Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Counseling Advice Your Teachers Will Love

By: Patrick J. O'Connor, Ph.D

Counselors often have to work with students who know they need help but don’t quite come out and say so, and the same thing can happen with adults, including our teaching colleagues…

…like right now, when students are asking for higher grades so it will “look good to colleges.” 

I sent this out to my students last week, and copied the teachers in my building.  I haven’t heard a peep from my students, but the faculty can’t thank me enough for giving them some support to deal with what seems to be a trickier problem every year, and your faculty is probably feeling the strain. Feel free to pass this along to your students (take out the last paragraph if you’re not on trimesters), and be sure to send it on to your teachers—they’ll thank you for meeting a need they never even mentioned. 

Even as we speak, students and parents across America are opening backpacks, tearing off envelope tops, and downloading files to discover that homecoming, the weekend spent at the Harry Potter film festival, and a hint of Thanksgiving senioritis have taken their toll on last semester’s grades:

“A B+ in Physics?”

“A C in Calculus?”

“A WHAT in AP English?”

Welcome to grade groveling season, the time of year when parents across America look at their senior’s laundry and say “What are these stains on the knees of these pants, and how did they get there?”  From buttering-up to begging, from outrage to despair, seniors will spend the next couple of weeks planning, scheming, and hoping that they can squeeze just one little grade bump from 3 or 4 teachers, largely because they are certain colleges will take one look at these grades and say “Yeah, well, no.”

I suppose this is where I’m supposed to offer words of solace and encouragement, and outline some approaches towards importunacy that will succeed.  OK, here goes:

Good luck with that.

I know you feel badly, much like the point guard who sinks the winning shot after the buzzer sounds, or the junior who finally understands the writing prompt on the ACT on their drive home from the test center.  This isn’t easy to live with, and you were so close, but it just didn’t happen.

“But sensei” says you, “college is on the line, and I can fix this, because time hasn’t run out.  I’m still in high school, and I still have the same teacher.”

True enough, young grasshopper—but look at the calendar, and see who’s behind.  It’s second semester, and that grade was forfirst semester.  On the time-space continuum, the jig is up—and if you don’t understand that, maybe you really did deserve that low Physics grade.  Just sayin’.

If that’s not enough to get your head out of the rear-view mirror, keep in mind that a small bump in one class grade—say, from a B to a B+—raises your GPA by about .008.  Combine that with the advice a college rep gave me—“one grade alone will never sink a student”—and I’d say it’s time to leave your teachers in peace…

…which leads to my last point.  Unlike Aunt Midge’s socks, grades aren’t gifts given by someone else—they are earned by you.  If you have some reason to believe your grade was calculated incorrectly, find out what the formal process is for a grade appeal at your school, and follow it. 

At the same time, I’m guessing this process has nothing to do with baking cookies for your teacher, following them to the parking lot at the end of the day , or having your parents “accidentally” bump into them at the grocery store—and it really doesn’t involve saying “but a grade this low will keep me out of college.” 

From what I know, that’s not true, and even if it is, the person who gave you this “gift” of a grade isn’t looking at you from the teacher’s desk 3rd period.

They’re looking at you in the bathroom mirror every morning.

Believe me when I tell you, I’m feelin’ it for ya, but it’s time to pull up those socks Aunt Midge bought you and move on…

…unless your high school is on trimesters, in which case it’s time to check your grades, and look two or three weeks down the road to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

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