The Student Who Didn’t Pass

Looking back, I’ve been fortunate to have had 99% marvelous students, but the two that stick out in my mind most as difficult were…teachers themselves!

My very first term, one of these students – an older lady – received a score on the written test that was not a passing score. Her essay consisted of a chain of unrelated but grammatically correct sentences. She came to class with all of the answers written out in her book; if I wasn’t asking questions in the order they were in the book – or heaven forbid questions that weren’t even in the book – she couldn’t and/or wouldn’t answer.

I marked her test and by no stretch of imagination could her score have been high enough to pass. I spoke to the other teacher about it, in the brief period our schedules allowed, and wrote out the form that she hadn’t passed and needed to take the test again, in six or eight weeks, as school policy seemed to hold.

The student didn’t like this and complained.

There was a time when I didn’t think the school would support me – the other teacher, who I had spoken to, was ready to back down and “just pass her”. In the end, the school conferred that she had in fact failed.

Was I right? It’s hard to say. I was definitely unfamiliar with how things were done, and when I’d checked with the other teacher she hadn’t pointed this out. I also had not violated any written or explicit policy of the school…but in many places a teacher has a wide discretion that was quite foreign to me, coming from the US where things, though often set up differently, tend to be more by the book. In my experience at home as a student, a number is a number, especially on a written exam which has right and wrong answers. If you don’t get enough answers correct…you fail. And that’s “you fail” and not “the teacher fails you.”

Fortunately, the school developed other testing methods – including an oral exam – soon after, so other students and teachers were less likely to be put in the same position later – and which this student probably wouldn’t have passed anyway.

I think the lesson though is just to be very aware the this kind of stuff is in fact different in different places. Is that right? I don’t know and as a new teacher it wasn’t really my place to judge, yet that is exactly what I was in a position to do. If someone is about to fail, it is often good to ensure that you are following the school policy however you act. Should you pass someone who “deserves” to fail? Well, not really, but if the school is going to let that person pass anyhow, it’s worth considering what you will gain by sticking to your guns.