Teachers Don’t Give Grades, Students Earn Them

In college, every paper I wrote, was returned to me with no more than a few words of feedback and a circled letter grade.  The many hours of hard work and effort I put into each essay I wrote was equivalent to a single letter and no more than a sentence of feedback.  That’s it?  What does a B- even mean?  On what criteria or objectives was my paper being assessed?  While I had no idea what the grade meant, I accepted it.  I never really understood how my teachers graded me back when I was in school.  Almost arbitrarily, it seemed, a grade appeared at the top of every assignment I had turned in.  No words or explanation, just a letter, circled.  What was the point of circling the letter?  Was I going to get confused by what I looked at?  There was only ever one red, scarlet letter at the top of my papers.  Why circle it?  The circling of the letter seemed to me to be as random as the grad I received for my work.

Despite all of these unknowns, my parents always reinforced the idea that grades are received and not given.  My work earned the strange circled letter I received.  Teachers don’t give grades, my mom used to say, you earn them.  Luckily, I learned this lesson at an early age.  I never blamed my teachers for giving me a grade I didn’t feel I earned.  I worked harder on the next assignment if I achieved a grade I didn’t feel as though I deserved.  I never complained.  Times were different twenty years ago when I was in school.

Currently, most students I teach seem entitled.  They feel as though they deserve a good grade despite  the quality of their work.  And I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “Why did you give me this grade?” in the classroom at the start of the year.  Many of our students come from schools that grade students like I was graded, randomly.  They feel as though they have the right to argue their way into a better grade.  This entitlement is ridiculous.  Perhaps it stems from the “Here’s your trophy for just showing up” attitude that our society has taken recently.  “Everybody is awesome!” seems to echo throughout public schools and athletic facilities across the world.  This has got to change or else the future of our world is in jeopardy.  Many students who I’ve taught over the years enter the sixth grade being unable to solve problems despite feeling as though they are the best people, thinkers, and athletes in the world.  If these students are our future leaders, we are in serious trouble.

This week, the parent of one of my students emailed my co-teacher and I wondering why his son was struggling so much in the sixth grade.  “In his last school, he only ever got As.”  This parent, seemed to imply that because his son had always gotten As, he should be given As again.  If I wanted to give things away I would have become a game show host.  I am a teacher because I want the future leaders of our world to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and team players.  I want the next generation of people to be better than the current generation.  My goal is to challenge and support students while equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to grow and develop into effective global citizens.  I don’t give them anything other than my time, energy, and care.  They have to work for everything in my classroom.  I will guide them to where they want to go, but they need to do the work.  Grades aren’t given, they are earned.  This parent, and many others like him, don’t seem to understand this nugget of truth.  It’s frustrating when the parents control how schools operate.

If this parent’s son put in the effort needed to complete work that demonstrated a mastery of the concepts and skills covered, he could be earning exceptional grades.  However, this student doesn’t ask for help, even when reminded and suggested or sometimes even provided without prompting.  He completes work which demonstrates his inability to meet the standards we have set as an institution.  He can turn in work that displays a strong understanding of the objectives, but he generally chooses not to.  He lacks effort and enthusiasm.  He doesn’t seem to care that his grades are low.  He is happy just being a student in our classroom.  This apathetic mindset is common amongst students in our world today.  They are content with being average.  However, their parents are not happy about the grades they receive.  They see their children as perfect in every way.  So, they feel as though their sons and daughters should be given high grades.  I’m not a merchant at a store.  I don’t sell grades.  Some parents need to manage their expectations while holding the bar higher for their children.

Grades should be a badge of honor.  If you put in the blood, sweat, and tears to master the skills and material covered, then you will earn the appropriate mark.  We need to treat school and grading like life.  If you just do the minimum to get by, you will most likely lose your job or not get a raise or promotion.  Our students need to learn the hard lessons in life early so that they don’t make the silly mistakes later on.  Life is an experience filled with challenges.  If you want the power up or extra life, you need to earn it.  There are no cheat codes in life, or the classroom.

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