A Clean Slate



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)


About Mark E.P. Roberts

teachermandc is Mark E.P. Roberts, a middle-aged, high school English teacher entering his ninth year of instructing young minds. This blog is an attempt to capture the challenge of teaching and the essence of learning. At a time when DC has become the epicenter of educational theory, this blog will keep its preferred focus on students in an somewhat typical DC high school. I have taught in both public and private schools. To date, 95% of my students are of color. All names have been changed, and complaints about in-house politics will be avoided. Hope you enjoy.
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