What’s in a Grade Anyway?

This past week I slammed my little 7th grade students with several back-to-back assessments. I watched helplessly forging forward as their anxiety levels grew each day in fear of their grade being impacted by these assessments. Last night it finally it me: I was pushing them to work way harder than I have before. I was going against my code! After all these were little twelve year olds–super cute, spunky, funny as hell.

What was I doing? I mean even adults don’t need to be under this level of stress. Learning should be about fun. Learning should be about true inquiry. While I’m not saying stress should never be present, after all it’s inevitable, but I think sometimes I get way inside my head and allow others to steer my wheel instead of my professional judgment. It’s so easy to let what parents and others in the district think should be part of my classroom become a part of my classroom!

Today I take a stand for my students. They deserve to a chance to try again. A chance to laugh. A chance to fall for reading and writing.

What do grades in life mean anyway?  I set out to answer this question to influence my students’ view of grades.  So many of them are such perfectionists.  So many of them are under so much pressure from their parents expectations (this alone could be a blog of its own!).  It’s sad to watch them fold under their parents pressure.  While I realize I have no control over what their parents say to them about grades and their importance, it is important that they see a different view and hopefully make up their own mind about it all as adults.

Grades.  I lived my whole life believing that they defined me.  My parents did not expect anything less than a B which was expected to be a temporary grade on its way to becoming an A.  This is the perspective of so many of my students’ parents.  In fact, I get so many emails that say:  “my child has never gotten a B before your class.  What can he do to bring it up?”  For a teacher, grades show growth and nothing more.  If a kid got a C on something, then it gives me data on what areas she could grow in.  I don’t judge them based on their grades; I already enjoy most of them as people for who they are.

So today I set out to share an analogy with my students in effort to boost morale and influence their thinking towards some positivity.  One that I’m quite proud of actually. Especially, since I am the antithesis of an athlete/sports enthusiast.  I said to them, “just like when you start a new sport and you body has to go through a little bit of pain to get better, in our days together in order to grow as readers and writers you have to experience a little bit of discomfort.  This discomfort, however, doesn’t mean that you are not smart or inferior in any way.  In fact it’s a really good sign; it means you are getting better.”  I felt so empowered after my little speech.  What if I actually lived my life like this.  Discomfort in my job just means that I am growing; it doesn’t mean that I’m not good at what do.

It’s so easy to guide my students towards a better path, yet so challenging to walk the talk.  Today for 8 hours out of my life, I walked the talk and it was empowering, validating, and most importantly, fun!


9 thoughts on “What’s in a Grade Anyway?

  1. But did the kids believe you? Hear you? Understand you?

    I keep discovering just because I’ve offered information, opinion, whatever … it doesn’t mean those at whom it was aimed received it (a) at all or (b) as I meant it. You might want to check and see who got your point and who didn’t. I’d be interested to find out. Just a thought.

    1. Don’t know and like many things I put out there in my classroom, I won’t know most likely. Just planting seeds that may or may not sprout, but planting is important business nonetheless. 🙂

  2. I agree that there should be a little discomfort. I wouldn’t call it stress exactly, but there should be a little edge that they have to reach toward. Otherwise, they will stay stagnated in their 6th grade skills. I have heard the comment many times before about how certain students had never gotten a B (or a C) in 6th grade or earlier, and the parents are shocked, but it should be harder in 7th grade, and it’s good that it’s more of a challenge. That’s what I tell them anyway. I like your sports analogy.

  3. I also let grades (an easy way to measure not just ourselves but parental approval) rule my life as a student, too. My parents didn’t put a lot of pressure on me because they didn’t have to. Loved the comment about a B being a temporary grade on its way to an A–that’s how I always say them, too! It’s good that you pushed them so they can see what they’re capable of when the situation demands it, and also that you pulled back when the situation no longer demanded it. Will be very curious to read how things evolve!

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