Saturday, October 13, 2007

Do you want an A or do you want to learn?

One of the most frustrating things I deal with as a teacher, is the fact that most students care more about getting an A than they do about coming away from my class having learned something. In college, I really started to notice the sense of entitlement most people have when it comes to grades. It doesn't matter that you turned in a shitty paper, you deserve an A because you are you, and you're fabulous. That's the way it usually goes, right? All the while, there are hard-working students in the background, who despite their earnest efforts, accept their 86 or 87 because they know that they are capable of doing better and that there is almost always room for improvement.

I have taught Spanish 4 in the past, but this year I am teaching Spanish 4 AP for the first time, which brings a different type of student. At the beginning of this school year, I had my students write their first formal essay of the year. I had a girl turn in an essay that was average at best. It was filled with false cognates, interferences from English, and novice mistakes. She earned a 78, which in my opinion was fair, if not generous. Well, she flipped out and (referring to her average in the class) said: "I don't make B's. If I had known this would be my grade, I would have had a native speaker correct my paper for me. I don't make B's!" To which I replied: "I understand what it is like to have high standards for yourself, but you have to understand, and someday you will, that a B is not the end of the world. Also, I am grading your paper based on your abilities, not on those of your native speaker friend."

This certainly was not the only time I've had a student react that way about their grade. They've also asked why I GAVE them a certain grade on many occasions. My standard reply to that is usually: "I'm not Santa Claus. I didn't give you anything. You earned it, my friend!" I think you probably understand what I truly mean when I say "my friend". Half the time the parents are just as bad, if not worse. It seems that too many people subscribe to the Cher Horowitz philosophy that everything is negotiable, including grades. Cher was truly Clueless and so is anyone who feels that this sends a good message to their child.

Here's something to think about. At the end of the day, who will come away a better and more knowledgeable person, the student who finds every loophole possible to make an A without really caring about what he is being taught or the student who truly puts forth his best efforts and becomes a lifelong learner, even with a B? Will it matter if you got an A in Spanish class if you are unable to carry a conversation in Spanish?


Sheri said...

What, you didn't take your grading lessons from Mme. Jones? I loved my arbitrarily declared A's.

No, I would totally grade the same way. People have just gotten crazy with assuming things will come to them. I blame the parents mostly. They are only setting their kids up for dissapointment when they hit the real world, and their boss doesn't think their bad behavior is oh so cute.

I am Trish Marie said...

How did I ever miss this post?! I am soooo opinionated about this issue.

I think there has been this break down in education somehow. It is suddenly not about actually learning, but about coasting by until the next level. I am beyond frustrated with it, and Jill is only in first grade.

I have met with the principal multiple times because I get responses from Jill's teacher like, "Why do you want to work on reading with her, she is already reading at the level she needs to be by the end of the year." Oh, gee, in that case, let's not teach her anything this year.

How I wish she had a teacher like you that was concerned with what she learns.

Confection Girl said...

After teaching in Texas for over 14 years and moving back to PA (for familial reasons - oh, how I miss you, Texas!), I honestly believe that the whiney children who have this sense of entitlement are worse here - much worse than anything I experienced in PA. Most parents up here are from the mindset that grades are everything and "how dare you expect them to care about what you teach them." On top of it, almost all parents view teachers with very little respect up here.

Just so you know, from someone who was in your shoes in the trenches in Texas and now struggling through the frontlines in PA, you are not alone!