Frank commented on my post “I don’t give grades” by saying “Agreed – spend more time helping students who care – and waste less time on students who don’t.”
Frank’s comment doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t sort students into those who care and those who don’t care, because I know that every student cares.
If it seems they don’t care about math or English, it’s because the other things they care about have a higher priority in the moment.
Take for example a student who gets a piece of writing back with a D on the top. He looks at the grade, stuffs the paper into the back of his bag, and pays no attention to the comments and helpful corrections you’ve made.
You know he cares about succeeding in your class, because he keeps coming, even though he doesn’t have to. He’s told you he wants to get into the auto-mechanics course, and he needs your class as a prerequisite. You’ve heard him talking about wanting to get a good job so he can look after his family better.
Yet he doesn’t seem to care while he’s stuffing that paper (with all your careful work on it) into his bag. And you know that it’s never coming out of that bag except to go into the recycle bin!
- shame because he knows he didn’t put enough effort into the assignment
- feeling stupid (again) like he used to feel in school
- worry that he can’t find the time to do his schoolwork because his life interferes
- feeling frustrated that he is not doing well (again)
- feeling worthless because he can see that some people around him got better marks, or
- fear that I will say something disparaging about his work in front of the other students
Caring about some or all of those things pushes his caring about English and good writing to the bottom of his mind.
And what about me? As I watch the paper being stuffed into the bag, I feel frustrated and disrespected. My work and effort have been wasted. Not only that, the poor grade reflects on me, too. Could it be that there is something lacking in my teaching? in me?
SO there we are. Him feeling inadequate and frustrated, and me feeling frustrated and inadequate. Not a teachable moment.
And, since it’s my job to create teachable moments, it’s my job to remember that he cares about succeeding in my class, and he cares about the work, even when seems not to care at all. So I think about how to create conditions so that his caring can rise to the top of his psyche. It starts with not giving him a grade in the first place.