I am the least intimidating person I know. My daily costume of choice is jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tennis shoes, really simple jewelry and next to no make-up, if at all. I'm also friendly by nature--chatty, positive, inclined to see myself as knowing less than the person I'm talking to--unless it's writing or dog training and then I'm only just confident and not much more.So on the rare occasion that I intimidate someone, it's something of a shock to me. I am so not that kind of person.
As a homeschooler, with one kid in public high school, I'm still pretty new at this parent-teacher relationship. But I don't hesitate to ask questions concerning my son's education, especially if his grade in a particular subject is lower than I think he's capable of. Just the fact that I ask these questions seems to rattle some of them and I can tell they think I'm blaming them. In truth, it's very rare that I blame the teacher. I tend to assume Jeremiah has missed something important.
Only twice have I spoken with teachers who's judgement I questioned. And only one time did I voice it and I was very nice the whole time. Jeremiah has been taking engineering and design classes for three years now. He loves these and they've taught him more about science and technology than any book could. But when he was a freshman, I met with the instructor to ask him some questions about why Jeremiah was pulling Cs in his class (he had As and Bs in all his others). What was he missing? How could we help? That kind of thing.
My husband and I sat across the table as he teacher explained how his classes worked. The kids had to build things like cranes that could lift a certain amount of weight. Each of the kids was given the same materials and instructions. Jeremiah, he said, had gotten a C on his, as had several other kids in the class.
Why? I asked. Was his work sloppy? Did he not follow directions? (By this point in the semester, Jeremiah had brought home a couple of his projects and we trusted him for minor household repairs so I doubted it, but I was willing to believe that maybe he was fooling around in class with his friends instead of paying attention).
No, no, he'd followed directions and his crane looked fine.
It's when he tested it.
I grade them according to how much weight they can hold before breaking. So the kid who's crane holds the most gets an A.
Even if the work is sloppy and he didn't follow directions?
So his grade is based on a competition,
No, no, not a competition. It's just about how much weight it can hold.
My husband, caught up in the whole idea, was enthusiastically nodding his head. He agreed with the teacher. It wasn't a competition. It was about how well each kid's crane worked. He got it, he understood.
The perverse part of me pressed on. I think it was the two men sitting there cavalierly throwing away my kid's GPA that did it to me. And since his crane didn't hold as much as some other kids in the class, he got a C.
Right. He and my husband exchanged "just a dumb girl" looks and it annoyed me, but I thought just maybe I was missing something and that I was being unfair.
Tell me about the other assignments.
Well there was the car they had to build.
I'd seen that project. It was actually pretty inventive. CDs for tires, a small motor and mishmash of materials--very well made. He demonstrated it on the kitchen floor for us. He got a C on that too?
He checked his grade sheets. Yeah. The man began to look a little strange, like he'd just awakened from a sound sleep to find himself teetering on a balance beam and he wasn't at all sure how he'd gotten there or what to do about it.
Well there was this race . . .
My husband was practically bouncing up and down in his seat. Oooh coool! I'll bet that was fun! I knew this was bringing back great boy scout troop experiences. But my kid's grade wasn't a merit badge.
So he got a C because his car didn't come in first? Even though he did a really good job on it?
My husband stopped bouncing at that point. He was clearly hoping the teacher could save it, because racing little hand built cars for grades was just such a great idea. But I could tell he'd finally caught wind of the trend I was seeing.
Umm. That's right. The teacher suddenly found his papers far more interesting than us.
I felt really bad for him. He wasn't nervous when we walked up, but he was when we stood to leave. I assured him that Jeremiah really liked his class and that he seemed to be learning a lot from him. But it didn't change the man's demeanor. He smiled a small, tight smile. I had clearly rained on his parade of little cars and cranes and airplane races and I really didn't mean to. Though I was bothered by it, I had no intention of asking him to change how he ran his classroom.
A couple of days later, Jeremiah came home and announced that the teacher had discontinued grading his students on the "competitions", but that he would give extra points to the kids whose projects did the best. Jeremiah still loves the class and has learned a great deal about engineering and electronics.
But to this day, when that poor man passes me in the hall, he won't look at me. And when I see him on Parent-teacher conference day, he makes a point of disappearing before I get to his table. And I still feel bad about it.
But only sort of.