Grades often inhibit learning. My conversations over a year about grades outweigh my conversations about learning at least 5:1; this signals a problem for me. Driven by the desire to get in good schools, students and parents have become obsessed with grades. Students are afraid to take risks in writing because they are too concerned about what it will do to their grade; this also signals a problem for me. My goal this summer is to read everything I can get my hands on about the movement of removing grades and put a plan into place for the fall where the emphasis is on learning and not grades. A number does not necessarily represent learning. There has to be a better way, and while I may not find “the solution,” grades will not be the focus of my class next year.
Teaching deals with more than content. I love teaching novels, poetry, and writing. I could do this all day long (wait – I already do this all day long). But far beyond the lessons learned from Wordsworth and Byron, my students want me to teach them more. They want me to help navigate them through the college admissions process, help them with time management, and offer advice on topics from girls to after-prom parties (which kind of goes along with girls). Students look to me to see how I deal with inappropriate class comments. Students learn from me how to press on when I am tired of grading essays yet maintain my one week out rule. Students see how I respond to tragedy and loss. Student may remember conversations on good character and wise choices a lot longer than they remember what common meter and metonymy are, and that’s completely fine with me. But please use the correct forms of your and you’re.
Less is more. One of the positive aspects of Common Core is the idea that I don’t have to cover everything within my area of curriculum but instead cover fewer things more in depth. For example, when I use to teach American literature, I would begin with Native American myths, followed by colonial lit, revolutionary lit, the Romantics, the Realists, modern lit, then post-modern if I had any time left. This past year, however, I freed myself from the idea that I had to go in chronological order beginning with Of Mice and Men, a high interest novel for my lower level students, and followed it with a unit on persuasion and the revolutionary writers. I did not cover as much, but we slowed down enough to thoroughly unpack a time period, use mentor texts from the period for personal writing, and focus on skills not just content. When I think back to college, my college courses were the Romantics, pre-Civil War lit, modern lit; to think I can cover all of American or British lit with students if college students are not expected to do this is absurd. Less content is more if it leads to deeper learning.
Relationships matter. In this day and age of online learning, Khan Academy, and You Tube tutorials, relationships can be overlooked since content delivery has become so easy. But relationships matter. Some learning can only take place through students sharing thoughts, questioning each other, or teachers responding individually to students. Students aren’t the only ones who learn. I have learned so much through my students – insights into novels, writing tips, and how to be hip and cool in general. At the end of the day, education needs relationships to move forward. While there is a place for online learning, digital learning can never replace face-to-face learning and the benefits of a learning community.
Our future is bright. I hear a lot of talk about how the next generation is lazy, not motivated, and apatethic, but I beg to differ. I see students who volunteer in the community, are motivated in their studies, and want to make a difference in the world. Sure, there are some students who make poor choices, but the same thing can be said about adults. We have a lot of bright young people ready to make their mark on the world. So here’s to the future teachers, ministers, lawyers, researchers, health care professionals, mechanics, writers, performers, and politicians – we believe in you!
What has the Class of 2015 taught you?