By Tierra Negra, Courier Correspondent
A grade should reflect students learning throughout a school year however not all the teachers configure it exactly alike and, at times, it ends up proving meaningless.
My grade not only tries to reflect what the student has learned on the subject during each semester, it also takes into consideration how this was accomplished. It measures attendance, punctuality, responsibility to meet date lines and, willingness to follow the classroom rules behaving with respect towards me -the adult in the room, as well as the classmates.
I used to be concerned only about academic content but then with time I realized how impressionable their young minds are which made me reconsider the true impact I have in their lives.
I hold a great power just by assessing their learning through a grade. This grade will have the same weight in their GPA notwithstanding their own considerations about the relevance of each class. I have to manage this power responsibly because I will become a reference deeply stored in their memory that can help them navigate into achieving success and happiness as they become adults. I must avoid making mistakes and, when they surface I need to listen to the students to promptly fix them before I lose their trust.
I meticulously record everything that goes on in each period temporarily on my seating chart and then for good on my books. There is red ink for broken rules after several warnings that must deduct points from the participation part of the grade along with tardiness or being absent.
I know their main learning comes from doing the class work so students can turn them in late without penalties. I have figured out a way to address their procrastination and I only accept two per day. I gave up on homework because is beyond my control and it may end up adding to the disparity and gaps among the class already present at the beginning of the year. However, all students must work hard during the period otherwise they end up taking work to be finished at home.
At the beginning of the semester, grades look flaky and making up a missed assignment or two can reconfigure them quickly but the amount of assessments, sharing the weight of the whole percentage, accumulates as the time goes by and then, the grade stands on its own as expected becoming unnecessary of me to round them.
I believe that students must write complete sentences all the times to process and absorb information systematically. This goes along with my efforts to conserve and class sets are reused every year. All must be worked on binder paper or notebook. I only hand out rubrics and students must fill out the other side with notes. They used to lose them all the time but since I started to deduct a couple of points for a replaced rubric they find them easily. I have been printing everything I can on recycled paper since about five years ago. All my records have old information on the other side and when they see there is only recyclable paper available for their printing they know I am serious about conserving resources.
My pupils do not seem to like things too easy or too hard. Two years ago I discovered that it is better to separate the containers if I want them to recycle. Now the only two together are next to my desk where I can prevent the mixing and just for my convenience.
There is more repetition and practice than anything else in the learning process but it must be done right, at least once the first time, or there will be no room for improvement when the mind starts figuring out the short cuts. It always seemed to me necessary to experiment with both extremes to find a fair middle and, sometimes I surprise myself bewildered about how much my first students endured at the beginning of my teaching years. Like parenting, it is a mutual educational journey.
Although I understand the stakes and pressures to show that learning is happening in our school district, I disagree with the efforts of trying to make a grade reflect only “academic” learning preventing any other flaws of character from the student to “harm” it.
A fine education does not just deposit facts in the brains making it possible to remain there for future use. When excelling, it engages in deep independent thinking producing pleasure through the neurological connections created by this intellectual stimulation. Sense of humor and happy memories can help ignite the thirst for knowledge but only good habits and patience ensures that it keeps glowing as long as life endures. When students come back from a break or next year to let me know how much they have missed me I like to think it is as a result of that.
Many concerns used to overwhelm me about these young generations future. I would ask myself repeatedly if they would ever have a chance to survive at the pace we are using their resources but a comment from one of them, here and there, helps me renew the hopes:
“I did not mind trashing the school before because I felt that none of my teachers had a genuine interest on me but this year it seems that all of them are the best”.
This is what matters, I conclude to myself, if I can only manage to instill a similar change in every one of the students that crosses this door… I commit to it rather than merely serve as a step in the creation of another college graduate with “academic” success heading to preserve the status quo or to work in “derivatives” that generate financial bubbles, rob “legally” at broad day life and destroy life time savings!