“Better Never than Late?”

This is a hypothetical situation from Schoolhouse Dilemmas: Scenarios for Mentoring Secondary Teachers. In this scene, the teacher must determine what to do about a star football player who cannot make it to class on time and risks missing “the big game.”

Better Never than Late?


Freddy is senior in your first period class.  He is also the football team’s star wide receiver.  How good is he at football?  He is an all-state caliber player with scholarship offers from top schools across the country.  How good is he at academics?  Not quite as good.  But to stay eligible, he does keep a “C” average even with his after school obligations and many recruiting trips.

Freddy’s real problem, though, is making it to your class on time.  To date, he has been late to eight classes.  After the sixth tardy, in accordance with school policy, you gave him an office referral that resulted in an automatic series of three detentions.  The school policy also mandates that after an additional three tardies, a student should be suspended for three days.  While the policy is harsh, it generally is an effective deterrent.

Yet, Freddy is one tardy away from an automatic suspension.  With the football playoffs looming, Freddy is the team’s best hopes for a successful season.  But, if he is suspended from school on the day of a game, he cannot play in the game.  You have warned Freddy that you have to turn him in, and he has told you that he tries to get there in time, but that he just is not a morning person.  He also says that getting up in the morning is harder because he “crashes when he gets home from practice around eight” each night. Then he wakes up to look at the dozen or so pieces of mail from college recruiters he receives daily. At least one or two college coaches call him each night. Sometimes he gets calls after 10pm from college coaches. He may not start homework on some nights until 11 or 11:30.

The Monday before the last game of the season, the game the team will need to win in order to make the playoffs, Freddy walks to the classroom door a couple of minutes after the bell has rung.  He sees you at the front of the room and knows that the lesson has already begun.  The two of you make eye contact, and he turns around and leaves.  In short, Freddy has chosen to take an absence rather than risk a tardy that could cause him to be suspended.

You check with the student attendance office during your plan, and you find out that Freddy signed into school at the beginning of second period.  In the attendance office’s eyes, he was never at school until the beginning of second period.  Furthermore, the secretary tells you that his mother called to say that he was late due to an appointment.

The next day, Freddy comes to class a minute or so after the bell rings.  As he steps towards the door, he sees you standing next to it and asks, “If I come in, am I late?”

Dilemma: “If they’re not failing, then you’re not teaching!”

This scenario appears in Chapter Six: “Grading and Assessment Philosophies.” What would you say to your colleague in this situation? How much should the students’ future classes dictate your curriculum? How do you know that your students have earned the grades you’ve assigned?

For further reflection, read my Edueto article: Do You Know What You’re Doing as a Grader?

“If they’re not failing, then you’re not teaching!”


You are at the end of your first semester at your new high school.  In accordance with school policy, you have posted your class’s final grades outside your door.  Relieved to have put this semester to bed, you stroll into your department’s break room, pour a cup of coffee, and take a seat at your desk.  But before long, a colleague approaches you and asks if you have a moment to chat.

“Um, some of us noticed the grades you gave,” she begins.  “I don’t know what experience you’ve had in the past, but at this school we do NOT give that many A’s in one class.  And I cannot believe that no one failed.”

You try to explain that everyone did their work and earned the grades they received, but your colleague responds by saying, “Well, your standards must not be as high as ours.  Those kids will hate you when they go to the next grade and find that they’re unprepared.”

Dilemma: Shoot-out at the Copy Room

This excerpt is from Chapter Three, “The School as Workplace”

Shoot-out at the Copy Room


Sometimes your best ideas do not come during your plan.  On this Tuesday morning, you are driving to school and thinking about your plans for the day’s lessons when “the perfect activity” unfolds in your brain.  You’re so excited that you nearly run every light between you and the school in an effort to get to a computer and a copying machine.

Once you arrive at school, you hurriedly race to your computer.  You type with zest and speed and develop a handout that you feel will produce the best class of the semester.  You only regret that you are not being observed by an administrator today.

