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Grades Are Earned, Not Given
A mother confronted me once about the grade on her son’s writing work in my class. “But he spent so much time and effort on this paper!” The young man was also studying in a vocational education environment. His course of study at the time of the parental conversation was welding.
I listened to the mom. When she finished her passionate defense of her son’s work, I mentioned his welding class. “How would it be,” I began, “If, while testing the weld, a trailer was attached to the truck’s ball joint, the weld broke, and the trailer fell to the ground?”
As the mother contemplated the scenario, I asked another question, “Would the welding instructor think your son’s weld merited an ‘A’ because he had spent so much time and effort on the project?”
The mom’s annoyance came through her voice as she defended the potential welding effort, “But all my son’s friends said he did a good job!”
I asked one last question. “Would you yourself pay for a weld that held or one that fell apart?” Once finances came into the picture, the discussion was over.
I recount this story in response to student comments which come my way from time to time. Students may quibble about a grade they “received,” assuming the teacher is “giving” something. When the standards are clear, rubrics are ascribed ahead of time, and student work is judiciously assessed, grades are earned, not given.Published in General
I have heard from a few teachers that parents arguing that their kids should get a higher grade is somewhat common. I know my parents never would have done that. The goal for many is credentials, not education.
I recall a conversation with an unhappy student who got a D in my Econ 101 class…
student – [accusatorial] ”You gave my a D!”
Me- “Lets see…you got a 65 on the midterm and a 68 on the final…right?”
S – “well, yes“
M- “You rarely came to class… And you didn’t hand in any of the assigned homework … that right?”
s- “That’s not the point. I paid for this class.”
M- “You paid for the class not for the grade. Given your test scores and class work, don’t you think you deserved a D? … I’d say you earned it fair and square.”
I didn’t even fight for a higher grade on a university assignment when I had a CLEAR case for doing so!
(On one design project I specifically asked the professor if it was acceptable for me to include a particular non-standard detail, and then the teaching assistant that graded the projects docked me points for the detail. I didn’t fight because I was foolishly apathetic about grades and credentials, not realizing how important they’d be if I wanted to apply to grad school.)
Here’s my version of that conversation. This conversation occurred in the last week of the semester, and it’s the first visit that student made to my office.
Back in the day my argument-ending thing was to look at the ranked list of class average so far. Students would not have a comeback to the news that they were in 22nd place in a 30 car race. But as the years passed, the idea grew that we had to give the students high quality service, and that slowly started to mean a quality course experience was not there in the absence of an A grade.
Personally, I blame the (often mindless) reliance on end-of-semester student satisfaction surveys as the sole measure of teaching performance.
Do Profs still grade on a curve?
Sometimes, but the question is “What is the curve?”
In my day the theory was “so many A’s, so many B’s, …so many F’s”; and it depended on the class size. I never bothered with it, just did my best. The only time I argued with the Prof about grading he finally just laughed out loud and said something like “You want an A? OK, here.” I realized he was correct and my understanding of the EE problem was wrong – never, ever did that again.
The thought of these student satisfaction surveys makes me want to Yelp!
I taught high school English and Spanish one year before I returned to the university to get my MA. Students played the principal like a cheap violin. One game was to take turns going to the office to complain about a particular teacher. The goal was to get the principal to go to the class and observe the teacher while students sat there and secretly smirked. If the principal had spent any time in the teacher’s lounge, he would have known about all the games since teachers share info. One day he showed up in my Spanish class. I was good at what I did and not intimidated by the tactic. Another time he showed up in my English class. Determined not to feel like his visit was a waste, he offered up the best advice he could and told me I wasn’t teaching them what they wanted to know. I didn’t take his advice.
When basketball season arrived, one player quit doing his work so his grades dropped. I repeatedly warned him, his parents, and the coaches, even offered to stay after school to help him. Nobody listened. I gave him the grade he earned and he couldn’t play. The coaches accepted it but others didn’t. The same principal came into my room after school to talk to me. I got the expected questions, was I sure my numbers were correct (I handed him the grade book so he could check them), would a consider giving him extra points that grading period and take them away the next period (no), was there anything we could do to change his grade (I handed him my grade book and told him to write in whatever grade he wanted – he handed it back unchanged).
That was the 75-76 school year. That prompted me to return to the university to get my MA thinking the madness would be fixed by the time I finished. I taught Spanish 101 at the university to pay for my degree. I was free to teach there. K-12 was corrupted long before common knowledge says it was. Schools were still messed up when I completed my MA so I went into the AF thinking a 4-year lark doing wild things would be fun and after 4 years, I could return to teaching because schools would be fixed by then. Well, 4 years became 20+ and then I retired and returned to teaching. Adult Ed was more like what teaching should be so I did is from 2001 until covid. I am still on their roster for emergencies but haven’t worked since covid. Now, the military is messed up.