What to Do with Those Pesky “Contracts” from the Teacher

Last night, my daughter brought home a “contract” titled “Classroom Rules” from her 9th grade French teacher. The contract was to be signed by both the student and the parent/guardian.

According to the Rules, “If [a student] chooses to break a rule [s/he] earns a zero for the day.”

As readers of this blog know, I disagree with the giving of a zero for a grade. So, in good conscience, I couldn’t sign the bottom of the form, which stated: “I understand and support the rules.”

I crossed out “support the rules,” put an asterisk beside it, and wrote:

Dear Teacher,

Based on my own research, my husband and I don’t agree with the giving of a “zero” as a grade. If you’re interested in seeing that research, I’d be delighted to share it with you.

I’ll let you know what happens.

29 thoughts on “What to Do with Those Pesky “Contracts” from the Teacher

  1. Wow, if I was in your position I’d be objecting to a lot more than the zero grade issue.

    1.) Isn’t a contract supposed to be negotiated by both parties? I’ll bet nobody asked for you or your daughter’s input when the contract was drawn up. Does the teacher have any duties described in the contract?

    2.) I object to the formulation, “if a student chooses to break a rule…” as if the student actually has the freedom to make choices in the classroom. This makes a mockery of the concept of choice. The freedom to “choose” between two alternatives, both defined by someone else, is no freedom at all. It’s like a mugger offering the “choice”, “your money or your life?”

    It reminds me of the ancient joke about a guy who dies and goes to hell. The devil tells him he can choose between three rooms. In the first, people are thrown into a raging fire which burns but does not consume. In the second, people are buried up to their necks in manure. In the third, people are standing around up to their waists in manure, and each person is holding a cup of coffee and a doughnut. The new arrival says, “OK, I’ll take the third room”, and he’s installed up to his waist in manure with his cup of coffee and doughnut. Five minutes later the devil comes back and announces, “Coffee break’s over — back on your heads!”

    These are the kinds of choices your daughter is being offered.

    The whole idea of a contract seems so wrong-headed to me. Learning should be a joy. Teacher and student should be partners in the quest for knowledge. Turning education into a business of contracts and rules and punishments just starts you off down the wrong path.

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  2. Dear Fedup Mom,

    You make great points and I agree with you. In general, though, in a short note like this one, I try to only raise one issue. I’m hoping the teacher will give me a call (I signed with my name and phone number). If she does, I’d like to have a conversation about a lot of her ideas. For instance, in that same note, she stated that her grades were based equally on test scores, class participation, homework, and projects, so that students of all learning styles would be accommodated. In reality, though, that method doesn’t accommodate any student.

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  3. My teenagers in highschool come home with these idiot contracts all the time. I’m going to remember this for next time!

    The other day my daughter told me she took a calculator home from school worth $142…(which I’ve told her NOT to bring anything home from school worth money because it’s sure to get lost in our house…) and she said the school policy is she can’t graduate unless she returns it or pays for it. Thinking there’s something unethical about that…she found the calculator but is still looking for the cover. Now I’m really curious to know how many people haven’t graduated because they couldn’t pay their bills…so much for free public education.

    I hate grades. I don’t give my homeschooled daughter grades. I chose the alternative method of supplying a narrated report on progress to the superintendent.

    And Dear DIane: Since the latest report on Finland I’ve been reading up on them. Maybe we can split the moving van/plane costs! Too bad it’s so cold there…I’m in NY sitting here in 2 feet of snow and already dreading winter..Maybe with global warning it’ll float south….I love Finland more and more every time I read an article about some of their educational philosophies and programs. I try explaining this to some homeschooler naysayers – and they always reply “well, we’re not Finland, we’re in the US” ..publically educated smart people making ignorant statements. Finland is definitely cool. (ha ha I made a pun…)

    Can’t wait to hear what the teacher says..bet she’s complaining behind your back! I doubt she’ll say anything though. Love to see this followed up!

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  4. The teacher wrote me back:

    “The zero is not actually a grade, it (the zero) is factored into the grade for homework and class participation. It is just a way of indicating that a student was unprepared for that day or cut the class.”

