FUHSD substitute teacher charges students for editing papers

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FUHSD substitute teacher charges students for editing papers

Karishma Mehrotra

On Jan. 25, junior Victor Zhang posted an email exchange between him and substitute teacher Adam Wies on his Tumblr. The post received a large response from fellow students. Soon, teachers and students began discussing the exchange throughout Facebook and Tumblr.

An email exchange

In the email, Zhang asked Wies to edit his most recent essay, a Rhetorical Term Entry in which students were to analyze a symbol or motif present in The Great Gatsby, for English teacher Chelsa Anderson’s American Literature Honors class. Wies advertised his tutoring and editing services while he substituted for various English classes and Anderson later promoted him as a “Free Editor!” on her School Loop site.

Wies responded to Zhang’s request with an email that contained the following:

“There are many issues that put your paper into the “B- or B” category. My emendations will, of course, bring it to an “A- or A.” … Because I am currently tutoring other students in both of Ms. Anderson’s classes, I cannot ethically charge them and not charge you….
If you want access to the edited version before friday[sic], you will need to agree to the following terms: my rate of $25 an hour; and, payment bringing either a check made out to Mr. Adam A. Wies or $50 in cash to Ms. Anderson’s class in a sealed envelope.”

Junior Victor Zhang, after consulting substitute teacher Adam Wies for edits on his Rhetorical Term Entry, posted the email exchange on his Tumblr on Jan. 25. Students have shared the post on Tumblr and Facebook. Screenshot from Zhang's Tumblr.

Zhang chose to decline the offer, saying he could not make a $50 commitment. Wies responded to the email with the following response: “No worries. Then you will get what you get … I will NOT do for you what I charge others, so unless you are willing to compensate me for my time I will no longer make a commitment to review your work. When you want the undisputed “A” let me know.”

Another email exchange

According to a male student, who asked El Estoque not to use his name because he is still in the class, a majority of the students began questioning Wies’ presence in Anderson’s class after he started appearing more frequently than once a month. Then in early January 2012, according to the student, Wies announced, in class, the cost of editing essays. According to Wies, since implementing his new policies regarding his services, no student has yet paid him.

“I guess that got on some people’s nerves because that sounded more or less like buying your essay instead of actually getting revisions for the sake of education,” the student said. “It seemed really unfair for those who decided not to get revisions who seemingly get low grades.”

According to the student, after he sent Wies his essay, he agreed to the new price terms, unlike Zhang. Wies gave the student the address he could mail the check to and the edited version of the essay. According to a female student, who asked El Estoque not to use her name because she is also in the class, Wies’ edits ranged from fixing MLA errors to occasionally changing the thesis of the paper.

“I got the [edited] essay back [from Anderson] and I actually ended up getting a B on it. So I asked him, ‘You promised an undisputed A. What’s going on with this?” and he said, ‘Oh. Undisputed doesn’t mean guaranteed A’,” the male student said.

Wies declined to comment about this email.

Chelsa Anderson declined to comment for this article.

Several students noted that those who consulted Wies on a paper eventually received an A. According to Zhang, some students believed having Wies edit their essays would result in a guaranteed A.

While Wies believes that, because of the nature of his edits, the students‘ final draft should receive an A, he added that his edits do not necessarily guarantee an A. The “undisputed A” is his own opinion.

“Essentially, ‘undisputed’ or ‘indisputable’ means ‘not questionable,’ not ‘guaranteed.’ There’s a huge difference. It’s something that people should be well-aware of. In that sense, I meant ‘undisputed‘ meaning that his work and our interaction would lead to improvement and would lead to an A,” Wies said. “And, not to mention, because of my extensive experience in all things literature and English related I am more than qualified to offer a reliable opinion as to whether or not a sample of work is a B- or a B or an A or an F or a D. So the fact that I say or I comment about Victor’s paper being a B or a B-, that is my opinion — not anybody else’s opinion.”

From substitute to editor

In addition to substituting for English classes, Wies’ claims to have also formally lectured in both Chelsa and English teacher Terry Anderson’s American Literature Honors classes.

