I have been debating about posting on this situation for about a week. It has gotten to the point that I could use some insight from others. I need help to be sure I'm addressing this properly. Apologies in advance because this is going to be rather long, but I think the detail is important.
DS is in 6th grade, which is middle school. He is an A science student. He loves science and is excited to learn everything about it. For years, he has talked about wanting to work in a science or math related field.
The middle schools here have dedicated teachers assigned to science. They have just started a new science curriculum. It's called a "layered" curriculum -- there are C, B, and A layers of assignments. In a nutshell, all the kids are expected to do the work in the C layer. That is the minimum. If the kids have time (and this means spending time outside of class), they may do B layer and A layer work. The work becomes more complex in the B and A layers. A layer work is the most challenging. The kids cannot start any B or A layer work until they have completed all the work in the previous layer.
The teacher initiates the first science unit with layered assignments. Her message to the parents is to "check the student's point sheet to see what they are working on." I was doing that. I could see what DS had been working on. He was earning points for assignments.
The teacher sends an e-mail to the parents letting us know that the kids are behind in their work. She states that if they expect to earn As or Bs, then they have to do the A- and B-layer work. This was the first time we'd been told explicitly that the layers corresponded with letter grades. The deadline for the work at that time was 10/17/12. If we expected that our kids should earn Bs or As, then we should have them come in early before school (7 a.m.) on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays or they should use their study hall time to get the work done. I looked at DS's point sheet again that day. In looking at it, I discovered that there was a calendar on the back of the point sheet with an end date of 10/17/12. I noticed that two class periods were crossed off. I asked DS why they were crossed off. He said the teacher didn't let them work on their projects those days and showed videos instead. Given his work rate at that point, he was on track to earn a C given the number of days remaining before the deadline. I worked with him to create a plan to get all the work done before the deadline.
The teacher posts a note on the school's homework website stating that the deadline for the projects was extended to 10/24/12. No explanation was provided.
DS worked hard over the preceding weekend and the afternoons the previous week to complete his remaining C-layer work. DS came home from school and informed me that the reason for the 10/24 extension was that the teacher decided to go on a three-day, off-site field trip with the 7th graders. She doesn't presently teach 7th grade. There was no further communication from the teacher about the status of the projects or how her absence would affect them.
DS completed the B-layer work. He asked the teacher after school about starting the A-layer work. He said she told him to wait until the weekend when she would post the assignments on the class website. DS says she stated she would post it "by Saturday." The teacher left for her field trip on 10/17/12.
DS engages in busy work assigned by the substitute teacher. He cannot proceed with his projects.
I e-mailed the teacher to make sure that DS understood her direction about him waiting until the weekend to get the instructions from the website. I didn't want him to let the whole weekend go by unnecessarily because the final deadline for the work was 10/24/12. The teacher replied and stated that she would have the instructions posted sometime over the weekend (not "by Saturday," as DS stated). She also said she had left work in the room for the kids to do while she was gone. She did not specify the type of work or how it related to these projects. I asked her if the work in the classroom included the A-layer work. She replied and said that she specifically remembered DS approaching her after class (not after school as DS reported) and that she told him there would be work in the room and that she would post the A-layer work sometimes this weekend. I replied again and said that DS was under the impression that he couldn't do any A-layer work while she was gone and needed to wait through the weekend until it was posted online. I asked again if A-layer work had been available in the classroom during her absence. She did not reply.
DS checked his class website all day on 10/20 to see if she posted the A-layer work. She didn't.
The teacher posted the instructions for the A-layer work at 4 a.m. I'm not kidding. I happened to be awake at 5 a.m. (insomnia), so I logged on and saw it. One assignment could be done at home. The other had to be done at school.
We kept DS home from church and his youth group so he could get the one assignment done at home. We felt that this would give him more time to focus on the assignment that had to be done at school by that 10/24 deadline. He worked all day on the assignment that could be done at home. It was extensive and required PowerPoint slides and a typed paper.
The assignment that has to be done at school requires the kids to conduct three tests for an experiment. The experiment requires a microscope and all the associated paraphernalia. Then the kids have to write a research paper about their hypothesis, how they conducted the experiment, and their findings.
