Lighten Up About My Grades

What else should change about school as we know it?  This is Post #3 in my series on what students would change about school, if they could.

Today’s post is from Katy George, who believes that we need to change our attitude toward grades.

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I am currently a senior in college majoring in journalism and Spanish, though I’ll be taking a fifth year to finish my studies. I have had a fairly unconventional educational life, with private schooling until I graduated high school followed by two terms of community college and then two years of university at a large public school, and I’m now studying abroad in Spain for the year. My younger sister, who is 13, goes to the same small, independent, vaguely religiousish private school I went to and is trying to decide whether to switch for high school, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the educational system in the US recently.

My high school is top-notch in my state. They grade HARD, with less than 45 students graduating with a 4.0 GPA (meaning an A average) in the school’s 150+ year history. I always thought this was a good thing, until it came time for me to apply to college. The year I graduated from high school (2008) saw the most seniors looking to head to college in the history of the United States, and competition for decent universities was the fiercest it’s ever been. While GPA isn’t everything when applying to college, it certainly means a good deal. So even though I scored a 2100/2400 on my SATs, had won national awards for my writing throughout high school, was a varsity athlete, had acted in every play but two during my high school career, edited the literary arts magazine, volunteered extensively, and had excellent recommendations from my teachers, my mediocre GPA caused me to be weeded out of the admissions pools from the start. I literally did not get into college PERIOD that year. Whereas my friends who went to public schools, who often had far fewer extracurriculars, got into the schools I was rejected from because it was easier to earn As at their schools, plus with weighted grades (A+ counting as higher than a 4.0, meaning better than perfect) they could make up for any Bs or even Cs on their transcripts.

Fast forward three years. I am a nationally recognized student journalist. I speak fluent Spanish, write for 2 award-winning magazines at my home university plus a bilingual magazine here in Spain, am a successful member of the equestrian team, and maintain a 3.7 GPA at a top-15 journalism program. I’ve held down a prestigious job at my university for a year and been offered a promotion when I get back from study abroad. And my friends from the public schools with the 4.0 high school GPAs? Many of them struggled dismally the first two years. A few have dropped out completely.

I’m not trying to say I’m any better than them. A good number of them have done very well in school – better than I have, at times. What I am trying to say is that our grade point averages were in no way predictors of our future success – they were reflections of the very different expectations at our high schools. Many secondary schools (and, to be fair, universities) reward the bare minimum of effort with the highest grades. Mine didn’t – if you wanted an A, you had to be as close to perfection as humanly possible. We put in the same effort, but were given different evaluations.

Grade inflation is everywhere in the US, and more importantly, grades are seen as the end-all, be-all of school. This completely misses the point of education – which is, of course, to LEARN. I want grades to start actually reflecting the amount of work put in, but I also want grades to be less important in the world. As I watch my sister (who, like I was at that age, is very precocious but not necessarily a good STUDENT in the traditional sense) decide between our local public school, which is famous for churning out graduates with high GPAs and very little actual knowledge, and my old private school, I worry a lot about the consequences. And at the same time, I’m thinking about graduate school – another application process that puts a ton of emphasis on grades. I’m a more competitive applicant this time, but only because I’ve obsessed so much over my GPA in college – at times to the detriment of my actual education.

So to make a long story short, the educational system needs to CALM DOWN about grades. If people put less emphasis on 4.0 GPAs, grade inflation would be much less of a problem, and students could focus on actually learning the material and taking challenging, interesting classes.

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What do you think of Katy’s perspective?  Do you agree that we need to put less emphasis on grades?  Leave a comment!

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Tomorrow’s post: MaplesAndMerriment  thinks students need help to understand WHY they’re in school.

Yesterday’s post: Aewl thinks college should be reserved for those who can pay for it.

Monday’s post: Emily thinks school is too easy.

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Are you a student?  What do you think should change about school?  Go to this post to leave your thoughts, or write me a message.

Image by Clinton Cardozo

School Is Too Easy

This week, I’m featuring posts from five students who have shared their thoughts on what they would, if they could, change about school.

Today’s post is from Emily.  Her take?  School should be more of a challenge.

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I’m a high school student at a nationally acclaimed magnet school. I go there because my home school wouldn’t offer me the kind of education I’m after. So a nationally ranked school that promises college prep and world readiness should offer some sort of challenge to an intelligent, determined, hard working student, right?

Wrong.

School is EASY. And I know, I know, not everyone thinks so. A lot of my friends don’t think so. And I also know that I am not the majority. I was in gifted classes all through middle and elementary school, so I’m used to having someone say: This is the minimum. If you do this, you will a C. I don’t want C work, I want A work. I want you to give me all you’ve got. I’m used to being expected to produce work that I’m proud of, not work that passes under minimum inspection.

So now I’m at a supposedly challenging high school, and I can scrape by with barely any effort. I’m bored out of my skull. I’m two years ahead in math and in AP history and it’s NOT ENOUGH. Teachers don’t expect anything of us, and we’re the cream of the crop! So they say, anyhow. My problem with school is that I am a student who wants to give everything I have. I want someone to tell me that it isn’t enough just to try. I want a teacher who will stimulate me intellectually, creatively, and emotionally. I want people to stop telling me that I’m the best of the best and start treating me like I am. If I turn in an essay that took me five hours to perfect and get the same grade as someone who did it that morning on the bus, I’m not going to be spending five hours on my next essay, I promise you that much.

