I hate grading papers. It puts me in the most unpleasant mood, especially when I need to do it around people–like at home. Grading involves a kind of frustrated concentration that the slightest noise can break. I try to avoid grading at home at all costs. Unfortunately a stomach virus tried to take me out last week and I need to catch up. So now my attitude is kind of sour because I had to bring home this stack.
Now normally, I wouldn’t sweat it. I would just keeping hammering away at it while I was work until I got it done. Except: It is time for report cards.
I have mixed emotions about traditional report cards. When I was a student, I loved them. I nearly always had straight As and cash payment for these little slips of paper were involved. More than that, I loved the clean look of the same letter across the page, the pretty 4.0 and 0 absences in the bottom right corner.
But as a teacher, I think that these things are outdated. The grades we use are too often biased, based not on proficiency but a muddy mess of variables: do I like this student? Is the student behind but a hard worker? Is it a student who has trouble finishing tasks? Does the student have bad behaviors? Can the student follow directions? Should I give the student a pass on something because I know he moved in the middle of the week and was probably tired? Should I show mercy since she finally made an attempt, wrong though it might be? Is it fair to grade one student as harshly as the next when he isn’t on the same level?
Most of the time, the grade on a report card does not say much about what skills the student have clearly mastered or the concepts that they understand. It is completely arbitrary based on which teacher is grading even though we take great pains to make it less so. Even more sucky is the fact that I HAVE to give papers with traditional grades on them so that parents and administrators feel like I am doing something, when what I really want to do is keep giving the paper back to kids and saying, “Listen, you missed this question because you made a mistake; find the mistake and fix it.” Because that is what real learning is–making mistakes, figuring out the mistake, and fixing it.
I wish that instead of making more complicated “standards” that education policy makers would make common sense, easy to understand lists that say, “This student needs to be able to do these skills and explain/demonstrate understanding of these concepts to move forward at this level.” Then parents and students can be informed about what is expected of them for the year and teachers could check off these lists and send them home monthly.
But alas, I am a lowly teacher bound by squashing new expectations on top of old one and hoping for the best while crabbily grading papers at my kitchen table.