Making the Grade

Apple on a vintage report card

Elementary students carrying backpacks and a carefree attitude pass by my house on their way to and from school, shedding announcements, art projects, and jackets as mindlessly as autumn trees drop leaves.

Yesterday, I watched spruced-up children scamper by my house, dressed in new clothes and excitement, and wondered what they were thinking about as they began another school year. My teaching experience tells me they weren’t focused on increasing their knowledge and earning high grades. Instead, they were probably thinking about friends, teachers, lunch and recess.

Learning and grades didn’t dominate my thoughts at the beginning of a new school year until I became a teacher. I remember working diligently to establish procedures for collecting scores and assigning grades that would fairly represent the progress of each student, refining and improving my methods year in and year out.

Still, I was often surprised by the reactions of parents to the grades I recorded for their children.

When I taught ninth-grade English, Willy’s parents attended a conference at my request after their happy-go-lucky son received a D in my class. When I asked the smiling couple for their thoughts on how we could work together to help Willy increase his achievement, Dad chuckled and said, “Oh heavens, Mrs. Bohart, don’t fuss about Willy. If he likes his teachers, gets passing grades, and stays out of trouble, we don’t worry about him much and neither should you.”

That same year, a tense mother made an appointment with me to review her daughter’s grade. She told me her daughter, Ellen, wanted to graduate as valedictorian in four years. Then she studied the girl’s scores, checking my arithmetic with a calculator, hoping to find an error that would raise Ellen’s A- to an A.

Good grief. When I was in ninth grade, I worried about increasing my meager collection of Jantzen sweaters, securing a date for the junior prom, and keeping my uppity sister in her place.

Then there were children who were delightfully oblivious about the meaning of grades.

A kindergarten student rushed into my office to show me his report card, on which his required skills had been marked on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Look, Mrs. Principal, my teacher thinks I’m 7 on everything except this one here,” he said, pointing to his score for knowing the letters of the alphabet. “On this one, she thinks I’m 8. Wow. Really, I’m only 5.”

In the current AARP Magazine, Brian Grazer, a film and TV producer, said he realized when he graduated from college that he hadn’t learned much other than how to get good grades.

Grades and test scores matter; I wish learning mattered more.

Advertisements

53 thoughts on “Making the Grade

  1. My hope for students is that they will find that they love to learn. It is a process that carries us through our lives. The trick I think is to keep curiosity alive. I also think that learning to read is the most important skill. If you learn to read, then anything is possible! Great post Janet!

    Liked by 4 people

    • What a wise comment this is, Janice. I recognized the truth in everything you said. some of the youngest old people I know are those who have retained their curiosity and love of books. I hope someday people say that about us!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Learning how to perform well on tests is all the rage here. I’m not sure the kids are learning anything else.

    It’s funny. I didn’t have great grades in high school or college, but I remember a lot of what I learned. We used to go to the “follow your kid’s schedule” night in high school. The Algebra teacher always put one or two word problems on the board and I was usually able to answer them while many others in the room went into the whole “maybe if I look away he won’t see me” process.

    Liked by 3 people

    • As a teacher, I know the “maybe she won’t see me” procedure very well. Sounds to me like you were a learner, not a grade chaser, Dan. I did have a few students who were both, but they were rare. I’m not proud to say that iI was one or the other, depending on the subject matter and the teacher.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I wish I would have known the application of everything I was learning in school, while I was in school. I would have appreciated it more and paid attention more. Unfortunately you don’t know these things until you are in the working world. That’s why I think it’s positive to work a bit before starting college or before grad school.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My eldest, at the ripe age of seven, told me that “Grades are just someone else’s subjective interpretation of how I’m doing.” He went on to say they had nothing to do with his intelligence. Needless to say, I’ve been fighting white hair ever since:). Nice piece!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Quite some insight your lad possessed, Kay, and if he was capable of such insight on a regular basis, I totally understand the white hair problem. I’ve a feeling I would have enjoyed teaching him.

      Like

  5. I talked to 3 new college entrants the other day and they look so much younger and more naive than my college students were. Has helicopter parenting kept them from developing their social skills? I think they know how to learn more than in years past though. Maybe it’s computerization. I had a few returning VietNam vets coming for the first time, and they had to grow up fast.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, the young men we sent to Viet Nam, did, indeed, grow up fast. They had no choice. I think you’re onto something about social skills, Kayti; I tell myself today’s college students have learned a different set of socials skills, based on technology; but I’m uneasy about the eventual impact of this new skill set.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Willy’s going to be fine. That girl? She’s the one we have boxes of Kleenex in our offices for…if she doesn’t report us to the University President for not “giving” her the grade she “deserves.” I’m so glad I’m not teaching…

        Like

  6. Yes this is so true on all levels and it does not seem to matter where in the world you are there are the parents who are practical and warm hearted like Willies and then the other extreme where all the pressure is put on to very small shoulders. And then there is the student who has a parent or caregiver who does not give a damn and these I felt the most for especially as they usually get shuffled from school to school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Lynne, your concern for the neglected children rings so true. I once taught a 4th grade girl who’d had four different dads and attended a different school every year since kindergarten. I never met her parents, and they never responded to my attempts at communication. Yet she maintained a spunky, resilient spirit that I hope served her well as she moved, yet again and without warning, in April of her year with me.

