Learning the Value of One Grade

When the girls first started school, I had no real expectations regarding grades. I was just happy when a day went well. By second grade it was readily apparent that schoolwork was not hard for them, although getting them to do it could  be very challenging.

So then, I felt rather obligated to insist they do their best, and  kept track of their grades, encouraging and reinforcing good grades. And Lily hit fourth grade and grades slipped as issues grew, and grades weren't so important again.

Do the best you can and don't sweat it if you get a bad grade has been my motto this year, whether out of necessity or wisdom, I wouldn't presume to guess.

Overall the girls have responded to my nonjudgmental acceptance of any grade by doing very well, but sometimes there are off days and their work shows that. Today Rosie came home with a spelling test where she'd missed every word. She cried as she showed me, distraught.

I'm a teacher, so I should feel something about the grade, right? I don't. It's not that I don't care. I want her to do well, but it's one test, one day, one tiny, insignificant snapshot. In the long run, one poor performance doesn't mean anything more than one poor performance.

I hugged her, told her I loved her, and that it was okay, it was one test. We looked at this week's words and she smirked. She can spell all those--they're easy. And with that, maybe she learned the value of one grade has nothing at all to do with her value. There's always another day, another chance. And some weeks, the shit is so easy, she's got this, no problem, no sweat. Thank heavens for those weeks.


Stephanie said...

The only thing I worry about regarding grades (with my kids) is whether they're slipping toward failing a class. While the educational component is important of course, it's also a sign that something not evident in other ways has gone wrong in their lives.

We've seen it twice now. Once when my step-son needed to escape his mother's house and once when Willy was being bullied at school.

On the other hand, growing up my grades were often the only source of praise. That drive has stuck, even though my situation has changed dramatically. I just completed a graduate degree with a 4.0.

It sends a bit of a mixed message to the kids.

K Wombles said...

Congrats on the 4.0! :)

I know, we have the mixed message here, too, and have watched the grades slide--last year was rough for Lily until we got the 504 in place, and her grades have been excellent this year despite the rockiness of the social situation at school.

But both girls believe fervently that one bad grade is a huge deal (as do some of my college students) and I've got to get through to them that an isolated bad grade is NOT a big deal. It's one bad grade. What matters is what they do next.

I wonder at the mentality that seems to be becoming more common in my college students that As are the only acceptable grade and that the A comes for being there. Grading/testing has always been a sticky widget. It needs to accurately measure competence regarding the material being learned.

Between my own children and my students, the whole grading issue and what it represents concerning their personal situations and the educational setting, sorting out what the issues are when bad grades happen is a muddy mess. (Sort of like this comment--I blame it on it being the last two weeks of the college semester and my concern for students who are teetering).

Stephanie said...

Proper supports make all the difference. Sometimes that support has to come at home and sometimes that support has to come from school. Formal and informal supports are both necessary and too many students make do without them.

I agree, though, that one bad grade is NOT a big deal. It may make for a bad day, but bad days come and go. It may also mean the student needs to work harder, but sometimes that's the assumption that's made too easily, too.

The grading issue is murky business. I work hard for my grades. Granted, I have an advantage in that I have an above average intelligence and the learning styles that are best for me are commonly used. Even so, I work hard for my grades.

On the other hand, I see students who don't work hard--who don't turn in work or don't get it in on time--and still expect, even try to fight for As. They don't seem to understand that paying tuition doesn't entitle them to good grades, it entitles them to the opportunity to become educated.

K Wombles said...

Yes, absolutely. I see so many students who come to college ill-prepared to handle the material or the responsibility. And the number of students with disabilities is on the rise, which is good, but also problematic, because we're not always prepared with the proper supports for them.

And the reality is that one size fits all college courses means that those who could succeed with accommodations but don't get them will fall through the cracks.

We need to have a clear agenda--what the college, what the community, what the instructors, employers and students expect college to do for the student and the community--is it to allow only those who can fit the cookie-cutter format to make it through or is it to allow all individuals the opportunity to learn and succeed, accepting that individual difference and life circumstances will require tailoring instruction without sacrificing course outcomes?

Stephanie said...

While I have not personally made use of it, there is kind of a backdoor way to get that kind of support. Both as a student studying teaching and as a friend to those who have used it, I've heard that extensions are a good way to deal with somewhat temporary disability-related setbacks. There are also options to access tutoring and other forms of assistance.

The difficulty, as far as I've seen, is that there is no kind of entrance advisory. It all seems to be ad hoc and at the student's request, with the student jumping through hoops to prove the need.

It's certainly not enough, and I'm sure people do fall through the cracks. But it is a start and does open up the collegiate system to those with more disabilities.

At this stage, one of the things that makes a big, big difference is advocacy and self-advocacy.