Salamin

On Passing and Failing Students

The current semester of the school year 2021 is drawing to a close. Teachers will soon make a decision – pass or fail their students.

To pass, or not to pass… that is the dilemma that confronts teachers when the performance of some students during an entire term is below par and their total grades go south of the passing mark.

What should the teachers do – pass or fail the students?

Is passing students in a subject or course mandatory on the part of the teachers?

 It’s a different story if a student fails due to absences. The student failed by default. But what if a student is regularly attending classes?

There are possible repercussions should teachers fail their students. When they fail students they had better be ready to answer possible queries from the students themselves or from their parents. Usually, complaints of students, most especially when they are accompanied by their parents, would also lead to school authorities investigating the teachers concerned. It’s not only a matter of being ready to answer questions but the teachers should also prepare class records and other documents that could prove beyond reasonable doubt that the students did not perform well and deserve to get a failing mark.

There are times that teachers thought that they have exhausted all possible means to help the students perform better but to no avail… that they have tried different strokes for different folks, but none of the strokes they applied worked.

But the painful truth is that there are also teachers who would not walk an extra mile to help students improve on their academic performance.

Now, granting that the teachers have done everything they possibly could to help the students pass but their efforts proved futile, would failing the students be considered justifiable already?

Should teachers be applauded when they  take the moral high  ground and say that schools are committed to excellence and passing failing students would be tantamount to promoting mediocrity?

Failing students is not a simple decision to make. Whether or not to pass students is a path that teachers have to tread carefully. There are a lot of things to be considered before making the final decision. There are questions that the teachers need to answer very clearly. Questions that would lead to more questions.

Do the grades teachers give truly reflect the abilities of the students? Let’s say that the answer is yes. The next question would be, “Were the tests the teachers made valid? Did the teachers make sure that their tests measured what they intended to measure?

There are more questions – Were the tests the teachers designed congruent with the strategies they used when they presented their lessons? What informed the strategies that they have selected? What foundation of learning and teaching did they stand upon when they delivered their lessons? Did they consider the abilities of their students when they designed the activities in the class? Or is it a matter of whatever decisions they make as teachers are contingent upon their personal comfort?

Yes, the role of the teacher is that complicated. That’s why the decision to pass or not to pass students is actually an examination of the teachers’ conscience. It is answering the ultimate question – “Did I really do my job as a teacher?”

Ask teachers if they are really doing the things expected of them and their response would be an unequivocal yes.

Really?

So here is another question – “Why would students fail if teachers are doing their job well?”

The question above leads us to the next question – “When students fail does it mean they did not learn?”

Students failing means  they did not pass the majority (if not all) of the tests (short or long, oral or written) the teachers gave during the entire term. All of those tests are meant to evaluate learning that was supposed to have taken place when the teachers discussed their lessons and did all the activities they designed for the class. So, if the students failed the tests it would mean they did not learn.

Why did the students not learn? What happened? Did the teachers bother to know why? Could there be something wrong with their strategies? Like their strategies probably did not work or something could be wrong with their  methods of testing. Yet, they did not bother to adjust and allowed the accumulation of failed tests on the part of the students.

Only the teachers who are pedagogically trained would be able to detect when something is not right with what they are doing. If they are true to their calling as teachers, they would do something about it. They will make the necessary adjustments. If they don’t care then may God bless the students.  It’s much worse when those hired to teach are not really trained as teachers. They don’t have the pedagogical skills to understand what is really happening. For them, it’s just a matter of when the students don’t get the scores required they fail. That’s it.

Let’s bring back one of the questions posed earlier – “When students fail does it mean they did not learn?”

If the answer to this is yes it means that the grades of the students reflect not only their performance but that of their teachers as well.

How true is it that “it’s not teaching if there’s no learning.” Can the teachers claim they did their job as teachers even if their students fail?”

When students fail the tests meant to evaluate learning then the activities designed and strategies selected fail to help achieve the objectives. It is the responsibility of the teachers to make sure  that their objectives are attainable and the corresponding activities and strategies  are effective. It is their responsibility to make sure that their students would succeed. It is as simple as that. A philosophical mind is not needed to grasp that… just common sense would do.

The worst thing that can happen to students is to have teachers whose view of education is myopic – teachers who judge students according to the numbers they crunch during tests and recitations.  The students are much more valuable than those numbers.