    The teacher missed my point (I guess I should have explained it a little more) but at least I didn’t sign the “contract.” Since my daughter attends a very large public high school (4,000+ students), where parent-teacher interaction is minimal and there’s no email access to teachers, I’ll wait until the parent/teacher conference to further discuss the issue.

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  5. Hmmmm….the contract sounds like if they don’t behave they get a zero. Her interpretation of it clearly doesn’t reflect what is in the contract. Perhaps the teacher needs a writing class….or some homework to brush up on her skills??!!

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  6. This teacher needs to spend the year teaching her class as if it was an adult continuing-ed, non-degree class. No grades, no contracts, no punishments. She and her class would learn a ton.

    I’m taking several classes myself on this basis (figure drawing, oil painting, Mandarin Chinese!) and having a ball. I’m learning so much more than I ever did in a conventional school setting.

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  7. Forgot to mention, there’s a good article in the New York Times today, “What’s the Value of a Big Bonus?” Basically, these researchers found that offering people a big bonus for completing a cognitive task actually made their performance worse, because of the stress involved. This is what Alfie Kohn and others have been saying about grades for some years. Is anyone listening?

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  8. Ugh. We get this dumb contracts as well, and my son is only in 6th grade. I don’t sign either and/or modify then sign. I’m never quite sure what the value is, and all I can think about is my son running for president one day and someone from the media pulling out his old school record and showing the things he put his name to way back when.

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  9. As a student i get contracts all the time i almost failed year seven and my teacher said i might have to sign a contract 4 year 8 and myself and parents would have to sign it it said i HAVE to hand in all my work on time and NOT think its to hard, and just give up, i said to myself they can’t look into the future and tell me that i have to get it all done on time i was struggling and my teacher thought i was just being lazy, BULL i sometimes wonder if they ever where a kid and whether they went though school like they didn’t have trouble with any work or large projects. it just makes me wonder and now im still behind at school and he really does not even try to help!
    Hope all goes well.
    Steph:)

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  10. I think that all of you are the reason schools are failing our kids. As I high school teacher I see what your views are doing to the students and I think it is sick. I have only been teaching for 4 years and I do still remember what school was like for me. Students are lazy and at least now I know why. I am sorry if you think answering 4 questions bases on the class notes is to much work for your children.

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  11. Anonymous, if you’re teaching high school, your students could be getting homework from 5 teachers every day. Just the homework you assign, writing answers to 4 questions, could easily take an hour, if the questions are thought-provoking. Then your student still has to deal with 4 more sets of homework! Do you see how quickly this adds up? If the student also plays a musical instrument, or plays a sport, or has a part-time job, or has responsibilities at home, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

    Before you call your students “lazy”, ask them to describe a typical day during the school year. You’d be amazed.

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  12. I am an elementary teacher and after reading the various posts on this website have become increasingly irate. I wonder how parents would feel if there was a website wholeheartedly dedicated to bashing parents? I wonder what teacher would even consider doing such a thing? If we all have the best interests of children at heart, what are you teaching them by handling situations by sending sarcastic, disrespectful emails and notes rather than initiating a conversation with the individuals to solve problems or even try to understand and discuss the rational/research behind possible educational assignments? I do agree that homework reform needs to be addressed, but there could and should be a much more civilized way of approaching these concerns rather than .

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  13. As as follower of this site, my experience has been that the parents who write in have been exceptionally cordial and polite when approaching teachers and administration and they only become less polite when ignored or treated poorly by the teachers or administration. In my own experience, I’ve had very very good relationships with all my child’s teachers and have been able to voice my concerns and have them listened to. Other parents have not been that fortunate.

    I tune in here because I want my child to love school. I want there to never be a day when she says, “school is boring”, or “I don’t want to go to school”. To me homework has no place in elementary school and frankly I was shocked to learn that such a thing even existed once I became a parent, because it didn’t happen when I was a kid. I don’t understand why this change happened but it’s a bad idea and I would like to be a part of a movement that works to change it. There will be no tears in my house over homework…it’s not worth it.

