grading Archives - The Jose Vilson


Sifting through the multitude of ungraded papers, I looked for some sign that they actually learned something.

I hate entering in 55s in my Excel sheet. A teacher can say whatever they want to the kids, and threaten them about not doing well, but most of us prefer that all of our kids do well from the early going. Even when we hold high standards for our students, none of us actually want our students to get a 55.

I don’t necessarily let it happen. I more wait to see if the student gets the idea that I’m hopeful, encouraging, and downright reaffirming, but I’m not going to back down from the level I want them to achieve. I’ll meet them where they are, re-re-repeat my lesson, ask students to re-re-re-explain everything we just did, let them work together, in groups, in pairs, as a class, give them homework, or not, a lot of problems, a few problems, a long, short, medium problem that they have one or two days to complete, and …


A few days before the end of the marking period, a couple of students will rescue themselves, not with extra credit, but making up their assignments. I’ll be nice and accept them for some credit. But the others who need it the most won’t get the hint, even after I make it plain for them. I’ll huff and puff and think to myself, “Like, yo, What the …, do my monologues count for nothing these days?”

Of course, we’ll sit there during parent-teacher conference. I’ll break out the call logs, the works I’ve graded, the work I ask them to hold for their portfolio, the progress reports mid-quarter, and the set of questions that sound less like a teacher, more like Jack McCoy:

  • Did you, in the night in question, do your required assignments?
  • Did your teacher, Mr. Vilson, actually give you the grade or did you earn that?
  • How is it unfair when he gave you weeks to turn those in?
  • How do you think he feels about the grade he gave you?

I won’t get that far before I re-establish a common vision with the parents in question about how the student ought to perform, but shortly thereafter, I’ll sit there, looking at their grade, wondering about my next steps. I’ll move them to the very front, let them inhale some of the fumes from my oft-used dry erase markers, make them repeat and respond to another student’s remarks more often than I already do, pat them on the shoulder more often, read all my articles on Edutopia again, and let them haunt my thoughts, and wonder what their experience was before I got them that made them into the student they are right now.

A quarter into the school year, and I’m hoping we can meet at least halfway on their achievement, because my job is to help them get the rest of the way through.

Mr. Vilson, for sure.

[Sidebar: I get some of you live in school systems that allow for you to say: "Then why grade at all?" You're fortunate.]


Don’t Grade The MTA

May 24, 2012

Dear members of the NYC City Councilmembers,

I get it. You want to hold the MTA accountable somehow for their abhorrent misuse of funds, consistently delayed projects, and general failure to produce a good service for the amount of money the average New Yorker pays.  It’s hard to blame the average service worker, but the guys at the top need to hear that we as a city aren’t happy with the mess that often is our daily commute. The smells we endure coupled with the delays and detours only exacerbate what we feel is an inefficient system.

You’re right: the bastards need to pay. Just, whatever you do, don’t follow the public school model.

For now, I’ll ignore that you’re about to give F’s to the A train and C’s to the D train, leaving native New Yorkers and tourists alike confused as is. (Will we have to resort to calling them by their color and express / local? Chill!) If you’re going to grade the trains, please don’t grade them the way your friends at the NYC Department of Education do.

Let me expound.

If you use their system, you’d have to give them a standardized test every three months, usually in an isolated area with only a few trains. You’d start them off somewhere in Park Slope where the hipsters hang because they rarely give the train issues. As you’re riding the train, you’d ask the conductors to punch in an answer to a question at every stop until they got to the Bronx. As they make their way through the Bronx, they get the same bad customers asking the conductors questions they’ve already heard, presumably in the voices of Danny Devito, Fran Drescher, and Gilbert Gottfried. Once they’ve gotten past the former AFLAC guy, you’d tell them the test was over and get back to them over the summer.

Please don’t grade the MTA like this.

The conductors would just keep driving the train with the manager nervously tapping the light switches wanting to know how the hell the conductors did. If they pass, all the trains get a green light. I mean, it’s not the whole system that’s failing. It’s just a few of the overcrowded ones in certain neighborhoods. If they fail, then you go to the press and blame their union. If you can find a scandal about their affairs under the Columbus Circle Station, more power to you.

When that doesn’t work, you shut down the whole line. It doesn’t matter what the customers think. You reroute them, make them take a bus, or tell them you’re preparing for a special new line. You put these conductors in a pool where they keep getting evaluated until they leave or meet your ambiguous standard every few years, shut the train line down and replace it with the same train with a few more ads. However, you’ll have a lot more frustrated and exhausted ones who struggle to stay energized through an entire shift, and eventually, less conductors as a whole. When they leave, so do the conductors, the management, and a few other key people tired of doing the work of three different people at once.

Same customers. Same tunnels. Same groundwork. Maybe fresher paint. Sometimes a new train with Wi-Fi will come through, but you have to be really lucky or really early to catch that specific train. It’ll work, I swear.

All the while, we can make this public institution better by setting better guidelines and standards for how it should work, make sure everyone involved from the management to the person cleaning up has the experience and professionalism to serve the customers properly, invest fully in the system to make it more customer-friendly, and have checks and balances so the system functions well.

Otherwise, you’re headed down an ugly path. And trains have nowhere to race.

Signed, a teacher …

Jose, a native New Yorker of three decades, his soul much longer …