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The Fairest of Them All

[Editor’s note: Just Miss is the pseudonym of a second-year teacher in a high school in the Bronx.]


The complaints rarely begin with your actual name. (Sound familiar?)

“Miss. This isn’t fair.”

What’s not fair?

“That we have to do WORK! Gaaaa!”

(Somewhat stunned silence.) That you have to do work… in class?

“Yes. It’s the day before vacation. Miss J lets us just listen to music on our iPods and chillax, miss!”

Oh, I’m sure that’s true. I am sure that if I walk into Miss J’s classroom, I will discover a veritable garden of chillaxation, complete with T.I. tunes. Please…

I have, of course, heard this one before. I’ve seen it in action before, this trying to pit teachers against one another shenanigans. But it still smarts. They don’t have to like me, or my class, but to be told that I’m being “unfair” just… ouch.

Maybe this is something I’m particularly sensitive about. My own fairness as a teacher is something I struggle with constantly. I feel it regularly being called into question — by my students… but mostly by me. Every grade I give, every assignment I create, every phone call home — I wonder, “Am I being fair? Does this accurately reflect this student’ work? Is this a reflection of my own frustration with the class/student/situation rather than a learning opportunity?” With good reason: how awful would it be if I messed up? Mistakenly assigned a failing grade to a student who didn’t deserve it? And on the flip side — to pass a student who had not learned a thing would be equally horrifying for me.

Grading time is my least favorite season. It certainly has a way of sneaking up on me. When I know a student has been there, in class, doing the work — but for some reason does not hand anything in leaves me with little to actually grade. Do I grade him on participation alone? Is that fair to the others who get their work in on time? Do I hound him for all the missing assignments that may be piled up in his backpack? How many reminders can I post on the blackboard before I get all the work back that I need to 100% accurately and definitively assign a number on a report card to indicate how much the student has learned?

I could belabor a grade for hours. And it’s not winning me any friends in the report-card generating department, either, to whom I am often apologizing profusely for my late grade spreadsheets. Perhaps in time I will get better at this and be able to assign grades without a second thought, and without comparing my grades with other teachers of the same student to see if they are in the same range. Perhaps one day soon I will simply trust my system, my own accountability and my judgment. Perhaps one day soon I won’t loathe report card time.

For now — they didn’t teach this in grad school — I’m making it up as I go.



  • 1 neezynate
    · Feb 25, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I feel for you, i applaud your efforts in teaching. Here is a great tool i have found useful.



  • 2 Rose
    · Mar 22, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I am a first year 7th English teacher and I can’t stand report card time either. I’ve been called “HARSH” by a parent because I will not accept anything that is not typewritten or late. I have failed a student because he refused to type anything. He then started working and earned a 97 the next marking period. I do give the kids the opportunity to use the computer in class or e-mail me their work if their printer is broken and I accept note from parents if something happened and the child needs time. I give up many of my lunch periods for extra help and I am available after school. I feel the way you do as well. I loathe giving a failing grade to a student and I also check with other teachers and look for points to pass them if I can. The fact is that students need to accept responsibility, especially if they are in high school. I may be “harsh” but I am fair. I find that many students are used to getting their way or even feel entitled. No one else seems to be showing these children the meaning of responsibility. I feel horrible at times, I really do, but I know that the suffering they do now with me will make their life easier in the future because they will know what is expected of them in order to get a good grade.

  • 3 Marianna
    · May 19, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve been there too! (and still am)
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It makes me feel like I’m not alone with my craziness…. I too, worry about being fair and being too harsh, whereas I believe it is necessary, but it’s hard to stick to “high standards” alone and then be judged on “low passing rate” of your students….
    I hope too one day it’ll become easier.