Education transcends all statistical data that teachers collect during a school term. Yes, there are written rules. There are policies and regulations. But they are not absolute. Education cannot be confined to a box. It is more than black and white. It is as colorful as the rainbow. Teachers should lead their students to the proverbial end of that rainbow where a pot of gold  – a good future – awaits them

When Students Don’t Learn

One morning a few years ago, I witnessed how  an English teacher masterfully discussed the intricacies of the English language. It would take a paragraph or two should I explain in detail the things he talked about. To say he is proficient in English is an understatement. His knowledge of phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, syntax, and context is impeccable. He dissected the language so skillfully  and the way he did it almost made me envious.  I was reduced to being a listener uncertain whether I just wanted to make sure not to miss anything new (something I don’t know yet) from what he was saying or I have nothing more to share because he had everything covered about what he was discussing. I wasn’t really sure what prevented me from saying anything. Maybe I was intimidated by his evident mastery of grammar, semantics, and pragmatics or I just did not like to gatecrash into his moment to showcase his brilliance.

That teacher held court in his impromptu lecture. He had the attention of everybody present. It was difficult to judge the intentions of my colleagues whenever they (unsolicitedly) share their expertise the way he did. Was it to impress upon us (their co-teachers) that they know that much or they simply would (good-naturedly) like to help us learn more about the subject (English) we’re teaching.

Later that day, I changed upon a student  who attended my English class in the previous semester. That student was one of the best in my class. Like me, he was heading out of the campus. After the exchange of greetings, I asked “Who’s your English teacher this semester?” The student already started responding before I recalled that I promised never to ask any of my former students that question for the reason that a few of my previous attempts led to the opening of “a can of worms.”

But it already happened – I asked that stupid question again.

The student named the teacher – he was the one I heard deliver an impromptu lecture about the English language earlier that day. After that, the student heaved a sigh and said, “We could hardly understand what he’s teaching.”

I looked at him seriously and all I could say was “Really!?”.

He nodded and said one more thing, “He is also very serious.”

Before he could open wider that “can of worms,”  I told my former student to give that teacher more time to adjust since the semester was still a long way to go. Then I quickly redirected our conversation to another topic.

What’s amazing is that the occurrence – of me one day hearing a  colleague deliver a brilliant impromptu lecture but later that same day (or within the week) I would meet one of his  students (who used to be my student also) claiming that they, in the class, could hardly understand what he is teaching – did not happen only once.  If my memory serves me right, that’s the fourth time.

It finally made me reflect. That’s the reason I wrote something  about it.

It made me wonder (again) how my former students rated my performance as a teacher. What do  they really think  (and how do they feel)  about me as their teacher? What would they say to a colleague or their fellow students when asked about me?

Students evaluate the performance of their teachers every semester. It’s hard to tell how reliable and valid are the results of such evaluation. Whether or not the results are a reflection of the true professional and personal qualities of the teachers is a matter of debate.

But valid or not, reliable or otherwise, it’s hard to ignore what students say about the performance and behavior of their teachers. Teachers get to read what students write in their evaluations. They could either agree or disagree with the results of their evaluation.  But what the teachers would not know is what students say about them in informal discussions. Only the most naïve among teachers don’t know that students talk about their teachers.

In gatherings, teachers do talk  (or should I say gossip) about their students – their performance and behavior in the class. Conversely, students do the same. They talk (or gossip) about their teachers. There are only two possibilities – they either praise or curse their teachers.

One of the  most unacceptable things that students could say about a teacher is – they do not (or they could hardly understand) what he/she is teaching.

Witnessing firsthand an English teacher discuss with ease the complexities of the English language and hearing a student claim that he and his classmates could hardly understand what that teacher is teaching is quite paradoxical.

So I asked myself this question that night – Which is true… my impressions about that English teacher or that of his students?

What could have gone wrong?

My former student said that their current English teacher is very serious. Is that the problem –  good rapport does not exist between him and the students? It is no secret that a teacher’s personality is correlated to students’ academic performance.

I tried to think of other reasons.

Then I recalled my teaching demonstration when I was applying for a job right after my graduation. When the high school principal called me to her office to discuss the results, she told me I did great. But she said there was a problem – I explained things in a way that only students enrolled in a graduate program could understand.

Could that be the reason?

If that teacher carry out discussions in the  class in the same way he explained the grammar topic to us in that gathering earlier that day then that exactly is the problem. You cannot discuss a grammar point to students trying to learn the language the way you would to teachers teaching that language. I think that is not rocket science.

There are two things I learned before I officially began my teaching career – to adapt my strategies and materials to students’ levels and simplify my language.

The problem is there are teachers who have a “one-size-fits-all” mentality thinking that educational processes and approaches to teaching and learning are standard and could not be tailored to meet individual needs. They wouldn’t buy into the idea of differentiated learning and teaching.

They will never accept responsibility when their students don’t learn.

Their standards are as immovable and high as Mt. Everest. The students have no other choice but to climb that Mt. Everest.

For them, it’s the fault of the students when they fail.

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