swim, chem, baseball, I talk with my hands
Grades – who doesn’t love talking about grades? So much has been written about grading and its connection with grade inflation and the destruction of learning. Let’s be clear, I was very motivated by grades as a student and used them as a means to measure my self-worth. Heck, I get bummed when my own children come home with a low grade – what was that teacher thinking?
That stated, as a professional educator I have spent years thinking about how to approach grades within my own classroom. I need to balance the proper role of grades in a classroom along side the needs of my students. So to this end I have developed a core set of ideals, or tenets, around which I base my grading philosophy. I would guess that my students clearly understand my approach to grades, even if they bristle at my adherence to them.
Tenet A – I don’t “care” about your grade
Nope – I just don’t care about your grade. But this isn’t a bad thing, because if I cared about the grade only then we would completly miss the mark. Also, NOT caring about your grade means that I am happy to write an “A” if that reflects what you learn, even if it takes longer than it should. I know your grade matters to you and I know you have an emotional reaction to your grade and I am sensitive to that. However, any conversation between us that starts with a premise that grades are the sole focus is a non-starter and I ask you to find another angle. I ask you to pretend to care about something other than the grade in order to move ahead.
Tenet B – How I perceive you is independent of your grade
So many students assume that I see students as a “grade” and that I am extra fond of that super-duper “A” student sitting in the front row. It may be true that I “like” (ugh – I hate that terminology) a high-achieving student but it has nothing to do with the grade. The students about whom I have a great amount of admiration are often NOT the high-achievers.
Tenet C – You are not competing against anyone for your grade
Listen to me on this one – your ability to get an “A” is not dependent on any other student’s grade. Period. So why does anybody else’s grade matter to you? Everybody in the class could earn an “A” so how does that possibility diminish your result? Grades in this class are an attempt by me to represent how much learning has occurred so if nobody reached the goals of the lesson then nobody should get an “A.” Let me worry about making sure this is fair (ugh – I hate that word).
Tenet D – If you don’t like it then do something
OK – suppose you don’t like your grade then what should you do about it? Well, given that grades should reflect understanding then let’s get together to help you learn more. Or you can just do that on your own. There are countless resources for you to supplement your understanding and I would love to be a part of that. If you want more then step up and make it happen – I love creative and student-driven solutions to these situations.
Tenet E – Asking for a “curve” is asking for “free points”
Yup – your asking me to curve a test is the same as telling me: “Hey – I did what I thought I needed to do and since the grades are lower than they should be according to the grading gods, how about a free handout? Don’t worry, I won’t make any extra effort and I will think less of you if this course gets too easy but it’s all about the grade. We’re cool, right?”
Tenet F – Please don’t thank me for your grade
I am, of course, grateful for the opportunity to serve you and help you learn. And I have loved having you in class – really. But please thank me for something else. Thank me for an extra opportunity – thank me for a fun lab – thank me for my classroom jokes. But when you thank me for the grade you diminish what you did, and clearly I was not there when you did the long hours to learn the material. I was just cheering you from the sidelines.
Tenet G – Your grade does not necessarily tell me how much you have learned
Finally, this is the most important thing to understand. The secret of teaching is that any teacher at any time can change the structure of a class to ensure grades are high or low. Your telling me you got an “A” in a class really doesn’t mean much in itself. I have earned a high grade knowing it meant nothing and at others times earned a low knowing that I kicked ass and grew tremendously. I know how important grades are to you and how they serve as a marker but my job is to help you learn the class content. If you trust me and where i am leading you then I am sure that we can both be satisfied with the result.
Look, I get it about grades. I know how the system works and know that you are most likely in my class because it “looks good for college.” That doesn’t mean we can’t do something meaningful here or truly learn this stuff. Trust me – I know what I am doing here.