When you pull your handout off of the printer, you glance at your watch; it reads 8:10.  You still have twenty minutes until class. Triumphantly, you march to the school’s copy room.

Approaching the copy room, though, you notice a line of colleagues standing in the hallway, waiting for the one machine that is working this morning.  No problem, you think.  There’s plenty of time.  So you get in line behind Mrs. Allen and wait for your turn.

Unfortunately, Mr. Benson is three spaces ahead of you, and Ms. Carlson is behind him.  Mr. Benson is an American Government teacher who brags that he is the “Copy King” due to the bulk of reading material he gives to his students.  Judging by the stack of papers in his hands, he looks to be padding his lead over any competitors vying for his throne.

Ms. Carlson is an older teacher.  Older than what?  Seemingly time itself.  She fondly recalls the days of using duplex machines and still has not quite adjusted to the “new-fangled” copier that the school purchased five years ago.  It is common for her to need assistance with anything other than simple single sided, non-collated copies.

You scan your watch after a few moments, and it reads 8:15.  Luckily, Mr. Benson does not take too long to make his copies, despite their apparent bulk.  Ms. Carlson approaches the machine when Mrs. Jones storms into the room.

“I’m sorry, but I have a first period class, and I had a meeting this morning. You don’t mind, do you?” she chirps.

Ms. Carlson steps aside saying, “Oh, no, of course not.  I’m in no hurry.”

You’re a little upset, but there’s still time, and you say nothing.  Plus, Mrs. Jones only has a couple of originals that need copying.  Alas, she only takes a minute or two, and now Ms. Carlson is up.  She, however, runs several copies that she inspects then throws away because lines from the original are cut off at the bottom of the page.  Then there is a paper jam as she tries to stop copying a page that she did not mean to copy.  You and Mrs. Allen help her clear the machine, and you look at your watch to notice that the time is now a little after 8:27.

As Ms. Carlson finishes her copies, you remember that Mrs. Allen has plan first period.  Furthermore, you remember letting her slide ahead of you in line during your lunch-period a few days earlier.  You kindly ask her if you can go ahead.

“Well!  I’ve waited longer than you have.  You can wait; I’ve just got four things to copy.” And she proceeds to make her copies.

Dilemma Group Lesson or Mob Rule?



Here is an excerpt from School House Dilemmas. It appears in Chapter Two: Methods and Curricular Decisions.

Group Lesson or Mob Rule?


As a new teacher, you are still trying to find your style.  You remember that some of your high school teachers used group work and that you preferred talking with your classmates about course material.  In fact, sometimes you felt that you learned more from your peers than from your teachers.

Now, you are the teacher.  One thing that you want to incorporate is extensive group-work.  After a few weeks, however, you realize that your group activities are not as successful as you had hoped.  To start, they seem to take longer than you anticipate.  You typically wait about ten minutes for the kids to complete your assignment and then ask, “How many of you have finished?”  Usually, about a third of the kids raise their hands.  And a few minutes later, when you try to end the activity, several of the students ask for a few more minutes, as they are not done.

Furthermore, when you ask the kids to get into groups, the kids do not respond as you’d like.  To start, you notice that two or three students tend to keep to themselves and not work with others.  Also, even if you ask for groups of three or four, sometimes groups of six or seven get together–and the same kids always seem to work together, even if you ask them to partner with different classmates.  Plus, you’ve noticed that several high-achievers tend to roll their eyes when you tell the class that you need them to break into groups.  You also find that you have to give instructions several times as some students ask, “What are we doing?” after the activity has begun.

Then, when you try to go over the work they’ve completed, you have several more problems.  Some of the students talk while others are discussing their work.  Those who have permission to talk often speak too softly, causing classmates on the other side of the room to interrupt and complain, “I can’t hear!”  And when you are finished with the group activity, you have a very difficult time getting the students’ focus and attention for the next activity.

You ardently believe in cooperative learning, but so far the experience has been so miserable that you want to stick to lecturing and individual seat-work.

How would you proceed?