Category Archives: grades

Starting Class

Today I started class with these directions:

Today, everyone should be finished writing their EOC paper. If you’re not done yet, then that’s where you need to start. Everyone else who is done will move on to pages 13 and 15 in your packets [gesture to the list of directions on the board]. If you don’t yet have a partner for these pages, let me know and I’ll set you up with someone. The directions are on each sheet, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week. And remember, everyone’s paper is turned in the same way, so to find your partner’s paper, just go to the document where you gave me the link for your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday. Your partner’s paper will be there too.

When you’re done with that, let me know and I will give you the next step for our writing process today.

Then, a few minutes later:

Me: Boy 1 says he’s done. Is anyone else finished and ready for a partner?
Boy 2: I am.
Me: OK. So you two are going to read each other’s papers and complete those pages in the packet.
Boy 1: What pages?
Me: Pages 13 and 15.
Boy 1: What packet?
Me: The orange packet. The packet we’ve done all of your EOC work in all week.
Boy 1: I don’t have that.
Me: Where is it?
Boy 1: I think I put it in the basket.
Me: OK, then it’s still in the basket. Go ahead and get it.
Boy 2: Which pages are we doing?
Me: Pages 13 and 15.
Boy 2: I don’t have my packet.
Me: Where is it?
Boy 2: It’s at home.
Me: That packet has three of your EOC grades in it.
Boy 2: Yeah, can you just print the pages for today for me?

So I print the pages, then when I bring them to Boy 2, the boy next to him speaks up.

Boy 3: What do I do when I’m done?
Me: You’ll get together with someone and read their paper. These two haven’t started yet, so how about we do a triad instead: 3 read 1’s paper, 1 read 2’s, and 2 read 3’s.
Boy 3: What do we do with their paper?
Me: You’ll complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 3: What packet?
Me: The orange packet. The packet we’ve done all of your EOC work in all week.

Boy 2: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday. Boy 1, have you opened 2’s paper yet?
Boy 1: No. Why?
Me: Because you need to read his paper and complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 1: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday.
Boy 2: I have that document open. Now what do I do?
Me: Click the link for the document next to his name.
Boy 1: This document?
Me: Yes, that’s the document where everyone turned in their work. See? There’s yours right there.
Boy 1: OK, now what?
Me: Click the link for the document next to his name.
Boy 1: OK, now what?
Me: You’ll complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 1: I already did this.
Me: This is a new sheet that you’re completing for your partner’s paper, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week.

Boy 3: So what do I do now?
Me: Do you have 1’s paper open?
Boy 3: No. Why do I need his paper?
Me: Because you’re going to read his paper and use it to complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 3: I was reading my paper.
Me: There’s no need to read your paper. You wrote your paper; you already know what you had to say. You need to read someone else’s paper for the analysis.
Boy 3: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday.
Boy 3: The link won’t even open.
Me: You have to click on it to open it.
Boy 3: I already did this.
Me: This is a new sheet that you’re completing for your partner’s paper, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week.

Boy 1: Is this all we’re doing this period?
Me: Based on how well things are going so far, yes, this is probably all you’ll be doing today.
Boy 1: Sweet!

Then about twenty minutes later, I see a girl across the room watching a video on her phone with her laptop put away.

Me: Are you considering yourself all done?
Girl: Yeah.
Me: OK.
Girl: I don’t have a partner though.
Me: I can get you a partner. Are you wanting to get your computer out again so you can do the partner activity?
Girl: No, not really.
Me: OK. Then make sure your packet gets turned in. You’ll just have a zero for that portion of your EOC.
Girl: OK. Do you still want me to do page 15?
Me: No, because that was part of the partner activity and you said you don’t want to do that. So like I said, you’ll have a zero for that portion of your EOC.
Girl: OK.

I promise you, the amount of repetition in this post is entirely accurate.


End of Term

Tomorrow is the last day of school this year, so that means that today and tomorrow are finals. And that means that I’m seeing students I haven’t seen in a while. Because nothing says “last ditch effort” than showing up to take a final exam in a class that you haven’t attended all quarter. By the way, in case it isn’t clear, those students won’t be passing.

