West Side Story (WSS): How would you advise students to ask for help?
Maureen Head (MH): I don’t know. Whatever works for them. So, if a kid is shy, an email I think is a good first step . . . so you don’t really have to put yourself out there in front of your classmates or in front of your peers . . . I think the biggest thing is asking for the help as soon as you realize you need it. Because I think a lot of kids, they’ll wait and wait and wait and wait and, you know, right before a test they’re like, “I don’t understand anything.” And then as a teacher, it’s like, “Well, we don’t really have time to teach you the whole unit.”
WSS: What type of format would you like for writing an email? Do you want it to be really formal or more casual?
MH: It’s probably good practice to write a formal email. But as long as it’s polite, I don’t necessarily care that much. I’ve had students email me with all of their text in the subject line, and it’s like, “Yo, Head”. . . Just kind of not super respectful and polite, so that’s kind of annoying. And I always try to respond and model-like, “Hey, this is kind of what I want your email to look like blah blah blah.” I would err on the side of professional. But at the same time, we’re spending 180-some-odd days together, so you don’t have to be like, “Good evening, Ms. Head. I would like to formally request for a meeting time.”
WSS: How should students approach if they are going to be gone?
MH: The earlier the better, in most cases. I’m teaching a new class this year, so I’m not as organized ahead of time as I usually am, but I think most teachers, after you’ve been teaching the subject for a year at least, you kind of know what’s coming. In my opinion, it would be easier to get the work ahead of time and kind of work through it. That way you don’t have a huge pile of stuff when you get back.
WSS: Would you prefer they let you know over email or face to face?
MH: I think email is always good, because I think every teacher probably has thousands of interactions and hundreds of things that they’re trying to keep track of. And so it’s helpful to have a documented written record of what the student is asking and then your response, so if you forget to write it down, you can go back to it in your email record. I guess talking about it is good, but a lot of times I’ll tell a student, “Hey please send me an email to remind me that I just told you that.”
WSS: How should a student approach you when they’re trying to talk about their grades?
MH: Sometimes teachers don’t get things entered in a timely fashion or maybe made a mistake in entering the grade. But I think if students come from a place where they realize every teacher has 150 of whatever grade it is to get into the book and it’s really easy to make a mistake and it’s not intentional on the teacher’s part. So I think it’s good for students to just keep that in mind.
WSS: How should students ask for an extension on an assignment?
MH: Not on the day that it’s due. I think most kids know if they’re not going to meet a deadline. As you’re working along and you realize, “Hey, this is taking longer than I thought” or “I have so many things going on” . . . We know that you’re busy, but just doing it ahead of time . . . If you’re a student who historically doesn’t meet deadlines, maybe try to work with that teacher and at the beginning of a project saying, “Hey, I don’t think I’ve ever turned a paper in on time”–which is maybe the case with some of my ninth graders–and just kind of setting up a plan where you can work with a teacher and maybe turn in little bits of the assignment as you go along.
WSS: How a should a student go about asking for a grade bump?
MH: Before they ever make a request like that, I would just encourage them to think about how they were during the trimester. A kid that’s working their butt off, comes to class everyday, participates, always does their homework and just in general shows a good amount of effort, I think that request is a lot easier for a teacher to process than the request of a kid who is on their phone everyday, they don’t always do their homework, they’re not really trying very hard. And then they’re like, “Oops, I got a C. Can you bump that up to a B for me? Or is there anything I can do?” And it’s like, “Yeah, there’s a lot of things you could have done twelve weeks ago or whatever.” So, I think effort goes a long way if you’re trying to get that change from a borderline grade.
WSS: If a student just didn’t do an assignment, how should they let you know that they just didn’t do it.
