Help! My Principal Says I’m “Letting Kids Fail”

I have made it impossible to fail my class—I don’t know what else I can do!

Illustration of principal accusing teacher of letting kids fail

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’ve made it virtually impossible to fail my class. Over the summer, I pre-recorded all my lessons and put them on my class website with all of my materials, resources, reviews, and notes. Our online gradebook notifies parents and students when an assignment is missing and which assignment it is. Because of this, I refuse to participate in the manhunt of tracking down and begging kids to submit missing assignments—something I have wasted probably hundreds of hours on in the past several years. When I told my principal about this set up, she said, “Well, we can’t just kids fail.” I almost flipped my lid. Do I stand my ground? —Unable to Enable

Dear U.T.E.,

We’ve definitely swung too far in the “teacher” side on the swinging pendulum of “Whose responsibility is it to learn?” A teacher’s role and responsibility is crucial in that equation. But we can’t do anything without student cooperation and parent support.

Zero judgment for not wanting to join the relentless mission for missing assignments and the eternal cajoling of hoards of reluctant students. That is your school’s responsibility to change. But until that happens, I think there’s a way to implement a system that allows you to teach to high standards and prove that you regularly reach students who are checked out.

Try this routine:

  • Designate one day a week to send a mass (BCCed) email to any students and their families who have missing assignments in the gradebook. CC your administrator as well. Include reminders for how to access the online gradebook, where to go to get your assignments, and when students can come to tutorials if they have any questions. You can copy and paste the same email every week.
  • Designate one day every two weeks to send an email to your administrator with a list of students who haven’t turned in missing assignments after two reminders and two instances of parent contact (if you’re following your routine, this should be truthful).

I get that this probably feels ridiculous considering your online gradebook does this for you. Nevertheless, CCing your administrator does three things. First, it involves them—as they should be—in situations with students who need extra support. In addition, it provides evidence that you are, in fact, invested in student success and playing by their rules. And finally, it reveals the mind-numbing tedium involved when we give teachers sole responsibility of the learning process.

Hopefully, this will get the pendulum swinging a little bit more in your favor.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m a nearly 30 year-old man, but my principal calls me nicknames that make me feel like I’m 12. “Keep up the good work, young man,” or “Nice work today, champ.” He’s a very nice guy, but it still feels condescending and makes me cringe every time. Is this one of those things where I earn his respect by pushing back, or will it make things worse? —Sport, Bud, Puddin’, Etc.

Dear S.B.P.E.,

I’m from the south, where even in professional spaces nicknames are pretty ubiquitous. Around here, nicknames are often used to show affection, reassure people who are confused or hurt, and show a sense of connection. Though I don’t generally use them outside of family and friends, I get a little warm fuzzball in my heart when the dentist’s receptionist says, “Oh, that’s all right, ladybug” when I tell her—yet again—I messed up my appointment days. Me! A ladybug!

But just because I don’t mind them doesn’t mean no one should mind them. The tone is important, too. Especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable. “Oh, sweetie,” could easily be comforting in one situation and demeaning in another.

If these nicknames make you feel bad, talk to your principal. Besides, if he’s the nice guy you says he is, he’ll be understanding about curbing speech that makes you uncomfortable.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
This past spring, I left the school I’d been at for ten years. My first day at my new school was yesterday, and it is so much worse than my last school. The lack of administrative control over students makes me feel unsafe—and I worry about their safety, too. If administrators can’t get them to listen to announcements at lunch, how will they maintain control during an emergency? I kept seeing red flags during in-service, and now I’m certain this school is a mess. Can I quit after one day? —Teach and Take Off

Dear T.A.T.O.,

You can quit any time you want.

I always told my students that they were free to do whatever they wanted, but were not free from the consequences. Surely as a 10-year teacher you’re aware of those consequences. Here’s some questions to consider for others who might be in a similar position.

  • What future opportunities will be limited if you break your contract? Will your state invalidate your teaching license for a year? Will you have to pay a fine?
  • What is your back-up plan? How long can you afford to not work?
  • Do you have any desire to stay and be a part of changing school culture? (No judgment if not!)
  • It sounds like this school is significantly chaotic than your last school. Ask a few long-time teachers what’s keeping them there. Maybe an answer will surprise you.

The idea that “if I don’t teach this kids, who will?” or that by protecting ourselves we are abandoning/neglecting children is dangerous for a lot of reasons. It’s rooted in an elitist (and often racist) thought structure idea that children need saving, and only certain people like teachers are equipped to do it. Plus, the guilt and weight of this responsibility keeps teachers in roles and schools that are destroying their mental and physical health.

If you do quit, be vocal about your decision and recommend what needs to change to your school and school board. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself and the students in that school.

Do you have a burning question? Come share on the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
Last year while on cafeteria duty, I saw a 7th grader get up and leave without taking care of his tray. When I asked him to go back and take it to the cleaning area, he responded, “That’s not mine,” and kept walking. When I asked him again, he began shouting ethnic slurs and lunged at me. Luckily, an administrator saw what happened and intervened, but now I see this student is on my roster for 8th grade. I talked to the counselor about moving him to another class, but she said I should “try to give him a clean slate and see what happens.” I don’t feel like I should have to—am I just being stubborn? —Return to Sender

This week on Ask We Are Teachers, we cover whether a teacher is letting kids fail, nicknames, and quitting on the first day.
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