It must be hard to be so perfect
This Friday, I am expected to attend a meeting to discuss why a student in my writing class is no longer the “A” student they were before I began grading their child’s work. This is the third such meeting and/or phone conference I have had with various parents since starting my new position almost two months ago. Last week, I received the following letter.
After reviewing __________’s progress reports for the past few weeks, I am curious as to how a straight “A” honor roll student is suddenly going downhill and receiving “C”s. ____________ is not a “C” student. Therefore, I would like to schedule a meeting with you so we can all get on the same page.
These are the moments that make me regret my desire and ultimately my decision to teach writing. Why, oh why, have I voluntarily chosen to teach a subject that demands resistance to simple “formulas” for success in order to be successful? Why have I chosen to spend hours upon hours of my free-unpaid-time grading essays and other assorted writing samples? And why do I even bother using state wide testing anchor papers to ensure equal standards, when it is utterly impossible to completely remove the subjective nature from essay scoring?
But this isn’t really about the amount of work I put in, even though often times I spend more time grading than the students spend working on the assignment. Nor am I contradicting the parents with a claim that the students in question are not “good” students, because they are.
What this is about is a ridiculous idea that a student is an “A” student, no matter what the subject or assignment. Since when are the grades that a child receives based on the grade they received the previous year? Are these parents honestly telling me that their student has reached the pinnacle of success when it comes to their writing…as a middle school student? Do they really believe that there is no more room for growth, no way for the student’s writing to get any better from this point forward?
Because if they are satisfied with the level their child is currently working at, then I will give them the “A” that they want to see. I will not even look at the students’ essay and simply assign this arbitrary grade so that everyone is happy, and no one has learned anything, including the parent, if that is what they want.
Obviously though, this is not what I believe in. I actually believe in my students overall ability to grow and succeed. I believe that writing demands a process unlike any other subject. That if they want to be better they will have to do the work as it is assigned, step-by-step, because practice is the only guarantee toward becoming a better writer. I also, most importantly, believe that a letter grade, along with standardized test scores in general, does not determine a child’s whole person.
In fact, I believe the opposite. I understand that learning can occur outside of grades, and outside of tests. I understand that hard work and struggle can actually assist in learning. And I absolutely believe that by holding them accountable for their learning now, when grades are not determining their future, can only help them in the future.
Last year, my 8th grade honors class, knowing that I would not be returning to the school, made a card for me to wish me good luck. One student wrote the following:
I will never forget your class. You exhibited exactly what my mom told me at the beginning of the year. That getting an “A” in a class is not the purpose of what is being taught. It is more important to learn life lessons. I really did this year and I thank you. I hope wherever you go and whatever you do, you continue enriching others’ lives and your own. Thank you.
I couldn’t have said it any better, but I will add a big thank you to the parents of those students who actually wish to learn.