So Tom asked me what the highlight of my day was yesterday.
I have two:
1) During Maria’s 7th hour class, which is pretty huge, I got to walk around and help some of the kids. These are current sophomores, so I never taught them when I was at this school, but they seemed to accept the fact that I knew what I was talking about. So when I knelt by their desks when they raised their hands, their surprise was quickly replaced with matter-of-fact questions. “Yes ma’am, I don’t get this.” “Thank you, ma’am.” “Can you come see?”
In Colorado, some of them (especially the boys) call me “Miss.” “Yes, miss.” “Okay, miss.”
2) After the Mass last night, we stood outside the church talking to one of the parents. Most people had left by then. All of a sudden, the door opened and one of the graduating seniors walked up to me, gave me a quick hug, and left almost before I had time to say hello to him. He had not come up to me earlier when most of the others had. In fact, I haven’t talked to him much since his sophomore year when he and the “three musketeers” used to hang out in my classroom using my trashcan for paper basketball.
So great. I’m so blessed to have known these kids.
Myriad conversations with students I had here in LA and in CO have come to mind when I read this really great article from a college professor’s perspective on the ridiculously challenging art of grading. It’s very applicable to secondary (and, I’m guessing elementary) school as well.
Where did students get the gumption to treat a grade as the opening move in a set of negotiations? As a professor, there is little worse than spending an entire semester attempting to connect about a subject you find both interesting and important, only to have them ignore everything you do until the moment their GPA is affected. And then, of course, it’s war. (Schuman)
Schuman admits that she inflates her grades, and explains why she feels she has to do this. When I first started teaching I was determined not to do this.
And then I realized life is a bit more complicated.
This is what I think grades “mean”:
A = Demonstrates exceptional mastery
B = Exceeds expectations
C = Meets expectations; that is, achieves the lesson goal.
D = Does not meet expectations; that is, does not demonstrate ability to do what I taught them to do.
F = Earns failing grade.
This is also the description I put on all my rubrics and the description whispering in my mind as I grade all my tests.
But then there is also this:
A = Demonstrates exceptional mastery for this student.
B = Exceeds expectations for this student.
C = Meets expectations / demonstrates achievement of lesson goal – at the level this student is capable of.
D = Does not meet expectations / This student does not adequately use whatever gifts she has been given to demonstrate achievement of the goal.
F = Earns failing grade / This student demonstrates profound lack of understanding of lesson plan goal or profound negligence. Basically, he did not really try.
Because, you know, Honors Student A writes an “A” essay that looks VERY different from ELL struggling student B — and yet Student B may have “demonstrated exceptional mastery” with the lesson goal within the context of her particular challenges and current skills.
“Ms. Shea, Teacher X doesn’t teach writing like you did. She says ‘A is B because of 123’ is too basic, middle school stuff.”
“Yeah but I still used it!”
“And I used the format you taught us anyway but she took points off!”
Yes, I know ‘A is B because of 123’ is the basic middle-school formula for thesis statements. But I teach it to my high school kids as a starting point because they need it. You have to learn to walk before you can learn to run, people.
Once they master that version, I try to get them to leave it behind as soon as possible. “You don’t need this formula any more. I want you to write a thesis statement without using it. Change the words.”
I think that’s one of the downfalls of one teacher having the same kids 2 years in a row. They got used to me, and no matter how many times I told them “this is just ONE right way to write an essay. There are others,” they seem to believe that their new teacher (the third this year) is wrong and I am right.
I encountered this a lot during my first year. “But Ms. X always said…” “We never did it this way before…” “We used to listen to music every Friday, can’t we go back to that?”
One of the things you have to teach students is how to be a student. For better or for worse, that means being flexible enough to adapt to different teachers different expectations.
Maria is doing something really cool right now.
It’s a simple idea, but I’ve actually never done it.
I’m totally stealing this from her.
She has a series of questions on the board. The kids are answering them in groups. But here’s the catch:
They have to receive teacher approval on their answer to every question before the assignment is considered complete.
So this is what happens:
They work in their groups. One of them brings up the paper. “Ms. Lynch, is this right?” She will look at it and say, “Try again. Look at the second part of your answer.”
This starts to happen more and more.
“Good job, you got it!”
The groups begin to feel competitive. They begin to walk more quickly to Ms. Lynch. Then they run.
“Ms. Lynch, Ms. Lynch! Is this it?”
“Almost. Try again!”
They run back to their groups and scribble furiously. They laugh in frustration.
I love it.
This is the song I sang before I came to teach in Louisiana:
Actually, it’s also the song I sing before I do anything scary – like when I went to college, flew to Italy, began ACE, moved to Colorado…
Look. It’s me and my guitar. And the bag I bring with me when I move all around the country.
…And this is what I said after my first day of school here in Louisiana:
(and, let’s be honest, almost every day after that):
“Week before last I went to Wesleyan and read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” After it I went to one of the classes where I was asked questions. There were a couple of young teachers there and one of them, an earnest type, started asking the questions. “Miss O’Connor,” he said, “why was the Misfit’s hat black?” I said most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats. He looked pretty disappointed. Then he said, “Miss O’Connor, the Misfit represents Christ, does he not?” “He does not,” I said. He looked crushed. “Well, Miss O’Connor,” he said, “what is the significance of the Misfit’s hat?” I said it was to cover his head; and after that he left me alone. Anyway, that’s what’s happening to the teaching of literature.” (Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being)