to give a grade

“An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.”
— Source Unknown

A couple of days ago I witnessed an all too frequent conversation between a Colleague of mine, a school Administrator and a student (Jack). I was quietly sitting at my desk alternating between grading papers and answering emails with my door open when Administrator brought the student to Colleague’s classroom announcing that they wanted to talk about Jack’s grade.

As Colleague frantically reached into her mental file cabinet to recall why Jack might be standing in front of her a brief look of panic crossed her face. Justifying why you gave a student a grade is always a tricky and perilous task. She quickly excuses herself to get her grade book and comes back triumphant. With a renewed sense of confidence she begins telling Jack why he’s failing, why she gave him the grade she did. She points to assignments that aren’t completed, focus questions un-answered and as she does Jack begins to find his voice. Injustice is the tactic he chooses. He didn’t know, she didn’t say, or she said something else. And she fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.

Now Jack is smart. He knows he’s got her. She’s on the defensive and the power struggle has begun. But Administrator steps in and tries to change Jack’s focus. You didn’t do the work. You didn’t turn things in on time. Listen to what Colleague is saying. This exchange goes on for sometime and in the end all are frustrated but Jack most of all. He feels wronged. He doesn’t understand and yet again the powers that be have failed him and he was given something he didn’t deserve.

This exchange struck a deep cord with me and turned a light bulb on to something that I think is changing among the students I teach and it’s a scary thing. More and more students have the attitude that they are given a grade, that they are given an education. I hear frequently, “Mrs. Teacher gave me an F on my Social Studies test,” or “Ugh, I hate Mr. Educator, he gave me an F on my English project.” And each time my subtly changed response is “Why do you think you earned that grade?”

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