Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Teacher's Diary: dealing with complaints

So it just seemed to be a normal day until my boss called me in. I know the problem as soon as I look at her desk and see the exam scores for class nine C.

Nine C has been a headache all year. It's such a shame because I used to be very close with them but somehow they went from my top class to my most difficult class. I find the majority of them inattentive and several of them downright nasty.

But that's not the problem, the real problem is twofold. Firstly, a lot of other teachers don't have a problem with nine C. Some classes are universally "difficult" and others equally "good". But every teacher has an exception and nine C is mine, so any complaint arising from this class will attract attention.

Secondly, I've found many Thai administrators in schools lack a sense of proportion. If you have a class of fifty students and one complains, it's not: "One student complained", it's: "This class complained". The reverse is true, I've lost count of the number of times I've been told "This class really likes you" only to discover it's two or three students (ten percent) who have actually voiced an opinion. This loss of balance also applies to other topics. So we hear: "This class wants to focus more on listening skills" etc.

Anyway, back to my problem: a 9C student's parents have complained about her low test scores in my class. They objected on grounds that she has no problems in other classes - hence the reason for the first of my twofold problems I just mentioned - and that she has a very good notebook.

I look at her scores - she has indeed scored considerably lower for Social Studies than any other subject in all four areas (speaking, listening, reading, writing) and this isn't the first complaint to come out of the class. I'm starting to feel the strain here;this is my own fault because I've been too honest and made life difficult for myself.

In private schools in Thailand, the understanding is that nobody fails. Most teachers are happy to play along with this and give blanket high scores to everyone. Some teachers simply give one hundred percent to every student in every class. I don't do this for two reasons: not only is it dishonest, but it draws attention away from the gifted students who have worked hard to actually achieve high scores.

But the parents of this particular student are venting their anger. I explain the reasons for the low scores to my boss and to her massive credit she not only listens but actually tries to understand my view, but she's worried about any further confrontation with the parents. I offer to meet the parents but they can't speak English; so instead I offer to "review" the student's score (i.e. give the parents the score they want to forget this whole darn episode). This seems to go down well, until the phone call comes in from mum saying that her daughter will not and should not have to test again.

I investigate further. It seems that I've compounded things by giving the girl the wrong grade for her written work, it should indeed have been higher. I arrange an amendment and apology but her speaking and listening scores are correct;she couldn't answer the questions I gave her (about the Chakri Dynasty).

Mum and Dad are still unhappy. My boss arranges a chat with the student. She asks the student the same questions I asked in the test. The student confesses that she cannot answer and then agrees to confess that to mum and dad. Hopefully, the episode is all over.

What saddened me was that mum and dad's complaint never really seemed to centre around the progress of their daughter, but rather the idea that teachers should not have the right to give honest grades.

For some time I've been somewhat of a "grading rebel" but perhaps now it's time to toe the line and keep everyone happy, since my circumstances have changed yet again....

For when I get home today I'm greeted with some news that shocks me out of my chair. My wife is pregnant once again!

BTW As an aside I was saddened to discover that of my 130 grade nine students, a grand total of one could tell me the correct birthplace of HM The King.


Fonzi said...

Congratulations on your new child.

Your integrity is admirable with the school dilemma.

I hope your integrity doesn't interfere with providing for your family.

I'd say stick with your principles, but that is easy to say when you have 4 mouths to feed.

Good luck on both fronts.

tiz said...

Congratulations on the good news!

Additionaly, I'd suggest the same as Fonzi, try to stick to your principles if possible. Those parents balk at Thaksin's corruption, yet they expect they can buy their kids high grades.. Another example of the hypocrisy in Thai society, it runs deep.

But who knows, by sticking to your principles, the kids will actually at some point understand the causality between studying hard and getting good grades, and learn to appreciate this.

Another grassroots rebellion, maybe at some point you can make a difference and have the kids who come out of your class become different parents than their own.

Romantic? Indeed, but it never hurts to try.