According to Wies, after receiving teaching credentials for multiple subjects in 2007, he taught at a high school in Palo Alto for a year. He then pursued an MA in English Literature and has been teaching in full-time or part-time positions for undergraduates and high school students. He has been tutoring students in Literature and English since 2004. After receiving his credentials, he has worked, lectured and tutored at high schools, junior colleges and undergraduate colleges. He is currently a FUHSD substitute teacher.

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“If you want access to the edited version before friday[sic], you will need to agree to the following terms: my rate of $25 an hour; and, payment bringing either a check made out to Mr. Adam A. Wies or $50 in cash to Ms. Anderson’s class in a sealed envelope.”

                       – substitute teacher Adam Wies stated in an email exchange with junior Victor Zhang

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With his background in teaching and English, Wies believes that he is overqualified for the position of a substitute teacher. According to the female student, Wies would lecture once every month and a half. The anonymous students and a few other student sources, however, found his lectures to be irrelevant to classroom curriculum.

It was after his first lecture regarding rhetorical devices in The Scarlet Letter that, according to the female student, he announced his proofreading, editing and tutoring services to Chelsa Anderson and her other classes. Wies claims that he announced his services to the class without Chelsa Anderson’s knowledge.

Following his guest lecture, Wies claims to have lectured to both the Andersons’ American Literature Honors classes about once every month and a half regarding symbolism in novels, rhetoric, essay writing techniques and literature device identification. Though the female student and Zhang found his teaching ineffective, his edits were said to be otherwise.

“For some people he did help a lot. For one girl, he helped a lot, making her writing less complex. And she did end up getting an A, which was good. He was helpful,” the female student said.

The male student explains what Wies’ edits on his essay look like.

“I think what he mostly did is he crossed out the parts he didn’t like and inserted what he wanted in there,” the student said. “It wasn’t really editing it was more like literally just revising it so it looked good in someone else’s view.”

Students discuss their grades

Conversations about the implications of Zhang’s email exchange began on social networking sites and on campus. Some interpreted the situation as “paying for a grade.”

“It’s really implying that if you don’t come to me for help, then you’re not going to get an A,” Zhang said. “That’s kind of interesting to make it sound like that. So I posted it on Tumblr and I was sharing it because I thought it might be amusing. I wasn’t, like, mad about it or anything. But people saw it and they got really pissed.”

The female student, however, recalls Wies stating in class that he has read students’ essays, after they were due, in addition to making references to student grades.

“He would be like, ‘You guys need to really work on this.’ He would kind of threaten us — well, not threaten, but he’d be like, ‘You guys really need to work hard or else you’re going to get bad grades. I know that you guys don’t have good grades at this point … or…’I know who has A’s’ … or something like that,” she said. “It was weird.”

While Zhang, the female student, the male student and other students notice the effectiveness of Wies’ edits on student essays in obtaining the grades desired, some are hesitant to make assumptions.

“I have gone to [Chelsa Anderson] for help and she would say what I wrote was good,” the female student said. “And I remember once I was really upset because I got a B and I thought it was an A [paper]. And other people who had given it to Mr. Wies had gotten A’s. There may be a sort of connection, but maybe we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. But it’s pretty clear [after talking to those that did receive edits] that whoever went to him got an A, and whoever didn’t got a B. I was one of [those that got a B].”

Although the male student had similar feelings to the female, he also believes there is a possibility that the reasons for the discrepancies in grades could be that Wies is simply a better editor.

Wies stated that not only was Chelsa Anderson unaware of his policy change, he did not ever have any conversations with her about grading, contradicting the speculations of many students, including that of the female student. Anderson removed the recommendation for Wies’ services from her website during the week of Jan. 22.

Several sources suggested a close relationship between Chelsa Anderson and Wies which contributes to the suspicion of Wies’ potential influence over grades, however Wies claims that though he and Chelsa Anderson are friends, it has no effect over her grading of essays.

“We do not talk specifically about my tutoring or my rate or anything of that sort. For specific reasons of course, it’s not appropriate for us to do that,” Wies said. “Just like she does not tell me anything about her students’ grades. She doesn’t tell me anything confidential, and I don’t talk to her at all in relation to my fees or my rates.”
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“I guess that got on some people’s nerves because that sounded more or less like buying your essay instead of actually getting revisions for the sake of education. Seemed really unfair for those who decided not to get revisions who seemingly get low grades.”