My realization has been that the problem with my slacker friends didn’t start with them. They didn’t have the classes I had early in life. They never got pushed to do their best. So they think that their best is giving up. They think their best is what they can do before they get bored. They never had someone tell them that they were capable of great things, that they had it in them, that their minimum effort was not acceptable. I feel like my fellow students have almost been… punished.

Instead of preparing us for a standardized test, prepare us to be intelligent, educated, informed adults. Turn us into scholars, not drones. If you expect the minimum out of us… we’ll give it to you.

I’m sick and tired of being treated like a teenager. Treat me like a student. I want to LEARN.

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What do you think of Emily’s perspective?  Do you agree that schools need to change to accommodate more gifted students?  Please leave your thoughts.

Tomorrow’s post:  Aewl thinks that we shouldn’t go to college until we can pay for it.

Image by Horton Group

What Do Students Think Should Change About School?

This is a call out to students.  Whether you’re in primary, middle or high school, whether you’re a college undergrad or a postdoctoral fellow, I’d like to hear your opinion.  What do you think should change about school?

My friend Gen X has asked me to put this question out there.  She’s interested in students’ frustrations about all aspects of our society – school, workplace, social life, etc. – but to begin, I’m especially interested in what’s bugging you about school.  How could school be better?

You can leave your thoughts in the comments below.  If you’re shy, you can send them to me by email through the form on my contact page.  And if you’d like to really get your hands into it, write and email me a mini- (or maxi-!) essay of 200 words or more. I will feature the best essays as a future guest posts here on Classroom as Microcosm!

Parents, teachers and other non-students, please forward this question to the thoughtful and articulate students you know: if you were Supreme High Overlord or Overlady of the World, what would you change about school?

Image by Ivan Prole

The Incomparable Mr. G: Part 1

Mr. G. taught me literature and creative writing when I was in high school. He was in his late 50s at that time. During the two years I knew him, I never saw a discipline issue arise in his classroom. He encouraged students to bring snacks and lunches to class with them, and often said he wished we could sit in beanbag chairs instead of at desks; the tone of his lessons was always casual, conversational, often straying away from the material at hand to issues that seemed marginal (but usually turned out not to be); still, no one was ever unruly or off-task. I only once saw him lose his temper, at a crowd who were being extremely noisy outside his door while he was trying to conduct a lunch-hour activity, and it was a fearsome sight – the entire hallway full of students fell immediately stone silent, and not a squeak was heard until the bell rang for classes again. I’ve always wondered what it was about him that inspired that sort of respect.

Mr. G was the director of the school’s yearly musical productions, which were a big deal, involving a cast of almost a hundred each year and bringing in an array of students, not only drama nerds and musicians but also athletes and stoners and high academic achievers. After a friend and I did a special project in Mr. G’s class in which we performed a scene from “She Stoops to Conquer,” he asked me to try out for a lead in that year’s production of “The Pajama Game.” After my audition, he was straightforward about my limitations. My singing voice wasn’t very powerful. What was more, my boyfriend would undoubtedly be given the male lead, and Mr. G was uncomfortable casting us in such close proximity. He was therefore going to offer me the comic lead instead.

I was struck, not only by his honesty, but also by his acknowledgement of the real-life situation within which my academic and extra-curricular life was taking place. He seemed to understand that his students were real people. He knew who was friends with whom and who was dating whom, and had a general sense of the states of our relationships at any given moment. He also seemed to know about other activities we were involved in, and some rudimentary details about our family lives. You wouldn’t think this would be unusual in a small town, but none of my other teachers seemed to be aware of, or concerned about, the life I led outside their classrooms.

At the same time, Mr. G was never “chummy” or invasive; he maintained a respectful and respectable distance from us and from our lives. On the night of our last performance of “The Pajama Game,” he sat the whole cast down in the theatre before the show and instructed us to enjoy our post-production cast party, and “not to do anything stupid.” I’ve often wondered what he did that night, and if it was a lonely feeling for him, sending us off to celebrate without him. I might have felt lonely in his place. There was no question, however, of inviting him to join us; as much as we appreciated him and our relationship with him, the divide between us was absolutely clear, and even if we’d urged him to come to our party, I can’t imagine he would have accepted.

When I went to college – to a campus that was a five-minute walk up the hill from the high school – I asked Mr. G if I could come see him occasionally with some of the fiction and poetry I was writing, and get feedback from him. He said of course, and during the couple of years before I left my hometown, I visited him once every month or so, and we talked about the writing I was doing, and my experiences at college, but nothing more personal than that.

A few years later, after I’d moved away, I was home visiting my father, and I dropped by the high school to see Mr. G. He seemed delighted that I was there. I was studying education, and he tried to encourage me to come back and do my internship with him. This would have made no practical sense, as I was studying to teach English as a Second Language and he was a Literature teacher, but I was touched by his enthusiasm and obvious attachment to me.

That was the last time I saw him. My father moved to Montreal not long after that, and, having few ties left to my hometown, I haven’t returned there in almost eight years. Mr. G would be close to eighty now. I did a Google search a year or so ago and found a couple of local newspaper articles, several years old, about his struggle with cancer. At this point, I don’t even know whether he’s still alive. I should really find out, because if he is, there are some things I want to tell him about what he did for me.

Next post: What I learned about identity, integrity, and teaching from the incomparable Mr. G.

(This post was adapted from a personal response I wrote for an MEd course.)