I hate grades.
Well, not exactly. I hate the way students (and parents) are conditioned to think about grades in too many cases. A good grade—or at least a passing grade—is often viewed as an entitlement, a ceremonial rite of passage, an affirmation of the student’s human dignity. These are so far removed from the significance that grades are meant to carry that at times I’ve wished that we could just forget the whole business. But I try to work toward the correction of these erroneous views by emphasizing to my students what grades are really for and how they can all get good grades. Over time, we need to build and maintain a healthy view of grades, and I get things started with a little speech to each group of students early in the school year. It goes something like this:
“Grades are measurements. Grades measure learning—not how smart you are, how hard you’ve worked, or how much time you’ve spent. Of course, intelligence and hard work can help you learn, but they are not the same thing as learning, just as strength is not the same thing as weightlifting. You win a weightlifting contest by lifting weights, not by being strong, and I can only give you good grades for learning, not for ability or effort.
“Some of you will get better grades than others, because some of you will learn more than others. Some of you will have more opportunities than others to complete your assignments and study for tests. You all have valuable talents, but some of those talents are less suited to doing schoolwork. Your job is to learn as much as you can with your opportunities and abilities. If you do your best and get a C or even a D, you can be pleased with your grade because you maximized your potential. When you have better opportunities and face tasks that fit your strengths instead of your weaknesses, your hard work will yield extraordinary results. If you fail to do your best but still get an A, you must not be satisfied, because you should have gotten an A+.
“Jesus said, ‘Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (Luke 12:48).’ If it is your job to learn as much as you can with the resources that you have, it is my job to do everything I can to help you learn. I promise to do my best as well. I will only expect you to learn skills and material that are important, and I will try to explain them in ways that each of you can understand. All of the activities and assignments I will give you will be focused on helping you learn these important skills and material, and all of the tests I will give you will be focused on showing your achievement in learning them. The grades I will give you will measure this achievement.
“If I can do anything differently to help you learn more, please tell me. This year we will work together so that you will learn as much as you can and get the best grades that you can.”
CONTRIBUTOR: Peter Goertzen