    The saddest commercial on TV right now (here in Canada anyway) is a jingle for Staples…to the tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”..a father pulling a couch through a Staples store and on the couch are two sad faced kids. What better way to kick of the school year than to imply that kids hate going to school and parents can’t wait to be rid of their kids! What messages are we giving our kids about education and school!

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  14. After reading some of the comments left by parents- it is no wonder that so many kids are disrespectful and rude in our society today. There is no respect for authority, rules, order, etc. How fortunate the students and teachers are that live in Korea! There teachers are highly respected. Their Science and Math scores make ours look pretty sad. How can American kids respect teachers when their parents don’t? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! What in the world is going to become of public education if this trend of teacher and school bashing by parents doesn’t stop?! Not everyone can afford to pay for private school! Some parents need to understand that not everything in life is fun and games! The classroom is not a daycare center! It is a place of training and preparation for life!

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  15. Concerned Teacher — what would you recommend a parent should do, if she sees that the school is actually harming her child? In my case, the school caused my child to have severe, chronic anxiety and depression that she is still working to overcome. I tried to be as respectful as I could in resolving the issue, and I was completely unsuccessful. The only thing that worked was taking my daughter out of the public schools.

    Sometimes the teacher is wrong, sometimes the school is wrong. It isn’t “disrespectful” to advocate for your child when they’re hurting. There must be a way for parents (and kids!) to be heard.

    It seems like a lot of teachers want a system where they are beyond questioning, beyond accountability. As you rightly point out, that’s not the American way. The upside to the American way of thinking is that at our best we produce innovative, creative thinkers. The downside to the Asian approach is that at their worst they produce conformist plodders, or drive their most creative students to suicide.

    And if you think I’m exaggerating, see:

    http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/199975.html

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  16. Yes! A new school year means new contracts! I was on the lookout for them this year. They seem more toned down this year (more along the lines of “I acknowledge receipt of these rules” rather than “I agree to these rules”), but it still baffles me that so many teachers don’t realize that by starting out with this sort of authoritarian attitude will close the door to students’ minds from the very beginning. People learn best I think when they feel rapport with or trust the person teaching.

    One teacher, however, tried the classic contract. It went something like this:
    “I, , recognize that I am solely responsible for the grade I receive in this class. I agree to meet these three goals……and acknowledge that if I fail to meet these goals the teacher will call my parents.” There was then room for his signature and a parent’s signature and phone number.

    My son had started working on the goals by the time he showed it to me (and I have to give him credit for realizing that it was beneficial to him to set the goals extremely low), but I took one look at it and said I wouldn’t sign it and my wife agreed. I told him I felt like the teacher had a large influence in grades (both in teaching style and in subjective grading) and so did we as parents.

    He wrote up a new statement saying he had a large influence on his grade and that he would put in a best effort to meet the goals. Then all three of us signed it.

    He won’t have that class again until Tuesday, and I’m very curious what kind of response we’re going to get. I can tell from the other papers she sent home that this is going to be a painful class (A’s can only be given if the student does unassigned work? ). Sadly, he is in this Social Studies class because we took him out of GT Social Studies because of several years of excessive homework in those classes.

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  17. Oops, some of what I wrote in the contract quote above didn’t come through (guess the site doesn’t like greater than/less than symbols). Basically, he had to fill in his name and write in 3 goals.

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  18. I think you should make up a contract for each teacher…

    I, Miss or Mr.., acknowledge that (insert student’s name here) is a member of my (insert subject here) class and shall be accorded respect and kindness while a member of said class. I shall always be courteous, behave in a professional manner and provide, to the utmost of my abilities, a sound education in the class content this year.

    Have the principal co-sign.

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  19. PsychMom…I love that idea. And I bet at best it would be greeted with stony silence and most likely a “who do you think you are?” response (um, a parent and taxpayer?).

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  20. If you did do that though…it would certainly send a message that you have expectations as well….and heavens…that you are a vigilant, caring parent.

