correct and teach kids. That was not the way.

  24. Thanks, Christine. You are a sweetie.

  25. Right, Colleen. I keep thinking "where in the Bible does it say 'belittle the ignorant'?"

  26. Interestingly, in the schools of the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, since our new grading procedure was implemented a few years ago, teachers are not permitted to "take points" off of an academic assignment for behavior,etc. If the heading was wrong, it is only common sense that the teacher should discuss his expectations with the student...duh! If format is part of the assignment, there should be a rubric that shows this. If format is not part of the assignment and the heading is still wrong after student/teacher consultation, then the "life skills" sheet comes home stating that the student has difficulty following directions...blah blah. It is not permissible, according to the diocese (and common sense) to remove academic credit for a non-academic issue.
    I had this same talk with teachers (yes, my peers) with my sons assignments. Give him instruction, detention, whatever, but if it is not an academic booboo, don't lower the academic grade.
    Would the teacher want his paycheck reduced because of poor manners at the lunch table or poor parent/teacher/student communications? No. Just a friendly reminder of what is expected and correct.
    I don't get this profession sometimes, and I have been in it for 35 years.

  27. I think there are some real life lessons being taught here. Life isn't fair. Higher authorities have the right and obligation to establish formats and rules, and those of us under them must abide by those formats and rules, or suffer the consequences. Some people are mean, and there's nothing we can do about it. Authority A has different preferences than Authority B and their loyal subjects need to keep them straight (just as Client A will like things differently than Client B in the Big Bad World). Oh, and my favorite lesson: some people will treat unimportant things as very important, but intentionally disregarding what someone else feels is important could have serious negative consequences on your life: reduced grades if you ignore the teacher, sleepless nights on the couch if you ignore your wife, loss of job if you ignore your boss, loss of life if you ignore your commanding officer in a fire-fight. Better to learn this lesson when it truly IS unimportant and the consequences are minor than later on when you think it's unimportant, but it really isn't, and the consequences are significant.

  28. You know...it's not really about the heading. It's about a teacher...using his authority and position/power to either teach or be a jerk. I'm all for Christian charity..believe me...but darn it...hate to see a teacher treat a student this way -- especially when teachers demand respect (and should get it, yes). Ugh

  29. Even in laid back Hawaii, there are some really awful instructors. Those kind are a pain in the butt. They are the ones who think it is their duty (or even their right!) to teach our kids that the world is not going to cut them any slack. Huh. Well, I tell my kids that if their teacher is being mean/passive-aggressive, they, as a human being, have a right to stand up to them (politely). And, so do I, as their parent/legal guardian. However, I also tell them to LEARN fast: if there is a rule, follow it. There have been incidences where Teenie got bad marks for not having my signature on an otherwise 100% done project. I'm not kidding. How dumb is that? Dumb. Grade the content, morons! Alas! They want the parents signature on a paper for a grade, but do not want the parents to know if their kids are asking for Planned Parenthood help. Huh. It all makes zero logic.

    There is so much "discipline" stuff going on in schools today. Teachers are actually "powerless" and some kids are disrespectful and aggressive, knowing there really are no consequences for their behaviour. It's not behaviour that is getting the "red pen treatment" - it's small things, petty petty petty things like heading placement. At the end of the day, if the kids name is on the paper, identifying it outright, why be so picky about that? Because the teacher is a bit mean. That's what.

    We all grow from these things. I would take a wait and see stance before I pounced. If the teacher continues this kind of treatment of your son, (save everything!!!!) then take it up with his employer. Teachers aren't allowed to bully either.

    Prayers for you.

  30. Oh, and here, if you don't bring in "forced donations" of soap, sanitizer etc., you don't get points for your grades. It's really dumb. So, I'm buying my kids an A? Really really out of line.

  31. Very rude of the teacher. Wait until college...each instructor wants the papers in a different format..MLA, APA...etc...it's very frustrating. Things like paper formats shouldn't even exist in my opinion. The content is what matters.


I appreciate your comments -- sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself!