Elena is a beautiful 16-year-old who blithely drifted in and out of my English II classroom this year without any materials…. Over the course of eight months, Elena continued to leave assignments incomplete and did little class work… She lost study guides, lost materials, and lost interest in editing and revising her work.
So writes Colette Marie Bennett, veteran teacher and department chair, in a very good article for Education Week Teacher entitled To Pass or Not to Pass? The End-of-Year Moral Dilemma.
….On the rare occasion when Elena turned in work, she demonstrated that she was capable of writing on grade level. Numerous common assessments taken in class indicated that her reading comprehension was also on grade level…
Now, as the grades are totaled in June, I wonder: Do I hold her accountable for work left incomplete? …If I exempt her from less important assignments, am I reinforcing her lack of responsibility? Finally, is passing her fair to the students who did complete the assigned work?…Will re-enrolling her in 10th grade English bare a different result? Is she prepared or unprepared to meet the rigors of 11th grade English?
These seem like exactly the questions a good teacher ought to be pondering, and as I read them I thought: So why not address them to Elena?
Why not sit Elena down and put these questions on the table for her to consider?
- Elena, should I hold you accountable for your incomplete work?
- And by the way, what’s up with that? Would you please explain what’s going on with you that is preventing you from completing your assignments?
- Elena, are you ready for 11th grade English, or would you be better served by repeating 10th grade?
As a tutor, I consider my most important task to be supporting kids towards developing greater self-awareness, deeper self-knowledge, more effective study habits and increased diligence.
And so, I routinely reflect their behaviors back to them. I tell them what their study habits look like to me. I offer up my guesses on what they might be struggling with, and invite them to elaborate or to correct my impressions. I ask them to please tell me what’s going on inside their heads.
The resulting discussions are always lively and productive. Kids appreciate being enlisted as active partners in solving their own problems. We bemoan the passivity of our students, how tuned out they seem, how little invested they are in their own learning…
Ms. Bennett concludes: Ultimately, I need to make the decision that relegates Elena to summer school, requires her to repeat sophomore English, or allows her to move to junior English….she remains characteristically, blithely unaware.
But have educators and parents enabled, or even created, Elena’s “blithe umawareness”?
I don’t see a “moral dilemma” here; I see a concerned teacher who has collected a wealth of potentially growth-fostering observations and questions.
Now, I hope Ms. Bennett shares them with the very student who needs to confront them!