It's June. I don't even have to look at the calendar or feel the humidity to know what month it is. Guilt is my calendar or barometer. What crime have I committed? None that can be located in the D.C. Criminal or Civil Code. After all, how many teachers are considered criminals?
My guilt stems from the fact that appromimately 150 young people passed through my classroom door, and I could not bring most of them up to grade level. No matter how many behavioral objectives I wrote, individualized lessons I prepared, papers I corrected, calls to parents I made, reports I turned in, I could not get all of my students to reach the national norms.
Advancing a student's reading level from 2.2 to 2.9 would amount to success for a second grade teacher, but I teacher 10th grade. There's a big difference between an energetic 7-year-old and a tall, lanky 17-year-old who has trouble distinguishing between "when" and "went."
How on earth is he going to complete that summer job application? After all, kids who read at 2.9 need jobs, too. I worry about who's going to hire him. What kind of job will he have? Sweeping streets or working at a recreation center are his best bets. He won't have to read or write anything. But neither the Department of Environmental Services nor the Department of Recreation would want a 2.9 reader on a permanent basis.
If looking at reading levels isn't enough to make my stomach churn, I can always turn to thoughts of the Digitek sheets, the computerized grade report forms. On the right side of the sheet is a column marked "Final Grade" in which I am to blacken spaces that correspond with the letters A, B, C, D, F.
What do I do with 2.9 and 4.2 and 6.8? Should students with these scores pass to English 11? There's no way these scores approach 10.8 or 10.9 unless I add the scores together rather than think of them as belonging to individual students. But the scores represent individuals.
One answer to the grading dilemma is to evaluate the students on the basis of their mastery of the objectives listed in the English portion of the District's Competency Based Curriculum. Nevertheless, the fairness of this approach is questionable, since a number of my students had not mastered the English objectives for ninth grade. For some students, the only goal they reached was their 16th birthday, which made them immediately eligible for junior high school graduation.
Then there's the approach most teachers use for determining grades. After a student has been presented new concepts or objectives, he demonstrates that he has mastered them by completing assignments that are graded. These grades determine a student's advisory grade. We compute the student's yearly average based on his four advisory grades, add in his final exam grade, divide and - abracadabra - his final grade appears.
This approach works in most cases, but not when a student functions so far below the norm that he can only complete work presented on second- or third-grade level. If a student has a C average based on third-grade work, what type of grade is he entitled to? There's no special column for a third-grade C on a 10th grade report card. Therefore, I feel guilty if I fail him and guilty if I pass him.
But not all of my students make me feel guilty. There are those who make the climb from 10.5 to 11.2 and some who go even further. These students ease some of the pain.
My guilt also lessens a bit when former students drop by to tell of their successes. What a joy it was to hear that a former student is working for a Macon, Ga., newspaper this summer.
Unfortunately, these periods of elation are short-lived as I reflect upon the students I have had for whom there are no reporting jobs and for whom there never can be any. Thus, the guilt returns.