We’re approaching the middle of a grading period at CHS and, as such, faculty are being asked to write assessments for students ahead of the student-parent-teacher conferences being scheduled for later this month. I spent last weekend writing what I considered to be thoughtful, fair, and considered paragraphs describing what I felt each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses are.
On Tuesday, one my my students – we’ll call her Lisa – came to me to ask how she was doing in class. As I had my computer open on the table, I was able to tell her exactly how she was doing – that, technically, she was receiving an A, but in my assessment, I wrote that I didn’t feel that the grade was entirely indicative of her effort in the course.
I find Lisa to be exceedingly belligerent in class. She has decided that she thinks a certain way, that she’s right, and that to entertain the idea of changing her mind is either weak or pointless (because, you know, she’s already right!). She often openly scoffs at the work that we do in class, giving off the impression that she believes that anything that has to be uncovered with effort is at best contrived and at worst is artificial. She’s the kind of kid who doesn’t take to interpretation; she’s a strict authorial intention kind of gal who believes that the only meaning a piece has – whether that piece is art or music or literature – is the meaning that its creator intended. Anything else is, quite frankly, bullshit.
While I didn’t write those exact things in the paragraph, my point was essentially the same. I am sure, I wrote, that Lisa could excel in the class if she were willing to entertain the possibility that there are other ways of thinking, and that having to dig for something doesn’t necessarily make it invalid.
Lisa came to me yesterday afternoon and asked for a private conference. In it, she told me outright that she was offended by my assessment of her behavior in class and asked me to revise my paragraph to more closely resemble the image that she has of herself and her work in the course. Her argument started out as, “I’m getting an A, how can my assessment be so bad?” moved on to “I put a LOT of effort in this class; I talk all the time;” continued through, “You should be giving Jim a terrible assessment; he never does ANYTHING;” (I shut that shit right down) and finished with the flourish of “I don’t need any of this stuff. I already know what I’m going to be when I grow up. I know what I know. None of this matters to me.”
When I pointed out to her that she just argued the exact point I was making, she…. didn’t get it.
This conversation went on far longer than I would have liked, and she didn’t just leave it there. About five minutes after class ended, I saw her in conference with the other English teacher (who, I am desperately hoping, chooses to NOT confront me about this). So. Not. Cool.
I headed straight to my boss’s office at the first opportunity (and, as luck would have it, the guidance counselor was there, too) to relate the whole story. It turned out that I didn’t need to; they both already heard nearly everything (ah; the joys of working in a ridiculously small school!).
The upshot is that both of these women have my back. They’ve seen the same behavior in Lisa in other classes. In fact, the director of the school used to teach here, and Lisa confronted her about an assessment she wrote, too. I was told that she’s also challenged just about every other teacher she’s ever had. It would seem that I’m in good company.
I am not changing my assessment. She’s doing all the work, she’s passing the class, but her willingness to give over to the process – to open her mind, to consider new ideas, and to challenge herself beyond what is safe, easy or (in her mind) “right” – has to change if she wants a better assessment. I’m not in this to teach my kids materials; I’m here to teach them how to become agile critical thinkers. Lisa is not thinking. Lisa is just going through the motions. I don’t give full credit for that.