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.