This has been a transformative year for me. I’ve gone from being sure that I need to quit my job to being sure that I’ll retire from teaching in another 25 years. I’ve also realized that there’s a little bit of love inside me for this job and for these kids. I never thought I went into teaching because of the people side of the job, but after ten years and some really incredible teacher friends sharing their version of what their passion looks and feels like, I’ve come to accept that yes, I really did want to teach because I wanted to work with people. One teacher friend told me that at the beginning of every year, she tells her students that she intends to love them, and that being together in the classroom every day and reading together and writing together are the glues that form that bond. I like that: I intend to love you. Love has always been a weird thing for me – difficult to recognize and accept and even difficult to pinpoint within myself. But this year I’m seeing it more and more, and in fact I’m seeing it enough that I’m even seeing it in my classroom.

I recently went to a graduation party for a student who I had in middle school. Do you remember that class four years ago? It was a tough year, but we made it through and now those kids are all going off to college. Anyway, the party was for Sweet Girl (read more about her here and here) and it was so, so wonderful to be invited to her party and to hear all about what her and a bunch of those other kids will be doing in the fall. In a strange way, it has been this class coming full circle that has helped me decide that I needed to stay in teaching. Maybe the events of that year were what gave me doubt in the first place, but it has definitely been those kids who have had the greatest impact not only on my decision not to leave, but also my realization that I’m in this for the love, for the heart, for the people. They are all where they are today because of me – not just academically, but emotionally as well. We processed together, healed together. And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t loved them.

As I clean my desk and get ready for summer vacation, I find that I’m looking forward to next school year more than I have possibly ever. I’m going to enjoy my summer, spending time with my kids at the pool and taking day trips and reading books and laughing with friends, but I think next year is going to be great. I’ll be in the same room (remember, I moved schools two years ago, then changed rooms last summer), teaching the same thing (English 11!), and I have a leadership position working with teachers as we make some pretty drastic (for some) changes to our grading policies district-wide. Things will be good at home, too: my kids will be attending the same school all day for the first time ever, we’re getting a foreign exchange student from Spain, and we’re starting some really awesome remodeling projects. All in all, things are looking bright. And I’m grateful.

Just. Do. The. Work.

Two weeks ago, I assigned what I thought was going to be a pretty easy assignment. They had to write a letter that starts, “Dear Students,” to the students at our school. It could be about anything at all – as long as it had the audience in mind. And they had to use pathos – emotion – to get their point across. Yell! Plead! Flatter! Anything emotional. Easy, right?

Dear Students, Get off your lazy asses and come to school every day! Dear Students, Put away your cell phones during class! They make you feel so important, but it’s a lie! That text can wait another half hour until the bell rings! Dear Students, Speak up in class! When you refuse to participate, you don’t get the luxury of also complaining about how boring school is!

Oh, wait. Those are my letters I’d write to students. Back on track…

So the assignment was an easy one. And they had two whole class periods to do it in – three hours to write the minimum requirement of 300 words.

Only about half of them turned it in. The ones I received were meh. So it goes.

This Monday, I had a kid ask me if he could still turn his in. Yes. Absolutely. Please turn it in. It was a decently large grade in the grade book, so getting this paper in will make a difference for him.

All I have to say is: thank the gods I know more about functional technology than my students.

This student turns in to me a nearly four-page paper about cell phone use. It’s not set up like a letter, so I just scan through. That’s when I found them: in-text citations. This kid who’s on his phone all class period, barely pulling a D in most classes, never has the answers to questions, turning in the assignment two weeks late…this kid wrote two extra pages, did research, and cited his sources? Right. Then I noticed the title of the document: Cell Phones 12A. He did the paper for English 12A – another class!

I emailed him back and told him he must have sent me the wrong paper. Yesterday in class he asked if I’d changed his grade yet and I let him know about the email (which he said he saw). He tried telling me it was the right paper. *ahem* I told him why I thought this – the research, the document title. He looked at me wide-eyed and finally stuttered out “Oh…uh…yeah…I…I mean…Yeah, that’s…like…not the…not it…not the right paper…”

This morning I have another paper from him. It’s about teacher tenure – not exactly a topic I would have expected a student to write about in a letter to other students. Well, Google Docs has this awesome feature at the top of the page that allows you to see all the edits made to the document. According to this log, the student started writing this assignment two weeks before it was even assigned. That means he’s either clairvoyant or lying again.

