Thursday, May 22, 2008

Making the grade

Last week, I had a day that I thought was a pretty darn good one, as far as work days go. I was gathering up my 10-year-old’s sundries so we could drive across town to pick up his younger brother at preschool.
“Oh, Mom,” he said while hen-pecking the computer keys. “I got a 58 on my Civil War project.”
He delivered it like he would, “We learned about pimples in health class today.”
I tried to contain my swirling fury (anger).
I had spent the last six weeks helping him with said report, gathering research materials for him to read, record and finding a cool Web site with actual photos from the Civil War, then constructing a big board with them labeled and ordered. “Are you sure?” I asked, thinking he must be mistaken (denial). How could he do so badly?
Maybe I can think of a way to broach the idea of a second chance to his teacher, I thought. A way to boost B’s grade, because we must not have understood her requirements (bargaining).
I got on the phone. Called the principal. Too late, B’s teacher had left for the day. “Have her call me tomorrow,” I asked.
That night was tough. I grilled B. “What did she say when you got the grade? Did she give you a reason? Is there something big we overlooked? How did the other kids do?”
(“I don’t remember,” “No. “I don’t think so” and “I don’t know.”)
Our U.S. military special ops would have better luck extracting “intelligence” from bin Laden.
The next school day, the teacher didn’t return my call. My son said she had conferences on and off during the day.
With a day and a half to ruminate, I began to worry myself sick. “He’s not going to graduate fifth grade!” (depression)
Finally, the next morning arrived. “Get your book bag, B. We’re going to go in to school early and talk to Mrs. M.”
“If you did lousy, at least I want to know why” (acceptance).
B. was less than happy with the idea, noisily shuffling up the staircase to the fourth- and fifth-grade floor, and lingering outside the door.
His teacher looked up from a book she was reading at her desk, hair glowing golden, recently lightened. She looked exceptionally pretty-eyed, tanned face smiling at me — curious.
“B. told me he got a 58 on his term paper and I’m astounded. I wonder what he did wrong,” I said. “We worked so hard on it for the last month and a half.”
Her eyes widened. “I don’t know where he got that impression. I haven’t graded anybody yet. We’re still presenting them to the class.
“I have a rubrick that I use to make sure all the components are met. I won’t even sit down with that until over the weekend.”
I slunk out of the room, mortified.
Yesterday, just as surreptitiously, I learned B’s grade. Found the sheet in his book bag while cleaning it out.
In red pen, cursive: “100 percent.”
Chicken Little has left the room.

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