Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Curve

High school was very easy for me, academics-wise. Of course, I went to high school many, many, many years ago; I understand it’s gotten much more difficult.

As a sophomore, I had biology, taught by a man by the name of Mr. Thomas. It was his first year teaching at our “new age” secondary school.

The 3,500-student school was an experiment in open teaching. “Open” in the sense of team-teaching and a lot of go-at-your-own pace. It was also “open” in the sense that there were very few walls. Vast open spaces, separated (or not) by four- or five-foot tall partitions, were the norm. No desks were also the norm. We sat at tables or on the floor. The teachers were recruited and touted to be the best in the county, which is saying a lot as this was in Fairfax County, Virginia. At the time, the county led the nation in school performance.

[I doubt it’s relevant, but by the time I had been gone from the school for five years or so, most of the openness was gone. Walls and standard desks replaced the airiness. Apparently, open teaching had been a major bust.]

Back to Mr. Thomas, a major asshole of a teacher. He droned on and on and on. He did not help students having trouble. He pretty much left us all to figure it out on our own. At the beginning of the year, we were given the assignment to answer the questions at the end of each chapter in our book. We were to record said answers in our lab book. It would be collected at the end of the year.

He never spoke of it again. As student after student was failing or performing way below their norm – ahem, that would be me garnering a “C” versus my stereotypical “A” – more and more of us, our parents and fellow teachers were filing complaints. He thought of us as a bunch of privileged kids who couldn’t actually pull their own weight. None of it was his fault, he constantly said. It was everyone else’s. The complaints had no impact whatsoever on test scores or quarterly or semester report cards.

A week or two before the end of the year, he gave us his one reminder about that frickin’ lab book full of chapter questions answered. I might have done the first two or three chapters at the time we did the chapter work, but I had stopped long before the end of the year, figuring, I don’t know, that he never asked for them, so it was pointless to do them.

Panic ensued, to say the least. [Okay, yeah, we were a bunch of privileged kids who hated his frickin’ guts. We were also 15 or 16 years old.] I did the lab book, all right. Only I knew he’d never read all of the books and all of the answers in all of the books. So I would answer the first couple from each chapter, then write a bunch of “answers” such as, “Why would I bother doing this because you’ll never check it” or “I’m just writing random stuff so you’ll think I answered this question” or “What do you want to bet you never read this.”

I was one of the few people to actually turn in the lab books. By this time, Mr. Thomas had been browbeaten by everyone in the school community. I don’t know if he ever read the books or not. All I know is I got a C for the course, which was the highest grade anyone got. Most people received F’s.

Here’s the thing, though. The principal had no choice but to step in. He bumped everyone’s grade up two notches, grading on the curve, as it were. My final grade – the grade that went on my transcript – was an A. Mr. Thomas didn’t return the next year.

[Take a gander at others’ reactions to the “curve” prompt at Sunday Scribblings.]


Lucy said...

My kids have had their share of teachers like Mr. Thomas. Why go into teaching, if you don't have the passion to actually help kids?
You were brave to write what you wrote! I bet he has since then, looked over the books .
thanks for sharing this nice post.

murat11 said...

Now, that's some curvish you can stand by, but what a funky way to earn what would have been yours anyway, given your customary due diligence. As a WOHD who just happens to WOH as an English teacher, I can say this about the Mr. Thomases of the world: you gotta a class full of Fs, that reflects on you, not on your kids, bub.

Anonymous said...

Not aimed particularly at the idiot you write about in this post, but I am constantly amazed at how people think that they are the only ones in the world that are right and everybody else is wrong. To my way of thinking, not EVERYBODY can be wrong and maybe it would have behooved him to step back and reassess. Poor little pea brain. I hope he has a failing landscaping business now.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got your "A" - what is it the good book says? "You shall know them by the fruits of their labors...."

Great post!

Granny Smith said...

This is a great story. One of my best teachers of all time, a Mr. Brown, went to the opposite extreme and gave everyone in the class an "A". We all deserved it, since his extraordinary gifrs as a teacher brought out the best in everybody. If someone had insisted that we be graded on a curve it would have been extremely unjust.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Why are there so many Mr. Thomas' in the systems? This was a delicious read P.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a family where what the teacher said and did was taken without question.
When I became a parent I questioned.
It's amaizng that people like that are not dealt with before the first semester is over.
Thanks for dropping by my Scribble.

Anonymous said...

clear to me that mr. thomas' mind was a little too "open" and the go at your own pace was not his thing --- bet if he'd been one of the students he'd have failed just as miserably


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