Thursday, April 25, 2013

Letter To The Teacher... Read 'Em & Weep Style (Updated Version)

Dear Teacher,


My heart is heavy as I sit down to write this.  Please know that none of this is said lightly or without much consideration.

After the Civil War test, in February, we had several lengthy discussions.  I thought, that while tense and sometimes frustrating for both of us, we had come to an understanding.  You acknowledged that you have a defensive response when parents come in and challenge a grading question, but that you were willing to work on that.  You said that you were willing to thoughtfully reconsider, not immediately react and dismiss, a request for you to review a question we felt was unfairly graded.  You said that if we felt Ruby's answer showed equal understanding of the topic and was an accurate alternate response to the question, that you would reconsider how you had graded that answer.  Yet, the first opportunity you have had to do so, you chose to respond in the same defensive and dismissive manner as before.  Either you did not mean what you said, or you have forgotten your promise, or you have changed your mind.  We do not bring in Ruby's work to contest her grades every day, or every week, or every month.  There have been a very few number of times when we have felt that your grading of a certain question, due to the ambiguous wording of a test question, was not fair to the students because it was open to interpretation.  In those instances we have felt that it was important to contest those specific questions. 

We show you respect every single day when we send our daughter in to your classroom with her work diligently and thoughtfully completed.  We show you respect when she is well prepared for your tests. We show you respect by having our daughter show you respect in the classroom.

We do not feel that you show us the same level of respect.  This is not about one question or one grade.  This is about the way you communicate with us.  Shushing me, as you did more than once during our conversation about the Civil War test, or asking my husband if he understands the material is condescending and feels disrespectful to us as parents.  Insinuating, and verbalizing, your belief that this is "our" concern and problem, and that you don't believe Ruby is upset about her grades, is overstepping your bounds as her teacher and is inappropriate.  You do not have the knowledge of our family, or of Ruby's feelings and motivations, to pass that kind of judgment on us.  Taking Ruby aside, after our discussions with you, to reiterate why her answer is wrong and yours is in fact correct, after we have come in to challenge that, is undermining our authority as her parents.  I specifically asked you not to do that again, and made it clear that we felt that action was inappropriate.  We are incredibly disappointed that you felt you needed to assert yourself in that way with her again.  She feels uncomfortable and intimidated by you when you do, and is not comfortable standing up for herself.  We do not feel that she needs to, nor do we want her to.  I thought I had made that clear.  Please respect our parenting decisions.  If we come to you to discuss a grading question we are having that discussion with you, not Ruby.

This whole situation has been quite devastating to us as a family.  This has been an incredibly stressful year. I do not believe you have any idea how much stress your academic requirements and communication style have placed on our family and others.  I know of many parents who have given up, or let their year in your classroom go, but that is not our academic standard.  We have shown you the respect of doing our best work, but to do that Ruby has had to give up all free time and extracurriculars, family down time, and sibling play time.  As have we all.  This is not an isolated sacrifice, this disrupts our entire life from 4PM on.  She has easily 2 hours of homework on a typical night and if there is a test she will be studying from the time she gets home until bedtime.  Does that sound right to you? For a fourth grader to put in 5 hours of studying after a full day of school? It doesn't feel right to us.  It doesn't feel appropriate for a 10 year old, and yet I know she is hardly alone in this experience.  When she puts in the time it takes to do well in your class, with your grading standards, it seems only fair and just that you would show her effort and commitment the same level of respect when we come in to question your grading.  I think that is a reasonable request.  I think that is a respectful request.    

This year has been a very sad year for us, because we had looked forward to our daughters having a wonderful, nurturing, academic environment.  We had truly believed that St. Paul would provide that for them.  Despite an absolutely wonderful kindergarten experience, fourth grade has been so emotionally challenging that we are not sure we want to continue on at St. Paul.  It is a shame that this experience has been so unnecessarily trying. 

Why do you feel you need to be so unforgiving in your grading?  And I don't mean the few questions we have challenged... I mean your everyday grading.  You consistently mark off correct math answers for labeling that is not worded exactly the way you want, and we do not contest that. If we did, we'd be at it every single day.  It is defeating to a child, to spend a couple of hours carefully doing her work, to completely understand the topics and have correct answers, and still get those answers knocked down on some kind of technicality.  A technicality that changes every single day. Your expectations are not consistent, or clearly communicated. I read every single lesson, every single chapter of every book, every note in the notebooks, I do extra research online, and I still can't figure out what you are looking for.  How can you expect these children to? What constitutes a correct label in math seems to change at your whim. "Miles/hour" is the correct label one day, whereas "miles in an hour" is considered correct the next. It feels arbitrary, and at no time does it actually assess their mathematical understanding.  

