Students can achieve academic success in a variety of ways. They can study hard, complete every assignment, show up to class on time, and participate enthusiastically in discussions. And if that doesn’t work, they can brown nose. As a high school teacher for seven years, I’ve been the bullseye of some humorous attempts to elevate a grade through flattery, and these techniques can be classified into three categories: personal, philanthropic and professional.
Personal appeals target the ego. Girls use flattery and often coo over clothing, shoes, eye color, and the lovely way my hair responds to a wand. Boys take the direct route and profess love and even propose marriage. When I stop to think that my current prospects involve a fourteen year old male with no job, questionable ethics, and the lack of even a learner’s permit so that he could claim the inability to pick up a few groceries based on state regulations, I have to admit that it’s not my worst offer. But just because he does have all his teeth, albeit in braces, doesn’t mean that the option is even remotely tempting. So in this category, they fall short of the mark.
The second category is based on the premise that I am a person of compassion and mercy. This assumption cracks me up every time. Boys will come straight out and beg, even going so far as to clasp their tiny hands in front of them in an earnest appeal, but girls go straight for the jugular and turn on the waterworks. These lavish displays of emotion make me uncomfortable because a) I have a heart of stone and tears just roll right off its granite surface and b) it seems a poor form of stewardship to waste perfectly good tissues on theatrics when there are plenty of legitimate snotty noses out there in need of a Kleenex. So once the boys are done begging and the girls are finished weeping, I assure them the only way to get a better grade is to take some responsibility and to earn it themselves. I’m just cruel that way.
The third category is the one that moves me the most, and even though attempts in this area have still been abysmal failures, I cherish these moments in my mental teaching scrapbook. Allow me to relate portions of a recent reflection letter that a student included in his writing portfolio. He began by remembering the “two extraordinary classes I took with the wonderful Ms. Carver,” and he lauded my “fantastic ways of breaking down grammar.” It gained momentum from there. I was chuckling two sentences in, but when I read that he “was a misplaced modifier, but you put me in the right place,” nothing remained but to lay my head on the desk and howl, much to the amusement of my study hall students. As I wiped tears from my eyes, I had to admire his style.
Every teacher wants to feel that she has positively impacted her students, even if that impact has been grossly exaggerated. According to this reflection letter, my Nobel prize for grammar should be arriving any day since I’ve apparently made the world a better place through the proper placement of phrases. At the end of the day, while I doubt any statues or medals will show up on my doorstep, I simply content myself with the knowledge that I am making a difference.
Even if no one gives me an A for effort.
© 2013 – Traci Carver