Last Rites

I know this person; you do too. He's the one with all the ideas, the overworked imagination, the visionary who gets a simple assignment and turns it into a DisneyWorld Extravaganza, and who then disappears when it's time to do the work.

Let's call my person Cop Out.

Cop Out is always absent. I can especially count on him to be absent any time there is a major assignment due, but he still misses quite a bit of class. Cop Out has never, in my recollection, taken a test or given a presentation on time.

Cop Out's a big talker, though. For this last assignment, I gave my class two whole weeks to work on their projects. Cop Out's group spent a lot of time trying to turn their project into a Spanish soap opera (not the assignment), and their To Do List was mighty indeed. It wasn't until Cop Out was absent last week that they got anything done at all.

Cop Out has been telling me, for two weeks, how great his group's project is, and how it's going to be the best thing I've ever seen, and how he's really working hard on it.

"Let me be clear on this," I told my whole class. "Do you see those words at the bottom of your assignment sheet? I typed 'em big for a reason. 'THIS PROJECT IS DUE TUESDAY, APRIL 24. NO EXCEPTIONS!' And I do not care what the student handbook says, I will not accept any excuses accept for YOUR PERSONAL DEATH. Do we understand each other? There is no make-up date, there is no late work, there is just me putting five zeroes in my grade book next to your name. SO YOU'D BEST BE IN CLASS THAT DAY."

One student immediately began What-Iffing me (guess who).

-"Ms. Flower, what if we're in the hospital?"
(I will need three [3] notarized letters from your doctor, the hospital administrator, and God.)

-"Ms. Flower, what if we have a death in the family?"
(What did I say? If it is not YOUR PERSONAL DEATH, you are not excused.)

-"Ms. Flower, what if nobody in our group shows up?"
(You will all be down by 500 points. EACH.)

-"Ms. Flower, what if ...?"
-"Ms. Flower, what if ...?"
-"Ms. Flower, what if ...?"

Until I finally had to say to the child, with a loud voice and my finger pointing in the air, "I DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU COME UP WITH, THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS. NONE. BE HERE OR ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES."

So guess who did not come to school today. Left his group high and dry, with no forewarning or explanation.

Ordinarily I would not be this angry, but this is a BIG project, one that will actually account for almost half their grade this nine weeks. I've made myself clear on this, several times. I believed him when he said he would be here.

Also, it's not like his absence affected only HIS grade. Though the majority of the project was based on individual effort, this presentation was the product of several people's work. His group members had lugged in two cars full of props and costumes, as well as an ACTUAL HUMAN BABY, only to find that they'd been the victims of a Classic Cop Out. And they were MAD.

If he's not dead now, he's gonna want to be.


Kathleen said...

I always thought is was really too bad that teachers would penalize an entire group for the idiocy of one child, even when my child was the idiot.

I'm sure you're a marvelous teacher. And I know this practice is a universal teacher deal. I didn't like it over thirty years ago when I was in school and I don't really like it now that my boys are in school. The hard workers carry the others along and/or the slackers pull the others down. The practice has always seemed unfair to me.

Mei said...

Let's just be clear on this: only one person's grade is affected by this student, and that is his own. Even though the group does the work together, each child gets his/her own individual grade based on his/her own performance. In a theater class, and especially with this project, it is almost impossible to do anything that is not group work. So I don't give a "group grade," because I, too, don't think everyone should suffer because of one person's idiocy. His group members, who DID their work, get their credit.

Group work can be successful if the teacher is vigilant enough and is actively involved in the process. I worked hard, myself, to keep kids on task, to give ideas, and above all, to keep the groups from dividing into the hard worker/slacker categories. Even my big talker worked hard when I was standing over him (which I had to do quite often). But I couldn't go to his house and wake him up and march him into the classroom; that was all him.

Kathleen said...

okay - it just didn't sound that way when I read it... probably because my personal experience was the opposite - the group grade was everybody's grade, at least enough of a portion of everybody's grade as to affect it adversely if someone didn't do their part.

I'm glad Cop Out's no-show only really affected his own bottom line... though he surely disappointed his class mates at the presentation, it is good that he didn't cause them all to get a zero too!

Sorry I misunderstood.


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