I would really like to know what you feel this type of critical grading is instilling in these children?  What kind of effect do you expect for it to carry over onto their families?  It creates undue stress.  It does not cultivate a love of learning.  It doesn't even cultivate a better understanding of the material.  After 9 months, it has created an apathy in our daughter.  She doesn't even want to try anymore, or come to school in the morning.  What is the point in her putting this time and energy in? What is the point of the daily sacrifice we have had to make to our family time? It is a question we have had to ask ourselves nearly everyday. It is heartbreaking to watch your child study so long that they are mentally and physically exhausted.  It is heartbreaking to contemplate the few childhood hours she has left to play and enjoy her tender age... wasted night after night... for no valid academic reason.  Your academic demands are too high, and ironically don't even accurately measure their academic understanding.  They are higher than what is expected from the fifth grade in this same school.  It doesn't make sense. It isn't necessary. Why would you wish these children to lose any part of the joy they could be having as children?  If 20 spelling words a week is acceptable for fifth grade, why do you demand 25?  

We are paying for an education, and I don't feel that the type of education you are providing has been in Ruby's best interest.  She is learning something in your classroom, but it isn't the material. She is learning that she isn't good enough, that effort and understanding aren't enough.  She is learning that anything less than your particular day's definition of a "perfect" answer is worthless.  You are demanding a level of arbitrary perfection from the kids that is both unreasonable and undefinable. She is learning to hate school.  She is learning that learning itself is rewardless work and not a joy. Why can't learning be joyful in your classroom?  Why can't a correct math question just be left that way without you nitpicking how it is labeled? Why can't you give them that satisfaction?  I really don't understand. Why isn't correct enough?  Why isn't understanding the material the goal? Why aren't you building these children up, instead of tearing them down? I don't know you, and I do not know or understand your motivations.  I believe you are a well meaning woman, but it feels like you sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees.

When I came in to challenge the Civil War test grade, you accused me of being a perfectionist; you have misjudged my motives. I don't need my daughter to have a perfect score or perfect grades, I care only that she does her best, and I beam with pride at the success she has had despite the hardships of your classroom. She is a truly amazing girl, and it is devastating to see what this year has done to her spirit. We come in, not to raise her grade, but to challenge your grading.  We come in to defend her effort, because she deserves that.  Her effort is, at minimum, worthy of that.   

I don't know where to go from here. This situation has had both my husband and I in tears.  How do we make the best decision for our daughter?  How do we show her respect for the work and sacrifice she has put in this year? How do we respectfully work with someone who has repeatedly shown that they are not interested in seeing someone else's point of view?  If you were in our shoes what would you do?  Would you show your child that even in the face of adversity you should stand up for your beliefs?  When you feel in your heart and mind that your cause is just and right, what would you do?  Would you show your child that no matter how difficult someone is to work with, that you keep trying? That is what we have chosen, but at what cost?  The stress of confronting you, and the disappointment at your continued rigidity and dismissal of our concerns, has created a family stress that is breaking us down.  Fourth grade shouldn't do this to families.  We have known tremendous stress as a family... life threatening childhood epilepsy, repeated eye surgeries, 4 job changes, 3 moves, witnessing an armed robbery, losing loved ones, car accidents, being hit by a tornado... we know stressful life events... and yet, this has been the most stressful year of our lives.  Your academic standards and rigid grading, even for a smart top performing student with parental support, has caused an unbearable amount of stress.  We may be alone in expressing this, but, sadly, I know we are not alone in feeling it. 

I don't know how this letter will be received.  We hope and pray that you are able to read it with an open heart and an open mind.  We have tried our best to work with you, and have tried to communicate openly and clearly with you about our concerns throughout the year.  Disappointingly, it has had no effect. We do not have a set outcome in mind in writing this; the truth is we are just exhausted and heartbroken.  Our only hope is that you might thoughtfully consider how your words and actions are perceived and experienced by others.  The next time we approach you, we pray that you might be willing to show us a little more empathy and a little less defensiveness.  We are just two parents who love our daughters and want what is best for them.

We wish you peace. 


Sincerely,

Mrs & Mr F

P.S. Suck it.

13 comments:

Nutmeg said...

are you sending this? Because you should also cc the head of the school and the curriculum director or whomever else.

I'm not looking forward to what REAL school is going to bring us, with Eli and his meltdowns and just writing his own name properly. Kid is so diligent and you are so on top of things.. those things are not going to be working in our favor.

I have no advice because I don't know what the heck I"m talking about, but I just feel your stress and anxiety in this letter. I'm sorry for you and kid and baby and mr. f.

Chris Howard said...

Damn, I'm sorry you guys have to go through this. I hate it when teachers grade on things that are arbitrary or don't add to the student's understanding. It just seems petty.

Mrs Furious said...