MH: If I give a small homework assignment, I’ll check it the next day. Sometimes the kids tell me, “Hey, I didn’t have time to get the work done” or “Hey, I didn’t do the homework for today” and I guess my reply is always “Okay, well, get it done when you can. You should still do it for the practice and then show it to me.” I give late credit for homework assignments. But if it’s something small, I guess just a little quick heads up like, “Hey, my bad. I didn’t get it done” is fine. If it’s something bigger, maybe planning before or after class or via email and just kind of working with the teacher and kind of talking through why it didn’t get done, because I think a lot of times teachers, they want to help you get it done and they want to help you figure out a way to be more successful meeting your deadlines. And so if you kind of are describing what happened, they’ll kind of help you process like, “Okay, when you went to the rec center and played basketball for 17 hours this weekend, and you knew you had this thing due on Monday, what’s something better that you could’ve done with your time?” kind of thing.
WSS: Do you want them to give an excuse?
MH: I always want to know what’s happening with my students. I’m not sure if every teacher is the same. It’s like a case by case basis whether I view it as an excuse or a reason. If it’s habitual . . . then I tend to shift my thinking and be like, “Are we making excuses now?” and “Where are you really prioritizing your time?” But if it’s just once in a while, I tend to view it more as a reason. I just think communicating is always better than not. And I would hope that teachers appreciate students communicating with them.
WSS: How can you get on a teacher’s good or bad side?
MH: As far as getting on a teacher’s good side, I think effort, like I said before, goes a long way. I think naturally, just some teachers and students are going to connect more easily than others . . . I enjoy all kinds of students. I enjoy students who participate a lot, I enjoy students who make good eye contact, even though they maybe don’t speak very much in class. I enjoy kids who laugh at my stupid jokes. There’s all kinds of things. I guess the main thing now that I’m thinking about it is if a student is genuine. They’re just being themselves, whether that’s loud, whether that’s quiet, whether that’s silly. Even if . . . they have bad days and sometimes kids take it out on their teachers, I even appreciate that because at least they’re being real . . . Brown nosing . . . it’s pretty easy to tell if a kid is, “I don’t really like this teacher, but I’m just going to pretend that I do” . . . if you don’t like me, you don’t like me. That’s okay. We’ll figure out a way to get through it. As far as getting on my bad side, I don’t know. I hope students feel the same way that I do with this, but for me personally, I think it’s hard for a student to get on my bad side because I think of every single day as a new fresh day. If you were a turd yesterday, today’s a new day and now you get to not be a turd. And we’re going to have a good day today. But I think if a student does feel like they’re on a teacher’s bad side, I think it would probably be, if you’re a student that’s disrupting other students’ learning opportunities. It’s one thing to not do your own work and to not be taking care of your own stuff. But if you’re in the classroom setting and you’re making it harder for other people to lean, that’s hard.
WSS: How can you joke around with a teacher without going too far?
MH: Just like any relationship, you kind of have to get to know the person a little bit before you just start roasting them . . . Again, just be genuine and let the relationship develop authentically and you kind of get a sense for each other’s preferences or you get an idea of their sense of humor. And then you can kind of go from there. My rule of thumb is to always don’t make fun of someone for something they have no control over. So like looks are out of bounds . . . just the normal stuff that I would hope anyone who has respect for humanity would also abide by.
WSS: How can you build a connection with a teacher outside of class?
MH: Join a club or get on a sports team. There [are] tons of kids who have really strong connections with adults outside of class and those are some of the ways that they make those connections. Coming and getting extra help too. I’ve had several students in the past that I didn’t know that well while they were in the classroom, but then we set up a regular time to meet and for them to get help and then all of a sudden we know each other really well. In some cases, some of the kids who have gone on and they are no longer either at this school or they’re not freshmen anymore, still come back and say hi . . . It’s hard to get that close in class, because you have 32 or 35 or whatever kids and one teacher. If you feel like you would like to make a connection with a teacher, stop by their room, say hi to them . . . and just give them a chance to have a conversation with you.
WSS: What’s the best way for a student to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher?
MH: The earlier the better. It’s bad to go to a teacher and say, “Hey, I would love for you to write a recommendation letter for me and it’s due next week.” It’s hard that way. So earlier is better. And then also . . . you want to try to find people who know you the best. You don’t want to go to someone who doesn’t know you very well as a student anymore or who just doesn’t know you very well period because it’s like, “What am I going to say about this student who I had four years ago and I haven’t talked to them since they left Foundations of Science class?”