I’m giving him one more chance – and told him so. He’s feigning ignorance, saying that he had no idea that those documents weren’t the right ones. I told him to double check this time because the next time I received a file that wasn’t the right assignment, I would write him up for plagiarism. He argued that he really did write those papers, so we had to talk about the definition of plagiarism a little.

Then he asked, “So, if I can’t find the right essay, should I rewrite it?”

Yes, child. Yes you should.

What happened?

We spent a couple weeks working on these research papers and this morning when I was grading them, I opened one that felt, quite honestly, like a punch to the gut. Here’s what I wrote to the kid:

I’m honestly baffled that after so much time in class you wrote barely more than five lines of text. Why didn’t you ask for help? Why did you tell me every time I asked that things were going well? Why didn’t you submit this to me earlier so I could see that you were struggling? With this being the entirety of your paper, there is no way for you to pass this class.

I didn’t expect to hear anything back, but I did. And it wowed me.

Its bad i know. I’m capable of much more i just decided to be lazy in this class, which got me no where but with a very low F. I’ve already been thinking about how i’m gonna have to retake this class, but that’s my fault for not doing work when i should have been. You’re a very kind teacher and i should have put forth more effort in your class. I have more potential i just lacked motivation, next year when i retake this class i hope to pass with an A.

He almost wrote more in that email than he did in his paper.


I presented at a conference yesterday about grading practices. It was my first conference presentation and it went really well, I think. (I haven’t read the comment forms yet because I don’t want to possibly be told otherwise.)

Anyway, the weirdest thing happened! In the middle of my presentation I realized that everyone in my audience – about 20 people – was paying attention. They were looking at me! And taking notes!

They looked engaged.

It has been a year since I’ve encountered this! In my old job, this happened all the time. However, here, I consider it a good day if half the kids are looking somewhat in my direction at roughly the same time. And I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of them taking notes.

Do you  want to know something? I’ve really missed that!

Agony. Absolute agony.

Have you ever been excited about teaching a lesson because, seriously, how could it not be awesome? And then you get there and you start leading in to things and you know instantly and with absolute certainty that your students are just humoring you – that they’re just going through the motions, following the directions because you’re the teacher?

Yeah, me too. Like just the other day.

Actually, side note, this happens a lot more often to me in the alternative school than it did in the middle school. More on that later (probably).

This story isn’t a very awesome story; there’s nothing noteworthy or funny  or poignant about any of it. We read a chapter from All Quiet on the Western Front, I gave them a writing prompt based on a quotation from the chapter, they wrote about it, then we did a philosophical chairs discussion. Let me tell you – you talk to most teachers and they freaking love this discussion strategy. If you’d have talked to me a year ago, I would have told you all about how I freaking loved this discussion strategy. But, jeez-oh-pete, these kids wouldn’t discuss! I sat it up like a champ. I had my notepad out to jot down every wonderful bit of sagacity that came out of every single kid. I thanked them ahead of time for their participation. And then they sat there. Looking at me. With their eyes half closed and their backs all rounded, slumped over in their chairs. In the end, I felt like I had to beat them to get them to say anything and gave them credit for speaking up at all. It was agony. For all of us.

It depresses me to see teens with so little oomph left in them. I hate knowing that they all have shit going on in their lives, but yet they don’t see education as a way out of that. I’m frustrated with them and for the education system for creating human beings who don’t care to engage even a little bit unless it’s to fight someone or to stir up drama. I’m disheartened at how many of my students only know about failing, so they just take a zero (and another one on top of that…and another one on top of that) like a champ, not even blinking. And I feel like I’m going crazy trying to get them to fight for themselves by asking them to use technology in creative and interesting ways, and encouraging them to discuss whether humans are naturally cooperative or naturally competitive, and playing bombing sounds while we read a chapter about a WWI bombardment, and welcoming them when they walk into my classroom, and getting excited about typically mundane things like the genius German recruitment system in the early 1900s, and bringing them candy, and making sure they get up and move during class every so often, and all the other things I do to get them to wake the fuck up but just result in the same old blah.