The teacher posts a note on the website stating that she has the stomach flu and won't be at school in the morning. She states that the kids should not come early if they were planning to work before school. She says she will consider changing the deadline again. The note also says, "I hope this is a quick bug for many reasons I won't share but mostly because I am anxious to get back." Reasons she won't share?
10/22 and 10/23/12
Teacher is out sick. Although DS has the A-layer assignments in hand, he still can't do any work at school on his last assignment because the microscopes are locked up when the teacher isn't there. DS tried to check the assignment folders to see if there were any examples of experiments or any other information that he might need to carry out his experiment; however, the assignment folders had been removed from the bin where they'd been kept. There was more busy work with the substitute. The teacher posts a note on the website stating that the deadline will be moved to "no earlier than 10/29."
Teacher returns to the classroom. No notice is given to parents, so no kids can work before school. During class, DS asks the teacher if he can work on his experiment. Teacher refuses because she says other kids are still finishing the C-layer work, so he has to wait for them to finish because there aren't enough microscopes. She tells him to try again the next day. According to DS, the new deadline for all the work is 10/31; however, parents have not been notified of this via e-mail or website. The website still says "no earlier than 10/29."
During class, DS found a free microscope and set up his entire experiment. He asked the teacher for salt, which he needed to carry out the experiment. She refused, stating that the room was too chaotic and there were too many kids trying to work. She told him he needs to come in early tomorrow before school to get it done. Still no announcement to parents about the new deadline. Website still says "no earlier than 10/29."
Note: Although her 10/10 e-mail states that parents will see grades for each layer of assignments, no grades have been posted on the class website since 9/27.
Now you're up to speed. Tomorrow morning, I have to take DS to school at 7 a.m. so he can complete his A-layer experiment. I have lost my patience with this situation. I believe I have already attempted to address concerns about these projects directly with the teacher, so I don't plan on e-mailing her about it again. My opinion is that she owes me a response on the previous e-mail, which she ignored. I have no confidence that she will reply to further e-mail from me. (I should mention that I e-mailed her once earlier in the quarter about a grade that DS was missing. It took her four days to reply.)
I also can't feel confident that the deadline is now 10/31. I believe we are wiser to operate under the assumption that it is 10/29 because that is what is still posted on the website. If DS is able to get his experiments done tomorrow, he will be able to write the paper over the weekend and turn it in on Monday to meet the possible 10/29 deadline.
Right now, my plan is to walk with DS to the science classroom tomorrow morning so that I can be sure that she is there and that he can do the experiments. In my opinion, if she told him to come in early tomorrow, then she needs to be there and she should allow him to do the work. If that does not happen, my plan is to head to the school office to speak with the principal.
I am troubled by the poor communication from the teacher. I also am troubled that the teacher has refused twice to allow DS to continue his work during class time. I'm speculating here, but it appears that the schools may be under some mandate to ensure that all the kids are performing at least at the C level (a minimum standard), which could be why she has been pushing DS away from the equipment. This allows the kids who are still doing C-layer work to meet their minimum. If that is true, then I worry about the message that sends to the kids who have been working at the higher levels. Regardless of the extra time outside of class that they're spending on projects, they wind up stymied in the end because other kids who haven't been putting in the extra time are taking up the equipment.
I also see bigger-picture issues. A reality is that some kids don't have the resources to come in early before school starts. They ride the bus. Their parents may not be able to drive them to school at 7 a.m. Some kids may need to eat breakfast before school in the cafeteria. Some kids may not have the resources to do this work at home, like a computer with internet access and a word processor. DS had minimal experience with PowerPoint before this weekend. Some kids may not have parents with the skills to walk them through setting up a PowerPoint slide or finding graphics online. What happens to those kids? Are they relegated to getting Cs in science because they don't have the personal resources to do more? Is that equal opportunity in learning? And then we have the issue of overall equipment availability. If there are only four microscopes in the classroom, it seems pretty obvious that there would be conflicts regardless of which layer of work the kids are working on.
What, if anything, should I say to the teacher if she is in fact in the classroom tomorrow morning? I plan to stay only long enough to ensure that DS is allowed to work.
If you would continue to attempt discussion with the teacher, what would you say?
If you would bypass the teacher and go to the principal, what would you say?
Should these issues be addressed with the principal regardless of whether DS is allowed to do his experiments in the morning?
Please be honest: Am I hovering like a helicopter or do my concerns make sense?
Thank you for reading all of this.