Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Walking the Line

I've been teaching long enough to know that the grades my students get are the grades they earn. I make every effort to help them succeed but sometimes they just don't hit the mark.

And sometimes that gives me a little twinge of sadness.

Today, I handed back grades for two in-class assignments. Most were good, some were very good and others were...


Often, the grades that were below expectations were a case of students simply not doing enough. Failing to realize there was a second side to a quiz. Failing to turn in sources that were listed on a slide show for an in-class presentation. Giving a surface level answer to a question that needed to reflect a deeper understanding. In most cases, the combined grades evened each other out. In a couple of cases, they didn't.

That's where the twinge came in.

When students don't show up for class, don't turn things in or don't prepare for class, the twinge is easily dismissed. But when they are trying and missing the mark, the twinge stings a bit.

And these are my freshmen in a class where content is important, but so are a sense of belonging and an atmosphere of trust. I strive to make my class a soft landing place for them, but sometimes it's not soft enough to cushion the blow of a disappointing grade.

pixel creatures via Pixabay
With this particular class (every year, not just now), I often feel more like their mom than their professor and some days, I think split the difference. I've had students tell me that I give off a mom vibe, something I take as a compliment. But moms don't have to assign grades. And when moms see crestfallen expressions, they can reach out with a hug or a reassurance.

It's a tough line to walk and, sometimes, I wonder if I should be less mom and more hard line, but that's just not the way I roll. I want my students to know that I care about them and I want them to learn how to advocate for themselves when something doesn't go as planned or they don't understand why they got the grade they got, which requires a certain amount of softness on my part. The (quasi) tough love they need is just not my strong suit.

But it is what they need. And I have faith in the way I've structured my class, which is packed with opportunities to fix mistakes, do better next time and display knowledge in a variety of ways. It doesn't stop the twinge, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Perhaps the twinge is the reminder that I care.

And that is a lesson I never want to stop teaching.

1 comment:

  1. Knowing you, I’d venture that you’re a superlative teacher. One question though. Have you ever broached the idea of study partners or study groups to those students who struggle. I had an especially tough class - a requirement for my major taught by the Dept. Chair who lectured during class on information that was additional to the texts and required a lot of study. I. The class was a girl with cerebral palsy who taped the class. I was assigned to help her study. Between my notes and her tapes and our different learning approaches, we studied together and i know it helped me immensely. Just saying.