    Isn’t that always the complaint from teachers….that they have to do these things because we aren’t “engaged” in our children’s education?

    I hope I have the courage to do someting like this if I ever see a contract from school.

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  21. Matthew — I’m intrigued that you had to take your son out of a G/T class. I had to take my daughter out of an accelerated math class which was making her life miserable. Whoever got the idea that “gifted/talented” means “tons of homework and pressure”?

    At least your son gets to write his own goals, I guess. What bothers me here is that it’s the usual situation where the student can’t really write what he thinks, but has to guess at what the teacher wants to hear. What if your son’s goals were:

    1.) To stay focused on learning, rather than on grades.

    2.) To retain my inborn curiosity and creativity.

    3.) To continue to have a rich, meaningful personal life outside of school.

    Looking at your message again, I think I might have misunderstood it. Does your son write his own goals, or does he just get to set levels, like “My goal is to get a C+”?

    And in the spirit of true partnership, I’d like to see the parents respond with a contract for the teacher to sign. Something like,

    *****************************

    1.) I will assign homework only as it is necessary and useful for your child.

    2.) I will resist attempts by government bureaucrats to turn this class into standardized test prep.

    3.) I will strive to make this class interesting and engaging so that students can enjoy learning.

    I acknowledge that if I fail to meet these goals, the parents will call the principal.

    *******************************

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  22. I’m beginning to be intrigued by this idea of a contract for each teacher with each child…..it gets to the heart of this problem of “us” versus “them” which really shouldn’t be there at all, but is.
    It helps to bring it back to what the teacher’s responsibility is, what the child (family) can rightfully expect, and sets a tone of a true partnership, not this dictatorial tone that seems to come from school at times.

    We’re not just the system’s sheep….we are participants and we have expectations too.

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  23. FedUpMom: the sheet was labeled “Goal 1”, “Goal 2” and “Goal 3” with about 5 blank lines each so I guess you could put anything, but the underlying message (“write you goals and succeed at them or else you will get in trouble and have it turned in by the next class or you’ll get a 0 for your homework”) wasn’t exactly conducive to deep introspection by the students.

    I think if I get pushback from the teacher I might try a reverse contract, if nothing else but to make a point.

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  24. Matthew — I was thinking some more about your son’s assignment. You say that he has figured out, correctly, that it’s in his interest to set the goals low. How about these?

    Goal 1.) I will continue to be a carbon-based life form.

    Goal 2.) I will put my pants on one leg at a time.

    Goal 3.) I will attend school when I am forced to.

    Actually, this whole business of kids setting goals at the beginning of the year is getting on my nerves. Even the Feds have included it as part of their package to go along with Obama’s speech. What could it possibly mean to set individual goals in a system where the individual has zero power to achieve those goals? If a majority of the kids say that their first goal is to learn more about how to implement green technology, will the teacher change the curriculum? Of course not. The only acceptable goals are the ones that the teacher wants. If the kids say their first goal is to hold a strike over standardized tests, then what?

    Also, notice how the teacher wants the student to agree with the statement “I am solely responsible for my grade.” It’s a glaring example of how school is about grades instead of learning, and it’s also just plain false. If the student had actual responsibility for his grade, he could choose not to receive a grade, or choose a different form of assessment, or …

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  25. As I read more, I become more and more disillusioned. Do we tell our kids just not to have kids?

    Of course not. But don’t we want something much better for our grandchildren. I told my daughter, you will have to either homechool or put your children in private school. She asked me recently, “Mom, can you homeschool my children so I can have a career?” If I’m alive and well, I just might have to do that!

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  26. Sara, I linked to your contracts posts about your own daughter and her French teacher last year. That post and all the subsequent comments brought back memories. Sara, I miss when you chimed in more frequently.

    You wrote: “Since my daughter attends a very large public high school (4,000+ students), where parent-teacher interaction is minimal and there’s no email access to teachers,”

    No email access to the teachers? Wow, that’s a new one. At least I’ve always had that.

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