Today is the last day of winter break. I have missed the faces of my students and look forward to reconnecting tomorrow. There are still two weeks left in the semester, and I do not relish the inevitable inquiries about grades and midterms to come. Most students will do as they expected, but a few will fail. Always at this juncture, I emphasize the learning opportunities to come and the projects ahead. But one or more students will always interject the familiar “I just want to know my grade.”
I don’t remember being so obsessed when I was in high school, but that was a long time ago. Invariably, I have scrubbed my memories of all minor encumbrances, and grades were never a problem for me. As best I can recall, the knowledge mattered more. Of course, success helps, and I know for a few of my students school has always been something of a chore. I do what I can to change that dynamic. I pepper my assignments with “no wrong answer” grading. I assign teams of varying levels of achievement in order to spread the work and ideally facilitate student teaching. I look students in the eye and emphasize their strengths and personalities. I use humor to get us over the rough patches. But none of those things can reassure a student who is struggling. Maybe a clean slate can help.
I have a major birthday coming this week–the ones that end in zero or five and mark a passage of sorts. I have used the last few weeks to consider my life to date, my choices, my successes, and my failures. I have tried to be as objective as I could in my mental tally, and I made promises to myself to do better to conquer bad habits and nurture good ones. I want my students to do the same.
Despite whatever pushback comes my way, I will not return work tomorrow or distribute grades. I will wait until Wednesday to do that. Instead, I will assign new seats and teams for the new year. I will ask students to share holiday stories, and I will gently guide them back into the book we are still reading.
I will remind them that a little over half a year of schooling remains and their effort is the best predictor of their outcome–in class and in life. That much I have learned in my years to date. This week, when my birthday comes, I intend to “lighten up” and celebrate me. I want my students to learn how to do the same.
It is a lesson they will need in the challenges to come.
–Mark E.P. Roberts (teachermandc)