      Like

  7. Our answer to Willy was Lloyd Wellburn, delighted with a “D” grade, leaping for joy, he stepped in teachers waste paper basket, lodged it firmly on his 13 year old foot, and ran off clanking down the hall yelling,” A D, A D, I got a D, I gotta D”. End of year, Lloyd danced “The Can Can” with the senior girls, waste basket on foot. What became of Lloyd? I do not know, but I think personality and character matter more than grades. Thought provoking post, thanks Janet

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lloyd and Willy would have been buddies. I don’t know what happened to Willy, either, but with his big grin, willingness to engage in conversation with anyone, and good heart — in other words, personality and character — I’m sure he’s led a good life.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It seems that the students’ grades are not as important as their performance on the standardized tests. Maybe that’s because the results of those tests become the teachers’ grades. We are no longer teaching to increase learning, just to do well on the tests. Where did we go wrong?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I knew the answer, Troy. I was still working when the first state-wide testing hit Colorado — in fact I helped introduce it to the teacher’s in Craig — and I didn’t recognize the monster it would prove to be. It was sold to school districts as a way to assess learning in a standardized way in order to help teachers plan instruction and remediation; and it would never, ever be used to judge schools or teachers. Your comment is right on.

      Like

  9. I realized that the most important lesson I learned in school was how to learn. This reminded me of a teacher I had in 2nd grade. She had a sheet of paper on the wall with all our names on it, and every time she had to reprimand us she put a mark next to our name. When the student had 4 marks next to their name, she put a slash through the four marks. I thought the slash meant you were starting over and the 4 reprimands were wiped out. I wound up with a lot of restarts and couldn’t understand why my parents were so upset after being shown the paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your story delighted me, Rob, as much as the kindergarten student who was really only five did. I knew you were a learner from the way you taught yourself to write long after your schooling ended and have become a successful free-lancer — that’s someone who knows how to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do remember the indecent that brought all this to my parent’s attention. The doors to the boy’s bathroom were swinging doors–just like the doors to the saloons on TV. I’d found a cigarette butt on the playground and I stuck it in the corner of my mouth and was making dramatic entrances through the swinging doors of the saloon/bathroom (much to the delight of my friends) when I got busted. That seemed to be the last straw and the phone call was made.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I seem to remember that everybody was decidedly unimpressed with my overall behavior. I continued to ride the outlaw trail, so whatever action they took didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The marks and slashes continued to magically appear next to my name without any particular effort on my part. What that teacher didn’t realize was the more marks you had, the more your status elevated with your friends. We checked the paper daily to see who was ahead.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. We finally made it through kindergarten with my Quinn (a real struggle), and at the end of year tests, she performed terribly. She got a 0/3 and was recommended for summer school because of it. In talking with her teacher, she said to me, “She knows the material, she just has a hard time recalling it quickly.” So… She learned everything she needed to, but because your test doesn’t show that, she is being penalized?? I so wish that learning was truly the focus of education, and not educating for the sake of performance.

    Like

    • I echo your wish, Becca, and I’m sorry your family, and especially Quinn, had the experience you relate. However, I’m glad you were her mom and could explain it to her without harming her dignity. Performance on mandated state testing has become the tail that wags the dog.

      Like

  11. For a well functioning society good teachers are the greatest asset. This is what I think.
    Browsing through all the comments, I found out by going to WordWeb that in America when you graduate as valedictorian, you usually give the valedictory address.
    In Australia the top student in a class or school is called “dux”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, how I appreciate your first sentence, Uta. Thank you for thinking it. Funny that you had to look up valedictorian; I frequently have to do some research on words my Australian blog friends use. It’s usually quite interesting. Also, I want to thank you for the way you read and like comments; I’m sure those who comment appreciate it as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Awww bless the wee five year old, such an innocence and excitement in his statement. I think we could all learn a thing or two from him!

    Like

  13. I love everything about learning—except for the tests. Too bad we’re so fixated on test scores these days.
    Last weekend I helped my nephew move into his dorm as a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Starting college is so exciting; I think I was more excited than he was! I would go back to school for more learning and more degrees, if only I didn’t have to take any more tests!

    Like

    • For some reason, early on, I developed an attitude that I was good at preparing for and taking tests, a thought that did well by me over the years. However, now I see that the time I spent preparing for a test could have been better spent learning something! We’re going to visit our grandson who is a sophomore at Seton Hall in October. He’s from the midwest and loves being in the east.

      Like

    • There’s a great deal of wisdom in your final sentence, Barbara. I believe learning is more dependent on the intrinsic motivation of the learner than on extrinsic motivators like grades and parental approval or awards.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I loved getting my report card, and anything below a B would mortify me – except for maths, which was a strong point. I had no interest in maths, whatsoever. Getting a C for anything else would motivate me the next term. Come to think of it, I didn’t do too well in home economics either – ever since I snipped a hole in my apron and used a fork to mash the potatoes, the respective teachers kept their eye on me. 🙂

    Interesting post.

    Like

  15. Without testing, grades and scores parents have no idea how their children are really doing–or how the teachers are doing for that matter. I believe in paying teachers well and asking for well-educated, quality people. But parents must also understand the importance of involvement. It is a team effort, for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s