On Monday, I finally handed in my second quarter grades, still dizzy from the desultory amounts of sleep I got the night before. Gasses in a baby don’t have an appointment, so I spend nights either patting my baby’s back or listening to my fiancee do this. As I start looking at my online gradebook, I put in my grades on the Excel spreadsheet in a swift manner. I quickly took note of some of the data I knew about the students and thought about their progress throughout the semester. I discerned some patterns in their exams and homework with a mix of their participation and enthusiasm for the class. From there, I gave them a grade based on what and how I felt they did throughout the year.
Most teachers do this, especially those with as much access to great pedagogical minds as I have. These are sound practices and a good balance between the pressures of pedagogical policy and sound practice. To that end, I felt comfortable with the grades I gave, knowing that these grades are as much a reflection of me as they are of the student.
But what came a day or two after that made me swing towards the father I’ve become, not just for my biological son Alejandro, but the sons and daughters I’ve nurtured to various degrees over the last few years. I spoke to my ELA counterpart and noticed that our grades were mostly the same except for a couple of students. After accounting for some of the larger discrepancies, I noticed one particular grade that shocked me some. The student in question had a much higher grade in her class than mine. After we talked, I was made aware of the student’s current home situation.
We have so many of these stories too. The mother or father leaves, the economy takes a turn for the worse, the family has to move to a region miles away from their school, but the student still manages to get to school on time whenever they get the chance. They stay home at times because they can’t afford the babysitter or the family just had another emergency that put them in a bind for the day. These are things that many of us probably couldn’t handle as children or adults, but they manage to do it. It’s their living, but we continue to evade these discussions and our role in them.
When I advocate for “whole child education,” I don’t mean we’re stuck in this talk about behavior and truancy. As I illustrated yesterday, I get tired of people telling me that kids can’t do the math because of their current situation. Having said that, we know that, if a student feels that they have one or two people in the building who care about their well-being, they tend to do better than those who don’t. I’m fairly certain that if they get the opportunities to invest something in the school (e.g.: time, public work, community service), then they also feel like the place is for them. Too often, our students feel like their school provides them with the comforts that home should.
Why not make school a place where they can feel that?
The passion which brought me to this school, the shadows that reminded me of the schools I knew from around my way, and the knowledge that these little seeds might spread across the Earth begged for me to rethink this idea of grading more rigorously. These kids already have lessons they’re getting A’s in. The A’s won’t show up on their Adequate Yearly Progress reports, won’t measure against the Common Core Learning Standards, and won’t stand up for them in a court of law. Yet, they’ll show up in character, strength, and wisdom beyond the years they’ve grown in front of me.
Many of you might argue that I’ve softened my stance somewhat from my previous positions on grading. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We ought to grade stringently, with as much clarity and focus as possible for optimal achievement. I also believe that we ought to give students a chance to meet those lofty expectations. If learning is asynchronous, who am I to deny the child the chance to learn the material within an allotted time period? Who am I to say that my grade is the same as the person who earned it?
Do we value the child or put a value on the child?
Mr. Vilson, who draws the line here …