– the anonymous male student

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Wies responds

Having had years of experience tutoring and teaching, Wies deemed the students’ interpretation of paying for a grade as “devoid of logic”.

“Over 30 students used me when I was free. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a problem or it’s in some way me guaranteeing them an A because they pay? Because I charge them?” Wies said. “Essentially nothing has changed except for the fact that I am charging. So if by some way somebody is insinuating that …. because money is transpiring that there is something that is unethical or could constitute cheating is ridiculous. Whether or not you pay for my services, my services are the same and I guarantee improvement.”

Wies began charging students for his services toward the beginning of the second semester in 2012. According to Wies, before second semester, he had been receiving numerous requests from not only students in the American Literature Honors classes but in other English classes from MVHS and other schools as well, leading to a large time commitment on his part. In addition, according to Wies, parents of some MVHS students sought him out for his tutoring and editing services and requested to pay, prompting him to change his policies.

“So, am I disappointed that I was unable to help [Zhang] and that potentially I disturbed him and made him frustrated? Yes, I am disappointed about that,” Wies said. “But am I going to all of a sudden compromise my ethics for him? No.”

According to Wies, this was not the first time he informed students of his changed policies, whether through email or in class.

“I have made that announcement numerous times to numerous classes that I have subbed in. I said that situations and circumstances have changed and my services are no longer free,” Wies said. “I said that months ago, so this should be nothing new to the kids.”

Administration responds

Once informed of Wies’ email exchange with Zhang, Principal April Scott anticipated the conflicting messages the situation would send to students and parents as “purchasing a grade”, and hence made specific suggestions to Chelsa Anderson.

“We walk a fine line of ever, ever recommending specific tutors because even recommending specific tutors sends a message as if by using the tutor that I have told you, good grades will come as a result. And if the good grade doesn’t come as the result, then why did you make that recommendation?” Scott said. “So this one was a very specific link, which now had some big areas for misunderstanding and big areas for some assumptions to be made. “

After conversing with Chelsa Anderson, Scott was reassured that only Chelsa Anderson was grading student papers and that Wies served solely as a resource for students to gain feedback on essays. Scott does, however, realize the implications of the language used in the e-mail, specifically the mentioning of the “undisputed A.”

“I think it becomes sticky the minute we say, ‘I’m going to provide you with this feedback,’ and now he’s switched midstream as far as charging … and also to say, ’There’s money tied to it. I’m going to guarantee the A.’ Or the ‘undisputed A’. And so now we’ve probably got a couple of issues that might be separate if you looked at them kind of just from the outside, but they are not separate when you see them in totality,” Scott said. “They become connected.“

Some students speak up, most don’t

Neither the anonymous students nor Zhang have brought up the incident to either Chelsa or Terry Anderson so far; some are indifferent, others remain resentful.

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“So the fact that I say or comment about Victor’s paper being a B or a B-, that is my opinion – not anybody else’s opinion.”

– substitute teacher Adam Wies

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“I think it’s another reason why no one really acts up about this issue anymore. We are always scared that it might affect us personally because no one really knows the whole truth behind the issue,” the male student said. “And I think that we’re just scared that it might cause personal enmity from the teacher instead of kind of subsiding as a quieted issue.‘’

The student realizes the importance of students consulting administration to resolve such matters.

“I am almost certain other students feel the way I do,” he said. “I mean, I can understand the fear, but I think that those who have gone to my extent, we should kind of talk out more because, I mean, the problem’s not going to be solved if we just literally shut up and continue with what we’ve been doing.”

According to Scott, no further legal investigation will take place, as she believes that the situation was not the result of any malicious intent. Scott recommends that students who encounter such situations in the future should either report them to any administrator they feel comfortable with or come directly to her; she added that they are guaranteed complete confidentiality.

“What’s done is done,” the male student said. “So I hope it calms down and we can just get back to what our class should have been at the start of the year and things return back to normal.”

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“We walk a fine line of ever, ever recommending specific tutors because even recommending specific tutors sends a message as if by using the tutor that I have told you, good grades will come as a result.”

– Principal April Scott

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