Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Final Grades

Doling out final grades, especially so close to the holidays, can make me feel a bit like Santa. I write someone to tell them they earned an A, and I get back a several paragraph thank you note about what wonderful news it is. Or this one, which makes up in length what it adds in exclamation-mark use:

"OMG! You are the best person ever!!!! You have no idea how much you've lifted me when I really needed it!!!!!!!! Thank you very much! Have a wonderful Break!!!!!"

It was nice to wake up to that in my inbox. And, I don't know what makes me happier...the joy that flows out of him, or the correct use of "you've" at the end of a 15-week stay in my class. :)

Then on the flip-side, when I write with the obvious news of failing (umm...dude, you haven't turned in 2 of the 4 papers), I turn from Santa into therapist. I get long, detailed notes about the ups-and-downs of their lives this semester. The general format includes at least 1 dead grandparent, often 2, as well as another stray unspecified family member who died unexpectedly and required a middle-of-the-night flight with no baggage or cell phone to a rural place with no internet access. One to 2 cars were totaled. Children were hospitalized for months on end for some unnamed disease. And they were kicked out of their homes.

So I write back to tell them that it sounds like it's been a rough semester for them and I can see why it was difficult to concentrate on school work. And had I heard in advance of the due dates, we could have worked something out. As it was, though, it wouldn't be fair to the other students to allow credit...blah blah blah.

On both sides of the coin, I'm surprised at how students divide into 2 camps. Those who feel they earned their grades, and feel the empowerment (or shame) that comes along with it. And those who feel like they're bestowed on them at random, like I spun a Wheel of Points and gave out grades.

It must be a strange, uncomfortable feeling to live life like others decide it. Really. And those who feel like I "gave grades" instead of them "earning grades" most likely seep out that attitude to other areas as well.

Is it terrifying or comforting for them to think that others decide their path, I wonder? The "external blamer" vs. internal responsibility.

I don't mind taking the blame or responsibility, because then I can change it or manage it somehow. But the students who are angry at me for their F, when they didn't submit most of the work, don't really get to move forward and shift their decisions to avoid it in the future. That would be scary to me, to think that life is determined by others and I don't get to chart my course.

If my semester went to crap and I didn't feel like turning in assignments, so be it. I made that choice and decided that life chaos was more important than a high grade. And I respect that in students, too, when they tell me this isn't the right semester and they're dropping the class.

Not submitting the work and still expecting a different outcome, though...that one I don't understand.


I wonder how I teach my kids that. Not to fear mistakes, but to own up to them when they happen and learn from them.

It seems that one choice can change the whole course of a life, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Sounds like your students use the same excuses my adults who did not attend their court hearing. It always seems to be due to some death in the family or some weird illness. Seriously, how many grandparents can one person have that all just happen to die during the same period of time when they have an assignment due or court hearing to attend? It's awfully coincidental.....or just lies.