I like my job. I do. And I don’t just mean my job as a teacher, I mean my job at this school. I like who I work with, both teachers and students. My administration is great. And I took this job because I needed something different. I wanted a new opportunity for growth and learning. I craved novelty. But I will tell you…This job has made me doubt and question so much about childhood and adulthood, school, the purpose of graduation, the authenticity of grades, rules and expectations, the fine line between passing and failing.

But maybe that’s what I needed. I think questioning helps us learn the best. So I guess this is what’s called “growth.”

Parenting Tips

just saw this post in my “drafts” folder. I have no idea what it was doing in there, why I never published it, or how it sat there for three years without me noticing. But I read it and needed to share because it’s a great story about a great kid who had a great three years of middle school and is now rocking it like a boss in high school.
***END NOTE***

Sometimes, as a teacher, I find that I have to dispense parenting advice. It always makes me a little nervous, because, like, what gives me the right or the ability or the know-how to tell you how to raise your kid? My oldest is three. That makes me quite the novice when it comes to the whole parenthood business. However, I remind myself that I am a reasonable, observant adult who deals with a lot of middle schoolers daily – and have now for six years. Well, more than that if you count the four years or so of work I did with teens before I even became a teacher. Usually, my parenting advice comes in the form of telling parents to tighten up on their kids, to hold them accountable at home, to set up a specific homework time and space at home and how to teach their children time management and organizational skills.

But this week, something new and exciting happened.

I received an email from a concerned parent because her son, we’ll call him Mohawk in honor of his current hair-do, had a D in class. They had gone on a week-long vacation (to Mexico!) and he missed two big assignments at the beginning of third quarter. He talked to me about the assignments his first day back, which was about a week ago. The asignments required some reading beforehand, since they were based on our class novel, so I knew it would take him some time to get them in. I’m usually in full favor of parents hounding their kids about their work, especially when they’re in sixth grade like Mohawk, but this time, I thought things could be a little different. So I took a deep breath and told Mom just that. Here’s what I said:

I know the D is difficult to see, but I really want to encourage you to let it be for a little bit. [Mohawk] is an amazing kid and an outstanding student and he manages things like work load and time better than a lot of his peers. He has talked to me about his grade since you came back from your trip and I gave him the materials to make up those two assignments, so it’s good that he’s telling you he knows what he needs to do. My vote here is to let go and allow him to take care of things. I suspect that he won’t let you down. And as far as his grades are concerned, I don’t take off any points for late work, so when he gets the assignments in they’ll be eligible for full credit.

She wrote back almost immediately, thanking me for the praise and confidence in her son and letting me know that she would indeed let him handle it on his own time.

That was yesterday.

This morning, Mohawk turned in both of those assignments. Their grades: A+.

I love it when kids are awesome.

Medical Advice, Slapping Kids, and Chinese Jesus

This kid comes over by my desk, coughs and makes all sorts of throat noises, and spits a giant wad of phlegm in my garbage can.

Me: Ugh. That was gross.
Boy: Aw, come on. It’s natural. I didn’t want to swallow it.
Me: Fair enough. But maybe next time could you make less a show of it?
Boy: It’s not that bad. Look at it! It’s fine. It’s even just a little bit of my favorite color: black.
Me: Your phlegm is black?
Boy: Yeah, a little.
Me: So I’m not a doctor or anything, but that’s actually bad. I’m not technically qualified to dispense medical advice, but I think you should lay off the inhalants.


I have a ridiculous number of kids in my second period failing because they haven’t turned in the last essay (…or the essay before that…and a handful of other assignments). I have this girl who, today, kept talking to her neighbor, so I go over there.

Me: [Girl]! You need to get this done so you can turn it in. You, especially, should not have the grade that you currently have in my class!
Girl: Why me especially?
Me: Because you’re here every day. Because you are engaged, you pay attention, you ask good questions, and I know you know how to do all of this. I just need you to finish something – even just finish part of something – and hand it to me so I can give you something that resembles a grade in the computer!
Girl: OK, that makes sense. You’re right. Hey, where did the coffee pot go? I always steal some of the cold coffee from the day before and then my third period teacher puts it in her microwave and warms it up for me.
Me: I don’t know; it actually belongs to the teacher I share the room with. But you need to focus on this assignment and not worry about coffee.
Girl: But I like coffee.
Me: You should also like passing English class.
Girl: I do. So…How was your weekend?
Me: Please. Do. Your. Work.
Girl: I’m just trying to be nice.
Me: I kind of want to slap you in the face right now.
Girl: That’s also fair. I probably deserve it.
Her neighbor: If you did it, we wouldn’t tell.


