First Term Reports
I recently had Parent-Teacher Conferences at my school following the first term report cards. Those conferences went well for the most part, although as a general rule I rue meeting with parents. I had trouble with one pair of Korean parents who thought that I under-graded their son. Especially, they said, in comparison with the other Korean students in the class. I was shocked by the frank admission that the Korean parents regularly “share information,” meaning compare their children’s homework, test, and report card marks to see how they rate against each other. I told them flat out that what they admitted to was gossip, and that gossip does not amount to “sharing information” so much as it does to “making up stories.” And besides, gossip generates confusion more than anything else.
The boy in question is a bright student. but he is fresh out of ESL and his English skills - speaking, reading and writing - still need a lot of improvement. Even though his test results were the same, or sometimes better than other students, Korean and Japanese, I graded him down on the basis of his language skills. I mean, he cannot read fluently, he cannot clearly say what he knows, and he has trouble writing what he knows. Even though he does know the answers I have a heck of a time understanding him. So with him it comes down to language straight down the line.
But his parents didn’t accept that and even still they have refused to endorse the school’s copy of the report by signing it. I think that the boy’s father, a geologist at a prestigious university, was offended by my evaluation, especially in Science. On our first meeting he and his wife came together prepared for battle, with all of their son’s homework, clipped together separately by subject, with copious hand-written notes that they probably stayed up half the night writing, a copy of the PTA Handbook earmarked at the page that describes how grades are assigned, and a calculator. What should have been no more than a 20-minute meeting stretched to over an hour.
The short of it was that they wanted me to change the report. I told them that I would review it, and I did. I have a black-and-white photocopy of almost all the work the students do, so I reviewed all of their son’s work. I decided that I would change the report, and mark him upwards. I am but a servant, after all. The school administration is adamantly against that, though, because if word gets out - as it immediately would among the Korean cadre - that parents forced a change in a school report then all the parents would soon be clambering for the same treatment. And, the Korean parents are a notorious clique. They gossip endlessly and “share information.” Education is a serious competition for them and they are obsessive not only about their children getting good grades, but also about where their children stand in comparison to others - their ranking in the class. They want to know if their child is second, or third, or tenth, or in the top 10%, etc. In our first meeting the father was very quick to draw a direct line from his son’s 2nd Grade report card to his eligibility for a prestigious university in eleven years. Literally just like that.
But I was prepared to change the report, convinced that I did under-grade boy. First I changed it on the computer. But Administration said don’t do that. So I changed it back to the original. Then I changed it again, figuring that Administration will never know about it if my second meeting with the parents, like the first, was just between us. But there the parents threw a wrench in the works. Because, by asking for a translator for our second meeting they spoiled any chance for me privately to give them a revised report card. I had it printed and ready to hand over, with a disclaimer for them to sign saying that I was changing it against my judgment. But with the Vice Principal sitting there translating for us I could do no such thing. Without knowing it, the parents lost their chance to have their wish. I had to endure a second hour-long meeting in which I had to explain and justify every mark and comment on the report card with specific references to homework, tests and quizzes. I don’t want that again, so I have already written the 2nd Term report card
- due on March 7th - with almost straight-As, just to stave off trouble.