When your class is "just" an elective

This year, in my continuing quest to create a classroom that is focused on real language proficiency, I have made several changes to my course structure. I have been working very hard to create a curriculum that is proficiency-based, provides students with loads of comprehensible input, authentic resources, and evaluates their work using a Standards-Based approach (Martina Bex explains this more efficiently than I ever could). In the Standards-Based grading model, a student’s grade is a more accurate reflection of their language proficiency than it is of their work habits. Gone are the days of overly-inflated grades, giving useless “participation points” and grading students on things that do not contribute to their acquisition of the language and therefore assigning grades that are not true indicators of their performance in class.

Cut to Friday. Report cards for the marking period went out, and before the clock even struck 3:00, my phone was ringing. A call from a parent who was absolutely incensed that I had “given” her child a B, when what she wanted was an A. Don’t I know how motivated she is? Don’t I know what a great student she is? Don’t I know that they’re starting to think about college scholarships? Don’t I know that her child’s grade is “my call” and I’ve just laid down the horrible punishment of deciding that she’s a B-student, and not an A-student? Don’t I know that my class is supposed to be the fun class because it’s JUST an elective? And gosh darn it, don’t I know that if it’s “impossible” to get an A in my class, then I need to lower my standards?
Now, cut to parent B, who has a student in the very same class as the first student, who is disappointed in my curriculum and wants to pull her child from my class because she feels it’s not rigorous enough!
This is the impossible conundrum that I am encountering as I move down the path to becoming a proficiency-based teacher. This parent is not the only parent I have encountered who feels this way – that Bs are unacceptable, because hasn’t their student turned in all his/her work? Isn’t s/he respectful? Doesn’t s/he arrive on time? There is no regard for PERFORMANCE in class. There is no appreciation for rigor, for challenging oneself; no recognizing the value of actually working hard. There is only an appreciation for the almighty A, and the assumption that just because you put your behind in a seat and turn in a piece of paper, you deserve the best.
Where is the balance? How do I advocate for my program when the overwhelming belief that because it’s “just an elective” it should all be fun and games and everyone should get an A, regardless of their actual performance? How do I encourage students to embrace where they are on the proficiency scale and to continue working hard to learn and to grow, when all their parents have to do is complain loud enough to the administration and I am forced to bend under the pressure?
I feel defeated, deflated, and unsure of how to move forward, knowing that this is going to continue to be an uphill battle, and I’m not totally sure it’s one I’ll be able to fight and win.

2 thoughts on “When your class is "just" an elective

  1. Hi there! I just read your post about responding to the comment that your class is “just an elective,” and I am wondering if you had made headway in finding solutions to this kind of comment. I would be very interested to know how to be prepared for this.


    1. You know, it’s really all about changing someone’s mindset, which is definitely not easy to do! I think the best way to be prepared is to just know that not everyone “gets” what you do, and to keep advocating for yourself anyway. Eventually, too, the results will start to speak for themselves.


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