Stop Bullying Teachers

An experienced high school educator in 2017 sent me this: “We have a lot of apathy in our school. We also have kids who would rather take the easy classes to get the A rather than challenge themselves and risk the C. Parents also have bought into the 4.0 mentality. We have many parents who always take responsibility off the student and seek to blame others. This has created a generation of not only entitlement but those who become bored easily as they seek entertainment rather than knowledge.”

When I visited the school I learned more: “Parents demand better grades than their children deserve. Students will visit me after class to ask how they can get an A as if it’s my responsibility.”

This bullying of teachers and administrators for better grades simply has to stop. The students are the victims. Motivation weakens without full personal responsibility.

Failure is a great teacher. Adversity strengthens character. Parents who cushion children from both deny them valuable learning lessons.

Nearly 45% of 4-year college students never graduate

Think about that statistic. We could annually create millions more young adults with college credentials and education if only they would finish what they started. Out of about 14 million 4-year college students enrolled each year, about 6.3 million will never graduate. These vast dropout numbers have a huge impact on not only students but our country’s future potential.

A big problem is cost. Too many students choose the wrong college, are uncertain how to navigate the blizzard of choices and hidden costs and end up at one that soon reveals itself as excessively expensive for the family’s budget.

However, a huge contributing factor is an inability to fight through adversity and complete the necessary courses. If Billy has been cushioned from true adversity and honest grading, why should we expect him to exhibit grit and perseverance in the face of inevitable challenges in college and beyond?

Focus on efforts, not outcomes

Snow-plow parenting creates fragile young adults. Mental health services at many colleges are fully used. Many colleges have had to put limits on the number of free hours of therapy they can offer. One Stanford administrator writes about a student who texted her mother for help finding a classroom. Two University of Kentucky students recently admitted to breaking into their professor’s office. They had crawled through the air-duct system to steal the next day’s exam. We have too many gilded resumes attached to young people lacking the ability to cope with adversity. Especially with Covid now largely behind us, we need to work on growing grit in our students—and we need parents to help by holding their students accountable.

A University of Houston math professor told the New York Times, “More and more, students view the process of going to college as a business transaction. They see themselves as a customer. So if they don’t do well on a test, they think I (the professor) haven’t kept up my side of the business agreement. They view professors in a way similar to the person behind the counter getting their coffee.”

Countless studies show the benefits of focusing on our children’s efforts rather than outcomes. By praising intelligence and grades, we make students wary of true challenges that might trigger alternate impressions. By praising effort, we create children armed with tenacity for tackling and overcoming adversity. This research reveals what common sense tells us: a hard-earned C is far preferable to an easy A.

Students should seek information

Of course, grades and class rank affect college admissions and scholarships—real money. One mom tells me, “I’ve always encouraged my kids to talk to their teachers toward the end of each quarter to ask, “What do I need to do to get an A?” I thought this showed that they cared about their grade and were engaged. Never once did I consider it bullying or implying that it was the teacher’s responsibility to make sure they had an A.”

And she’s right, as long as the inquiry simply seeks information, rather than results. Many educators for years, though, have told me that students and parents increasingly suggest that the teacher bears much responsibility for the desired results.

And yes, colleges would mitigate this unhealthy obsession with grades—the ends rather than the means– if their scholarships considered rigor as well as GPA. I applaud high schools that have done away with class rank for the same reason—awards that encourage students to gravitate towards easy classes unwittingly create fragile children.

So let’s allow our K-12 teachers to do their job and grade appropriately. I wish all teachers and administrators would use the same answer when blamed by parents for Billy’s imperfect results. “Work harder.” The path to increased success is simple: work harder. Nothing worthwhile comes with ease.

The stakes are high. A hard-earned two- or four-year college degree arms them with the skills, knowledge, and financial freedom to succeed. Let’s fortify our children by letting them experience the adversity inherent in life. They’ll be fine now and stronger in the future. And we can all stop bullying teachers.

John Baylor, Founder—OnToCollege