(Note: This post is a part of a series. For an introduction and index, see Teaching Times Tables)
As I said earlier, to the students that did not reach my goal score of 60 I gave an extra assignment to write a couple of pages worth of times table facts by the end of the grading period (the number being dependent on how much they studied between their first and second tests).
But as soon as I gave the assignment, I knew there would be a problem. Their passing grade for the period hung on this assignment, and I worried that many students would forget to do the assignment by the deadline, give various excuses and then ask for an extension. If I gave them the extension, I would be feeding that sort of behavior. If I did not, I would be seen as the “cruel, inflexible teacher that failed them”, and they would never recognize their own responsibility in the situation. I wasn’t asking much: the assignment would take the slowest students an hour or two at the most, and they had two weeks to do it.
So I kept careful track of the students that still needed to turn in their assignment and reminded them at the beginning of each week. Finally, I was down to only a couple students, and even gave them an extra reminder a day before the deadline. They laughed, but I made it clear I would not give them an extension.
The next day those students were missing. It was the end of the week, their period tests were done, and so they were skipping school. I realized what was going to happen: they were going to show up on the following Monday, assignment in hand, and make me look cruel for not accepting their work after the deadline: “he failed me, even though I finished the assignment – all this work for nothing!” Oh, the injustice.
I wasn’t about to fall into that trap. I wanted them to recognize that their failure was a result of their own doing. So, I left campus and tracked them all down to their homes.
This turned out to be a great move, because it meant I could talk with their parents while we waited for their child to be found. I would tell them how I was trying my hardest to help their child pass: how their child had failed my test so I gave them another opportunity to take it. And when they failed that, I gave them an extra assignment to bring their grade up. And then I reminded them over three times the past two weeks to do the assignment. Even just yesterday! And still, I had nothing from them. “I really try to help my students pass”, I would say, “but if they cannot accept my help I cannot pass them”. I had every parent on my side.
When my students finally arrived, I would question them in a way to get them to repeat this whole series of events in their own words, to make sure they also understood how much I had given them. After all that was understood I ended by saying: “And now I have walked ALL the way from campus to here to give you this one last chance. Do you have the assignment to give to me?”
If they didn’t have it, it was clear it was too late. Some asked for extensions, but I didn’t even have to respond – their own parents shot them down. One said he was almost done, so I called his bluff and asked to see his work. He walked off, but came back empty handed. One of the students was actively working and halfway through his assignment when I reached his house. He was the only one I let finish.
“I can’t change the past, but I can change the future” I told my students and their parents, “the deadline has now passed, and I cannot change the grade you earned, because it is the end of the period. But next period, if you come and ask for help or an extension well before the period closes, then I have a chance at helping you”. I told each parent I talked to that at any time they could ask me how their child was doing in my class.
It was a crazy amount of work and stress to keep track of all the students in this way though. I’ve learned my lesson: when you create pass / fail situations (win all / lose all) it’s super hard to not have them backfire. (I bet all the parents reading this post could have told me that wayyy before I found that out for myself). In the future, I’ll set up the consequences of the situation in a less binary manner. Something like, “every day you’re late is a letter off your grade”. That type of graduated discipline mechanism is much easier to enforce.
Good work! You’ve made it to the end of my Teaching Times Tables series. Thanks for your interest!