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Which parent do you most want to please?

Do you remember how having children of your own changed your perspective on what goes on in the classroom? (If you don't have children of your own yet, trust me - they will have an impact on your teaching!)  So take a look at these 2 letters.  I don't think any parent would ever actually send either of these, but if they did, which parent would you most want to please?

Dear Teacher,

Thank you for being my child's teacher this year.  I wanted to write you this letter to help you better understand my child's needs and my hopes for how you will address them.

First of all, my child really doesn't do well with negative feedback.  He has self-esteem issues.  Therefore, I would prefer that you approach him with great sensitivity.  I've watched him stop working for teachers who have been somewhat critical of his work.  If he doesn't do something well in your classroom, please consider whether or not you need to tell him.  Positive feedback works great, but he doesn't deal well with feedback when it is negative.  We prefer the "no news is good news" approach.

Secondly, please make sure my child gets a good grade.  While we want him to learn content, our long-term interest is that he get into college.  Low grades on his report card could lower his GPA and hurt his chances of being accepted.  If it's not being too presumptuous, I have a few suggestions for how you can help his grade stay high.  You might try:

  • Letting him earn extra credit to bolster his grade.
    I'll be more than happy to buy tissues for the classroom or canned goods for a food drive if you'll give him extra credit to mitigate low test and quiz grades.  Or if that doesn't fit your style, he'll be more than happy to wash your board or pass out papers to earn points.  We know how important it is to accumulate points, and we are more than happy to do whatever it takes for him to earn the points he needs.  We are very involved parents and will spend the money necessary to see to it that our dear child gets a good grade.
  • Grading his homework and allowing that homework grade to influence his final grade.
    Unlike some parents out there, I am able to get my son to do his homework.  I'm sure he occasionally copies his friend's homework instead of doing his own, but at least he's willing to do the work required to turn something in.  He's not a great test-taker, though, so please make sure his completion grades for homework count a lot into your averaging formula.
  • Allowing a participation grade to influence the final grade.
    My son really is a nice kid, and we've always found that when teachers give him a participation grade he does very well.  He's friendly, helpful, and joins in.  I realize that your class is more of a content class, unlike PE or Band which are participation classes, but I really think you should find a way to reward with a grade the nice kids who do what they're told.  This helps them stand out better from the kids who are from bad families and who don't have supportive parents.

Please realize that I'm not one of THOSE parents.  I don't come and ask for special privileges for my child.  However, I've heard from lots of other students that different teachers use different strategies.  I think it's important for me to share with you how my child learns best.  My child has a lot of stress on him.  Life is so busy these days for kids.  Please be the type of teacher who relieves stress from my child.  He has come home complaining that some teachers seem to have unrealistic expectations of their students.  They are constantly making students assess themselves, analyze feedback, and take ownership of their learning.  When I was a student, teachers made you wait until the end of the grading period and then told you your grade.  This caused much less stress for students.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to these requests.  I hope you will realize that by following them, young people like my son will get better grades, be rewarded for being nice, improve their self-esteem and have less stress in their lives.


My Son's Parent

Dear Teacher

Thank you for being my child's teacher this year.  I know he's not always the easiest to deal with, but he is a good kid at heart.  I want to support you in any way possible.  I hope you don't mind me writing you this letter.  My intention is not to tell you how to do your job but instead to make sure you feel empowered to push my son to be all that he is capable of being.

My son really needs feedback - whether it's good or bad.  In fact, sometimes the feedback that says you did something wrong is the most beneficial since it let's you know how to improve.  It would be my dream if every day my son left class with specific and descriptive feedback from you.  Even if that's not possible, please don't shy away from making sure he understands what he needs to do to improve.

While we love it when our child makes good grades, we care more about learning and mastering content than we do a specific grade.  Obviously we want his grade to accurately reflect his knowledge of the content, but we understand that not every grade along the way will be an A.  At the risk of sounding a little pushy, but here are some things I wish you wouldn't do for my son when it comes to his grade:

  • Please don't give him extra credit
    I don't know if other kids are like my son, but he seems to think that he can do next to nothing for a grading period and then get extra credit at the end to save himself.  I don't understand extra credit anyway.  Sometimes it feels like teachers he's had before will let us buy him a better grade.  I'd much prefer that you give him many chances to show mastery.  I even understand extra assignments that lead to extra grades if those assignments demonstrate that he's learned the content.  But the idea that he can do something extra or bring in something extra and just get points added on - I guess I'd like him to be more intrinsically motivated than that.  Giving away points the way some people do almost seems as though my child is an animal at Sea World being enticed and rewarded with fish! :)
  • Please don't allow my son's homework to inflate his grade
    I really want my son to work hard to master content.  Overall, he really is a good kid.  We make him do his homework every night.  Sometimes we've noticed that this leads to him getting a grade that is significantly above his test average in a class.  I think he gets the wrong idea sometimes and thinks that he should be rewarded just because he does what he's supposed to do and isn't one of THOSE kids.  I've explained to him that a grade is not a reward.  It's an indicator of how much you've learned.
  • Please do not allow my son's class participation to inflate his grade
    This is similar to the homework situation.  I want my son to learn that he needs to work hard.  Like most teenagers, a sense of entitlement comes naturally to him.  I'd hate for him to think he deserves a reward for just doing what he's supposed to do.  In fact, if he doesn't participate in class properly I'd like to know so that we can deal with it here at home.

I want him to work and work hard.  I don't know if there is a better life lesson to learn than the lesson that success requires industriousness, intentness, and cooperation.  I will add, though, that one thing that has been very helpful for him is when teachers have required him to assess his own progress.  We try to teach him that here at home, as well; however, if you are able to give him materials and/or feedback that force him to assess what he knows and what he does not know we would be very thankful.

Thanks again for all the hours you put it in for my child.  Please do not hesitate to let us know how we can support you.


Your Student's Parent

So what do you think?  Which parent would you rather please?  Now take a moment to reflect on your assessment and grading practices.  How do they align with the wishes of the fictitious parent you would most hope to please?  Any thoughts?

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