Monday, June 24, 2013

The Response (this is a long time coming)

So, I fear at this point this will be a bit anticlimactic. Obviously, we have decided to stay on at the school for another year, which probably infers that things worked out with the principal.

Here it goes anyway... I sent the letter to Kid's teacher and the principal over a weekend about a month before school got out. I honestly can't even remember what the tipping point on that was... because there had been so freaking many! I think it was most likely another test question marked wrong (incorrectly). I had tried to just sit there and live with it and thought we'd take them out at the end of the year... but it really ate me up to watch the utter incompetency keep coming home. I mean, let's not forget, we are actually paying for this!

This is a woman who pronounced infamous... "IN-famous" and gave as an example "My husband is an in-famous farmer"... Kid had to actually correct her in the middle of the spelling lesson with the correct pronunciation and definition. Her teacher actually thought infamous meant not famous.  I am 100% for real on that front.  Now, I'm not sure how to make my points super clear on all of this, but at the end of the day NOT learning something is one thing... learning something INCORRECTLY is another. And, to me, it is a far greater failure.

 That is basically what we were up against all fucking year. There were things that were marked (incorrectly) wrong every single day that were in fact correct. It was exhausting to try and keep on it, reference the correct answers and send them back in. It was flat out infuriating to have her, with concrete evidence from the text book, continue to deny the correct answer. There were obviously weird personality things going on with this teacher. Kid had great grades, even with this mis-graded nightmare going on, and the teacher felt that Kid's grades were good enough and didn't need to be changed. She didn't understand that our goal was not to have Kid walk out with a 100%, our goal was that she be accurately and fairly graded. This teacher actually said to the class one day "I feel sorry for all of the kids that get A pluses because it means that they never had to learn to study, and when they get to high school and college they won't know what to do." What the ding-dang?! Instead of feeling good about your academic performance, she actually found a way to insult the kids for doing well. Kid was irate, considering she studied 3 hours a fucking night for her grades.  I guess, in retrospect, I should be glad that that was her response, other kids just became depressed and apathetic and stopped trying.

So, obviously, she had a bias against top performing students. She also made it known that if kids got an A plus on a test, she felt she had not made it hard enough. She routinely (and I mean every single time) would try and find a point she could take off to bring the grade down. Outside of spelling and memory (where it is what it is) she would mark things wrong even if they were right. I'm completely serious. This was not a fun classroom to be in. Not for anyone. It was a depressed classroom. Most kids suffered a huge grade drop in the 4th grade, but even the top performing kids were made to feel badly about that. My biggest beef with all of this, is that every single kid had correct work marked incorrectly wrong... and without parents committed to checking and standing up for them... their take away was that they had misunderstood the information and that they were wrong... which is a big deal!... because now they have been misinformed and believe the wrong answer is correct. (fuming over here) Kid's academic success had nothing to do with her teacher's teaching, but was due to the very high quality curriculum, my hours and hours of teaching it to her AT HOME, and her conviction to show this teacher up!

 You are probably wondering why we would EVER consider going back there, right? Yes, after I revisit all that I wonder the same. The truth is that this was a terrible experience for Kid academically (well no... not academically... it was a terrible teaching experience), but it was a pretty good experience socially for her. It also was a wonderful school experience for Baby. We still loved all of the specials teachers, and their long lunch, and double recesses. They have gym EVERY single day. They have band with free instruments!  They have science.  They still have art & music & library & spanish & computer. Their curriculum is extremely high quality and is an average of two years ahead of the Ann Arbor public school curriculum, which is not great for every student but is great for our girls.  We also love the diversity of this school and the girls have been greatly enriched by their South Korean friendships.  The school is doing a lot right, but they are doing a terrible job of getting rid of a problem teacher. (which I now know a lot more about) Also, we have two other huge issues... #1 We don't know if we have to move again in this next year, so I didn't want the girls to have two school transitions in one school year. & #2 The whole point of this school was to commit to one place and let our girls grow with it socially... and I didn't want to give that up without a lot of thought.

 So, back to the letter... The night after I sent it, her teacher responded. It was cordial, but in no way acknowledged my real issues. Her summary was basically that she thought Kid "was doing well academically after a hard transition from homeschooling." Ha! She loves to throw homeschooling in to every single conversation we have about HER performance as a TEACHER. (not to mention that Kid had been doing well academically from the start... ahem)  I don't actually think this woman is malicious, I do think she is well intentioned... but...I think she is CLUELESS... poorly trained, not all that smart, operating from an outdated teaching model, and lacks self awareness. She really doesn't experience herself the way that we (or other families... or the actual students) experience her teaching. She also does not know the material well enough to teach it properly. Even in the letter I wrote, which I think was both very clear and heartfelt, her take away was that Kid's grades weren't high enough for us. She just doesn't get what we are saying. In light of that, I chose not to respond to her response. There really was no point at all in continuing to communicate with someone that is not speaking the same language, it was just frustrating for everyone involved. At this point, we had decided our goal was to meet with the principal to express our dissatisfaction with this teacher and to have that documented. We felt strongly that if we didn't speak up, we were part of the problem and couldn't hold the school accountable if they kept her as a teacher.

