Welcome back to school! I love back to school season. All the fun school supplies. I especially love the back to school pictures of everyone’s kids on social media. But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post on social media about those first day of school letters from teachers to parents and students. Those letters are usually full of procedures, FAQ, standards, etc. I love the “I don’t give homework” ones and I love the ones where you can tell the teachers are excited about the upcoming year. But I’m seeing another trend. A trend of teachers sending home procedures that are linked to grades. Those have really made me pause. Pause and reflect on things I did wrong as a teacher as well as what grades are in general.
Now I’m just going to put this disclaimer out there and get it over with, I know some of you hate grades and think we should all be standards based or whatever. This is not about that so don’t go there. Some teachers don’t get a choice. My focus is on making that choice wisely.
OK now that is out of the way, back to those lovely parent letters and procedures. I’ve seen posts about bathroom passes costing points. If paper is not headed correctly. Turned into the wrong place. Not done in pencil (seriously it’s 2016). Notebooks not in correct order. Tardiness adding up. Class Dojo points added to grade. List goes on and on.
I had my own quirks as a teacher. I took off points after a week late. I gave homework then gave grades for students just finishing it, not on correctness. I stopped giving homework because I realized I was just giving grades for those that had parents at home not for learning.
One post about restroom passes equally bonus points, a teacher replied that she didn’t do this but had 56 students a day and needed them to help organization. I wish I had had 56 students, I had 156, but organization can’t be my focus of the day.
So let’s stop for one minute. Forget all I said above and remember why we have school. What is the point? Why do we have grades? I had a teacher ask me last week why I started using Google Drive. I told her because I felt like my classroom was becoming more of a place for me to work instead of a place for my students to learn so I had to make it more streamlined and less about paperwork. But that is a huge problem. We are putting so much on teachers that schools are becoming a workplace not a learning place. That stress and burden is then reflected in our grading system.
We have to stop and think, “does this grade reflect learning or does it reflect learning?” If it is about completion, behavior, etc, it’s not about learning. Yes we need order to have a safe place to learn, but what you see as organization is not clear organization for some of your students. Think about students with ADHD. Those that don’t know me, I’m huge advocate for kids with ADHD because there is so much more that goes on in their brains than just paying attention. Now look at that list in the 2nd paragraph. Heading papers – Yeah speed isn’t on their side, your heading just added 10 to 20 minutes of procrastination to their assignment. Restroom – please spend a week on ADHD meds and tell me how your stomach feels after the lunchroom. Notebooks and tardiness – not even going to touch organization and timeliness. Dojo – just stop. The list goes on and on. Same thing could be said for kids with disabilities. Dyslexia. Autism. ESL.
So our grades are going to reflect two things, compliance or learning. If your grades are reflecting compliance, kids are going to be resentful. They are going to give up because it really doesn’t matter if they study because they can still have a low grades. It also is doing the opposite. It’s allowing students to show up to your class and pass with high grades but not learn what is needed to move to the next course. How many times have you gotten a group of students and they didn’t know the basics from the year before and you wanted to blame that teacher last year. Maybe the kids didn’t learn, they just headed their papers pretty and didn’t use restroom passes to make that 60 to move on.
Be mindful of what your expectations are for your class. Be mindful of your grades. Before you put in that grade book or mark of a paper, ask yourself if you can prove the student learned something here. If not, reevaluate. We want learners not compliant little people. Isn’t that what the entire school reform movement is all about, getting away from teaching students to be robotic factory workers but places for students to learn to be successful at their pace and skill levels?