We are sending it after school this afternoon. Today is Grandparent day and we don't want to make that awkward for anyone. Yes, I am cc'ing the principal. It is such a small school there really isn't another head official. If we weren't paying for this shit, I don't know, it certainly would make me mad, but I might be able to chalk it up to an unfortunate year. At least we'd have had the opportunity to try and change classes (we can't as there is only one class per grade). It pisses me off that the school knows about all of this (she's been a problem for 40 years), and they won't/can't get rid of her but sent us into slaughter anyway. That ticks me off. I don't know that our letter will have any effect at all, but at least I'll have expressed myself, and there is some satisfaction in that. We'd have hauled her out in Sept if we had any idea this stuff would still be going on at the end of the year. We'd take her out now, but socially that is a nightmare.

charm73 said...

I really hope for Ruby's sake that Grade 5 will build her back up and give her a better learning experience.

Mrs Furious said...

charm73,
me, too! One of our major struggles is that we feel very confident that the 5th grade teacher is wonderful teacher. If not for that glimmer of hope, I'd just pull her out now. I also just hate for her to have to change schools again.

Kellie said...

Good for you! That's badass letter and I hope, hope, hope that this woman takes what you say to heart and her future classes won't have to have a miserable year.

Kiki said...

Ugh. Shame on this teacher and shame on this school. How unfortunate that no one has done anything and let this woman continue to act as she wanted.

In my dreams I start a small school, where its play based, learning is in the discovery and knowledge comes from trying and succeeding as well as in the failing and learning that school is a safe place to fall.

I wish this for Ruby and of course Charlotte; such lovely, bright girls with an internal light that shines bright no matter the dark. That's because of you Mr. and Mrs. F....you keep that light burning bright and nothing can take that away. Even one crappy teacher for one crappy school year.

Thinking of you all and wishing that this letter reaches their hearts, as it did mine, and changes are made!

Much love,
K

katieo said...

I'm so sorry you guys have had to deal with this! UGH. Very well-written letter. Agree with Nutmeg - send it to everyone in charge.

For what it's worth, through several years in college - I had a horrible mentor. Verbally abusive. Manipulative. Mean. (but fakey nice). I get a stomach ache just thinking about that situation. She stayed on as faculty for TEN YEARS... after a stream of continuous complaints for years and years. After students just stopped graduating because of her. (or transfering...)
Despite all this she got tenure TWICE. SHe finally was let go last year and so many people are so happy. It has changed the entire department and even community.

Anyway - I share all of this because man, I'm just so sorry. I totally get that this kind of thing affects so many people in such a negative way. Poor Ruby is at the center of it but it reaches so much farther than that.

You are **always** right in standing up for good, for transparency, for honesty, and for compassion. Always. Good for you. (But you know, horrible for you all.) :(

Julie said...

Fantastic letter. It's unbelievable how stressful this teacher makes 4th grade. I don't understand why she is still at the school. Has she been teaching at this school for 40 years? The woman should retire.

I know how stressful a difficult teacher situation is. Murphy had no where near the amount of homework Kid has, but it was the same kind of thing where I could not understand what the heck they wanted at times and so much needless busy work and the same kind of 'needling' on stuff. As nuts as our particular situation is, once M. was out of that class & I wasn't trying to hunt down the work to make up, the stress level in this house dropped a lot, which is good since we have so much to be stressed about anyway. Obviously, our situation is a whole different kind of wacky nightmare. But the relief your family will feel when this year is done will be so great.

You are right. She is wrong. She should not be teaching children. Kid is in freaking elementary school, not working on her doctorate. This woman has issues.

I believe it when you say this year has been more stressful than all of those incredibly stressful life situations your family has experienced. Especially when you see how hard it is on your child.

Go eat some scones and don't feel badly about it.

Mrs Furious said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and mostly just believing me. I am about to send the letter and of course have spent the whole day worry if it is the right thing to do. So, thank you, for telling me it is. I need that! I just had to see her and spend an awkward amount of time with her while all the while thinking... "You have no idea what is about to go down".

Her family is one of the founding families for the church that owns the school, so she is apparently untouchable. She is well past retirement age, and they've all been hoping that any year now will be her last. I just wish it had been last year ;)

Mrs Furious said...

it's done, I sent it. I edited it some which I think has added a bit more of the true heartbreak we feel... which I think will maybe help this letter on it's receiving end. Plus I added in our wishes for peace and our prayers at it being well received, which in this case will definitely help the medicine go down ;)

Brenda said...

Well done Mrs F. You are always right in advocating for your children. I hope you feel better having sent it. I hope it results in some action that is beneficial. I hope Kid is doing okay too. Hugs to you guys.

Supermom said...

I'm so sorry you are dealing with this!!! She does SUCK!!!

When did you send her the letter? I'm impatiently waiting her response.

Lil O is doing amazing in the Montessori School and we have even enrolled Baby M in the fall for K.

Thank you so much for all the kind words you have sent my way and I hope you know that I stand behind you in this matter and I can come up for a good ole fashioned tag team at R's school. *wink*

xoxoo

PS. Text me cause I lost all numbers during a phone change.

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