 The Monday morning after we sent the letter, the principal stopped Mr F and asked to schedule a meeting. He was friendly but also clearly taking the letter seriously. I had worried, because he can come off as a pretty passive guy, that he might not acknowledge the letter at all... at which point we'd have withdrawn the girls from school. So, we were pleasantly surprised by his immediate action. The meeting was supportive and validating but in some ways anticlimactic as well.

 The long and short of it is that these kinds of allegations regarding this teacher are not new or unexpected. He was visibly disappointed and discouraged, and said that they had worked on these issues and had thought things were going better in her room. Ours was the first complaint of "this type" this year. We brought in a couple examples of Kid's tests with incorrectly graded answers and he was shocked when he saw those and said "I can understand why you are so frustrated." He thanked me for bringing those in, because he had had a different understanding of the issue from the teacher's perspective. I'm not sure that the meeting was satisfying in terms of what we might have ultimately wanted (to have her pushed into retirement) but it was incredibly validating. He acknowledged our frustrations and understood our position. We made it clear that we would not ever have another child of ours attend her classroom. We asked if we could expect our experience to be vastly improved in the 5th grade and he said he understood our concern and that he has to support his whole staff... but... "People have complained there isn't enough homework" in a wink wink sort of way. He also acknowledged that he and his wife, both teachers at the school, had had teachers in the school whose styles they had not agreed with when their children were in their classrooms. He basically said for some teachers, whose expectations were too high, they modified those expectations at home (i.e. did their children's work). I don't know... it is kind of a laughable situation... the principal advocating that you do your kid's homework... and yet it was so refreshingly honest that we kind of loved him for it.

 We left the meeting not really knowing what we should do. I went into serious polling mode to try and figure out how parents had found the 1st and 5th grade teachers. The results were solid for both, the 1st grade teacher is one of the best in the school and the 5th grade teacher is new, very nice, laid back and the kids have a lot of fun in the classroom... he prefers group projects to tests and the kids have little homework. We decided to give the school one more year, the year that will probably be the smoothest/easiest for both girls and then see how we feel during/after that. If next year doesn't go well, with two of the so called best experiences to be had at the school, we will pull them out feeling pretty confident in our decision. But right now, it feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to walk away after this year. I mean, we made it through, it feels like we should reward that with getting to experience an easier year.

 I've also, since all this went down, found out a lot more about the school and other people's experiences. Our experience is not only not unique, but fairly common and many families leave the summer after 4th grade. I think if the community had been more open about these issues, and we had felt more supported and validated during the year, it might have been more bearable. Those that stay usually have more of a commitment to the school/church or have multiple kids and see 4th grade as one bad year that you just get through. I also now know that the teachers are called by the church to their positions, and pending some kind of actual illegal activity, the school board doesn't have the power to fire them... which while I find wrong, would have been good to know. It would have, at least, explained why despite hearing from SO MANY parents, teachers, etc., that they too had had a frustrating year with this teacher when their children were students, that this teacher was still teaching. And with that in mind, I accepted a position on the school PTL.

 I figure if we are going to stay, I need to know everything I can about this school as we go forward. If after this next school year, and a year on the PTL, we still aren't comfortable with the school then we can leave feeling confident knowing we've done our due diligence in making that decision. After one school board/PTL meeting I already know more about the history and working of the school (and acknowledged problems) than I could have ever found out as a parent. So, that's where we are at. Ultimately, since she suffered the most, Kid had the choice to decide if she wanted to stay and try 5th grade or not. She said she did, so we are. We are just moving forward, knowing that every school has it's share of bad or mismatched teachers... we were just unlucky enough to start with one here.

Also, and this is huge, In an unexpected twist this teacher's incompetency and unjust grading actually fueled Kid to outperform any expectation we would have ever placed on her.  Which, in the end, was a gift.  Kid fought through a tremendous amount of test anxiety to prove this woman wrong and not only graduated the year with a 3.97, and scored in the 10th grade on national standardized tests, but was her grade's top reader scoring 10x the 4th grade AR point requirement for the year which placed her 4th in the school behind three 8th graders.  So thank you terrible teacher... you showed us that Kid is in it to win it.  And while I am very disgruntled about how this year went, in terms of actual teaching and homework overload, etc, Kid has proven herself to be an excellent student.  And do you know what is the highest scoring school in our ridiculously high scoring county?  This one.  It is also the most affordable private school in the county.  Of course.  And, so, walking away from what is the most challenging academic program, for a student who has proven they can actually achieve in this setting, isn't something I want to have to do... yet.

But also this:  Baby will not ever sit in that teacher's class.
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