I walk into a classroom while another teacher is passing out a paper with a bunch of faces on it – all civil rights leaders through time.

Girl: Oh, I totally know all these people. That’s Abraham Lincoln—
Boy: That’s not Abraham Lincoln.
Girl: That is Abraham Lincoln. If you think it’s not Abraham Lincoln, then who is it? That’s right. I know. I know it’s Abraham Lincoln. [NOTE: It was not Abraham Lincoln. It was Henry David Thoreau.] That’s Martin Luther King. That’s some guy. That’s Jesus. That’s Chinese Jesus. [NOTE: Dalai Lama.] That’s Rosa Parks. That’s another Chinese guy. [NOTE: Gandhi.] And that’s Buddha. [NOTE: Nelson Mandela]. Except Buddha was fat. That guy’s not fat enough. Buddha was a fat guy with a man bun.
Boy: Buddha was a skinny guy with a man bun.
Girl: I’m telling you, I know all of these. That’s Buddha.


You know how everyone either thinks that teachers really like grading or really hate it? Well, I’m here to tell you that, in general, it’s not something we look forward to. It’s a necessary evil, though, and it informs our instruction, and we all know that good things come of assigning work and then assessing it, and on and on and on…but I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys it.

And now, it’s confession time.

Here at the alternative school, I have fewer kids than ever. I have only 27 kids on my roster – and of that 27, only about 15 turn in work on a regular basis. Case in point: my morning class has 13 kids and only 4 of them turned in the assignment this morning even though they had 45 minutes to work on it (it should have taken no more than 30).

Long story short, I have considerably less grading to do than ever. However…

I still put it off. I still dread it. Maybe it’s leftover trauma from having 100 essays to grade at a time for so many years. Maybe it’s just the sheer fact that I have to schedule time to grade. It seriously takes me twelve seconds to grade these days; it should honestly be the first thing on my “to do” list. I have no excuses. I have zero excuses for why I passed back an assignment today rather than yesterday that the kids did on Monday and I have zero excuses for the thirteen essays sitting in my inbox right now. Agh! I should be reading those instead of typing this!

OK, OK. Enough. Adios.

Just do it.

I haven’t had a lot of experience with apathy in past teaching positions, but I feel like I’m making up for that now. And you know what? I don’t get it.

Let me paint you a picture. I start second block today by talking about how we’re going to work on revision so they can work more on their papers they wrote last week. I ask, “How many of you feel like you know what it means to revise?” Silence. So I try again. “Raise your hand if you know you’ve done a fair amount of revision in English classes in the past.”



Finally, a boy in the back throws his hand up in the air. “Sure, yeah. Revision.”

“Don’t tell me things you think I want to hear,” I tell them. “I just want to know if anyone is awake today, if you can hear the sound of my voice, if you still comprehend English. I’m trying to make this more of a dialogue. I can move on when I feel like these different items are working in our mutual favor.”

Silence. Did I mention not even half of them are looking at me?

So I try again. “Has anybody heard of revision before this moment right now?” Two girls raise their hands and look at me.


This, friends, is what I don’t get. They woke up this morning. They got dressed. They’re sitting in my room. They’re already at an alternative school – it’s not like there are other chances, different avenues. If you go through the effort of getting up and dressed and to school and in class, why wouldn’t you just try?

And that’s all I asked them to do: try. I gave them a writing task and asked them to try. I even told them, “There are no wrong answers. Just try.” And still, half of them didn’t even pick up a pencil.

I’m not asking this rhetorically. I really want answers. What is the personal benefit of just sitting there?

Really. If you sit there, you’re not doing the work. If you’re not doing the work, you’re failing. If you’re failing you’re getting further behind.

And then more: How do I fix this?