What A 55 Looks Like On This Side [Fail Is A Strong Word]

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

Sifting through the multitude of ungraded papers, I looked for some sign that they actually learned something.

I hate entering in 55s in my Excel sheet. A teacher can say whatever they want to the kids, and threaten them about not doing well, but most of us prefer that all of our kids do well from the early going. Even when we hold high standards for our students, none of us actually want our students to get a 55.

I don’t necessarily let it happen. I more wait to see if the student gets the idea that I’m hopeful, encouraging, and downright reaffirming, but I’m not going to back down from the level I want them to achieve. I’ll meet them where they are, re-re-repeat my lesson, ask students to re-re-re-explain everything we just did, let them work together, in groups, in pairs, as a class, give them homework, or not, a lot of problems, a few problems, a long, short, medium problem that they have one or two days to complete, and …


A few days before the end of the marking period, a couple of students will rescue themselves, not with extra credit, but making up their assignments. I’ll be nice and accept them for some credit. But the others who need it the most won’t get the hint, even after I make it plain for them. I’ll huff and puff and think to myself, “Like, yo, What the …, do my monologues count for nothing these days?”

Of course, we’ll sit there during parent-teacher conference. I’ll break out the call logs, the works I’ve graded, the work I ask them to hold for their portfolio, the progress reports mid-quarter, and the set of questions that sound less like a teacher, more like Jack McCoy:

  • Did you, in the night in question, do your required assignments?
  • Did your teacher, Mr. Vilson, actually give you the grade or did you earn that?
  • How is it unfair when he gave you weeks to turn those in?
  • How do you think he feels about the grade he gave you?

I won’t get that far before I re-establish a common vision with the parents in question about how the student ought to perform, but shortly thereafter, I’ll sit there, looking at their grade, wondering about my next steps. I’ll move them to the very front, let them inhale some of the fumes from my oft-used dry erase markers, make them repeat and respond to another student’s remarks more often than I already do, pat them on the shoulder more often, read all my articles on Edutopia again, and let them haunt my thoughts, and wonder what their experience was before I got them that made them into the student they are right now.

A quarter into the school year, and I’m hoping we can meet at least halfway on their achievement, because my job is to help them get the rest of the way through.

Mr. Vilson, for sure.

[Sidebar: I get some of you live in school systems that allow for you to say: “Then why grade at all?” You’re fortunate.]