Straight Talk Advice

May 28, 2008

How to get A’s in school—it’s not just about studying

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I’m in tenth grade and I’m sick of being stereotyped by my teachers. No matter what I turn in, I’m pegged as a B student. It all seems to depend on “first impressions” made early in the term. After that, I swear an A and B student could trade papers and the A student would still get their A and the B student would still get their B. I seriously don’t think teachers read beyond the name on the paper. I want to hear what the teen panel has to say and I hope some teachers are reading this, too.


Katie, 15

I can relate. I’m an A student, but one teacher hated how I dressed so he dropped me from an A to a C for the block. Another teacher constantly accused me of cheating in math if I received 100 percent, so I started missing one problem per paper so I wouldn’t get zeros. Also, an English teacher assigns 10,000-word essays. Most kids slip blank papers in the middle because she grades only the first and last paragraphs. Obviously, she does not read them.

Geoff, 22

Excuse the language, but I always worked my ass off for my A. I went to office hours, lunch hours, email hours. If you feel you’re being short-changed, talk to your professor. Even starting with Ds and Cs (as I did in the beginning of college), if you show commitment to improving (which includes talking to the teacher), you can end up with As.

Laura, 21

If a mediocre student suddenly turns in an outstanding paper, most teachers will give them credit for it; however, the difference between an A and B isn’t that dramatic so they are less likely to notice. Put the hard work in early and make that first impression count. Also, talk to other students, learn what it takes to get an A in that class.

Ashley, 20

This one teacher came up to me and my friend in class (he didn’t like either of us) and said, “One of you is guaranteed to fail!” I was so shocked to hear this! It ended up being me, even though my grades were better.

Emily, 15

Yes, you’re being stereotyped, but it’s based on your attitude, not your work. Have you noticed that all the top students are “friends” with the teachers? Honestly, this is what’s going on. Try it. Raise your hand, ask how you can help, stay after class to push in chairs, smile and ask about his or her day. Life has shown me that a big part of my grade rests upon my relationship with the teacher. If I don’t like the teacher, I don’t work for a close relationship therefore my grade is never an A in that class. Even if I work my butt off (getting help, studying through lunch), my grade stays low. Talk to your teachers, they love it when you get personal with them. One math teacher told me his students rarely approach him because they’re scared of him, so he let me turn in missing homework, raising my grade significantly.

Katrina, 15

Teachers definitely group their students. A lot more is going wrong in the schools than adults realize.

DEAR JACK: So, do you want a revolution? Or do you want As? To get As, re-read Geoff, Laura, and Emily: it’s about working hard, working smart, and using PR skills (which sounds like sucking up, but in reality, “public relations” rule.) If you want to change the system positively, I’m all for it. A high school teacher recently told me that until there are 48 hours in a day, he can’t possibly read his students’ papers. He just slaps a grade on them. A lot really is going wrong in our schools.

  1. By Robert, age , on 05/30/2008

    This one hurts because, as a teacher myself, I do read all the materials students hand in.  I admit I have only one class (I am adjunct faculty at university)… so who is to blame?  We are not funding education adequately.

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  2. By Janet S-E, age , on 05/30/2008


    Unfortunately the state of our public education system is not currentlly what it could or should be.  I am in total agreement.  I also agree not all teachers are free of personal feelings that may influence grades.  As in any profession, there are people who are good at what they do and people who are not as good.
    One part of the teaching problem may have an element of burn-out to it.  Unlike entertainers or professional athletes teachers are paid a low wage for what they do.  They also, as a by-product of this possibly, are not in a job where society holds them up very high.  So, for low pay and an absence of respect teachers may tend to get worn down by what can feel like a thankless task if kids don’t put in effort on their side.

    Showing effort and respect (and realizing what a lot of time, energy and sometimes personal funds) go into teaching might help.


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  3. By Laura, age , on 06/11/2008

    I am a teacher, and I am really dismayed by some of the comments about teachers in this column.  Perhaps I am living an insular life as a Waldorf teacher, but I would be very surprised if the disregard for student work as described here is widespread. There are lazy people in every walk of life, but I can’t believe it to be the norm. Please know that there are many idealistic teachers out there who take their own assignments seriously and read the students’ work carefully because they actually care what and how the students are thinking.

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  4. By Sean, age , from Pacific Grove, CA on 06/04/2009

    As an English teacher, I always read all of the essays that are turned in by my students and give each one at least 10-15 minutes of close attention and write plenty of comments and correct grammar and punctuation. Times that by 90-120 students and that is a lot of time put in to see most students set the paper to the side and never take my feedback and corrections into account nor improve on their grammar and mechanics on the next essay. I’ve found it interesting after 15 years of teaching that kids who act at an “A” level do, and kids who want to work hard at flunking do! I love to know my students better because it helps me become empathetic towards them when it is necessary: death, circumstances out of their control for homework, divorced parents pulling them between homes, etc. There are teachers out there that don’t care about kids and complain in the break room and keep their jobs because of tenure and job security. I wish they would leave the profession. On the other hand, I wish students would take their job seriously as well. This year I have noticed more and more apathy when it comes to “hard work”. I work at an academically high performing school and the norm is to copy (read: cheat) homework from others before school, and during break and lunch right before the bell. Kids think this is okay, but I am appalled. Students just want a letter grade so they can get into a UC school and don’t care how they get there – it is expected of them. It’s interesting how much kids will give a teacher a bad reputation because he or she recieved a poor (deserved) grade for the first time in his or her life (God forbid!) and say that the teacher is rude or a jerk for “giving” a C for a test. Grades are earned in a honest classroom, and, unfortunately, studying seems to be a thing of the past. I once worked at a school in the ghetto in Fresno and there were kids who earned full-ride scholoarships to Harvard and Yale. That taught me it was all about individual determination.

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