How to Get an A in Hell


At Northwood High School, Honors Euro Lit is known by its acronym — HEL (pronounced hell) — and widely regarded as the hardest class at the school.

Sign of summer

In order to get an A in the class for the first semester, my son needed a very high score — around a 98 — on the final exam, didn’t get it, and finished with a semester grade of 89.27 — a high B.

If he’d had at least an 89.5, the teacher would have rounded it up to an A. So out of 1,000+ possible points over the course of the semester, an 89.27 means you missed an A by only three or four points.

I’ve always encouraged the boy to be proactive with his teachers. Some people call this “sucking up” but I’ve been a teacher myself and I can tell you that teachers like students who are engaged and make an extra effort. When there’s a close call on a grade, those students may get the benefit of the doubt.

Being a public school teacher is unrewarding in many ways. You’re not going to get rich, for one thing. And you’re not going to be held in high esteem because the conventional wisdom is that public education in America is a disaster.

The only real attraction of the job is that every day you have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. And even there, in most cases you will fail.

“Make sure the teachers know that you want to do well in their class,” I tell my kid. “Ask them what you need to do and they’ll tell you. They want to help you.”

After his final score was posted in HEL, he went in after school to talk to the teacher about his grade. They went over some previous assignments and exams, including a Macbeth exam where the teacher found a question that he felt he “didn’t teach very well.” He gave the boy four points back on the question, which gave him an 89.55 for the semester. That’s an A.

Father knows best, suckas! Academic success is not (just) about academics.

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