Student entitlement

Every year, the seniors in my high school participate in something called “senior ditch day”.

They claim it is “sanctioned” by the school.  So much so that they added a second ditch day a few years ago since it was no longer rebellious to ditch on a sanctioned day.  It was never really sanctioned, though our administration turned a deft eye to it.

Many teachers, however, did not.  I have my own tradition:  I have a quiz on senior ditch day.  It is a very easy quiz.  It is announced weeks in advance (“whenever there is a ditch day, there WILL be a quiz”).  The class average is about 99.9%.  The make up (which I am required to give) is slightly different.  That class average is closer to about 5%.  I do not give extra credit in my classes, so this is about the best chance they get:  ditch and pay the penalty, or show up and reap a little reward.  To be honest, the quiz takes five minutes, but it is often a class period I can ill afford to lose on a makeshift holiday which always follows losing kids for AP tests, other field trips, traveling to middle schools to perform the school play, the spring concert, etc.

It also highlights a valuable lesson:  you have freedom to choose what to do, but not freedom from its consequences.  Especially for students who have lower grades, they need to be there.

As usual, I had pretty high attendance as kids grumbled curses to me under their breaths.  Some did not show.

One student in particular was riding the C-D border, and chose not to show up.  He took the retake, and was furious that the quiz was “impossible”.  He complained the next day in class, with his own friends silencing him with “I showed up, you chose not to be here”.

Wednesday was the last day for seniors.  They took their final and left.  This student had a bad final, and secured himself a “D”.

Today, I got an e-mail that included the fateful sentence “I don’t think it is fair that I missed a “C” because I chose to participate in Senior Ditch Day.”  My colleagues and I had a good laugh.

For those that didn’t attend school that day, it did bite them, and in some cases played a role in dropping a letter grade.  Sure, they could have scored higher on other tests / turned in more homework / and actually studied for the physics final.  But some will opt to focus on how unfair it was that they got punished for screwing up.

Thankfully, it was not all or even most students. (I received one other letter, that did not blame or ask for any changes, but just wished to confirm their grade).  However, the melding of the corporate entitlement is clearly established in education.  Students and parents pay to go to school, and expect something in return.  For most, it is a good education.  For others it is “the grade”.  Those who think they are paying for a grade have serious misunderstandings as to how education should and does work.

I also took an exit poll of my students asking them to rate their effort in the second semester from 1 (breathed, metabolized) to 5 (worked harder than on any other class they have ever taken).  One student ranked herself a “4” (a high “B” student, and I believe it), no one else higher than 3, with an average of 2.35.  Of my 59 senior physics students, only one earned an “A” for the second semester.

There are certainly bad teachers, but let this be a lesson:  JUST because a teacher doesn’t “give” a lot of high grades, does not make them heartless or uncaring.

I don’t particularly care if this student ever stops hating me, but I do hope he learns a lesson.


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