Monday, March 25, 2013

Less than the Best Can Be AMAZING

The third quarter of the school year just ended for me. Predictably, I spent much of last week staying very late after school with kids desperate to get their grade up at the last minute. If they're willing to do the work, I'm willing to put in the extra time.

A few different groups of kids come in. There are the kids who've been failing since the beginning of the YEAR, and when they find out they've just gotten it up to a D, they break out in the Hallelujah Chorus. There's a similar group who get it up to a B from a C, say, "That's awesome!" and carry on with their lives. Both groups could've been a whole grade higher if they'd just applied themselves more earlier.

There are also kids I've been working with a little longer than the past week. They get it from a D up to a B, and want to know if they can get it any higher at the last minute. In those cases, I have to try to convince them that their B is awesome, because I've already bent as much as I could to help them.

Then ... there are the A-minuses.

Some A-minuses are easy to deal with. They're one percent from an A, and one of my usual culprits (i.e., retake a quiz) is easily enough to bump them over.

But others are tougher. These are students who may not get math easily, so they work their tails off to get that A-minus. They should be SO PROUD of that A-minus. A line I heard more than once last week:

"It's not good enough for my dad/mom/both parents. I'll be in so much trouble."

Sure, some of these kids might just be using the "blame the parents" line to get me to feel bad for them and help them nudge it up to an A. But I've met some of the parents at Parent Teacher Conferences, and I suspect those kids are telling the truth.

I get that parents want their kids to reach their utmost potential. I get that some kids slack off (those Bs that could've easily been As) and need motivation/pressure from home to get it in gear. I get that there's pressure for getting into a good college.

I also get that if a kid works really hard, and the result of that hard work is an A-minus, that A-minus should be celebrated. It's not "less than perfect." It's an amazing accomplishment.

The whole idea of grading has issues. I try to be as fair as possible, but there's still an almost arbitrary nature about it. Should grades reflect effort, actual mathematical understanding, or a combination of both? If a combination, in what proportion? What earns an A in one class may only be enough for a B in another.

It sucks.

I hope some parents will help it suck a little less by acknowledging when less than the "best" is more than good enough.


Debra McKellan said...

I grew up in a house where C's weren't acceptable, but I still got them. They were just going to have to be unacceptable. lol If I didn't understand it, I really wasn't going to burn out trying to. At the same time, when I got my first D in college, I worked my tail off and brought my grade up to a B. I felt so good!

And when my mom went back to school, she would freak out if she got an A-. I wanted to clobber her every time.

Robin Breyer said...

I started early with bad grades and with few exceptions was very consistent. It was pretty clear that I was a B/C student, so every A was a cuse for celebration.

Mike Lewis said...

Although your exploration of the issue seems confined to academic achievement, I suspect that these students and their parents have this same struggle in several other aspect of their lives, perhaps including "life" itself.