Senses Working Overtime

Hey, hey the night fights day
There’s food for the thinkers and the innocents can all live slowly
All live slowly…

I found myself humming an old XTC song this afternoon and didn’t know why. And then it hit me when I was doing my end of term grades. Ever have one of those moments when your subconscious provides you with the perfect tune to match a feeling you didn’t know you had until later?

My senses were working overtime on a beautiful Swiss Alpine Spring afternoon when I should have been yodelling in my backyard but was instead doing end of term grades and comments. My senses were working overtime because I always look at grading (and yes, the letters are intentional) as a bittersweet moment where I am judging, sorting and cajoling my students to do something, be something, aspire toward something that they may or may not understand.

This is what goes through my mind, whether or not they have done the “work” that I have deemed important.

A) Providing an affirming snapshot of a child’s progress that is a stepping stone towards a potential that he or she has
internalized, is motivated by, and embraces.

B) He or she is ticking the boxes, doing what is asked for the most part, and wants to get by but could aspire to so much more.

C) An external judgement based on a set of practices that the adult has deemed important and the child does not entirely understand. In other words, “I taught it, she didn’t learn it.”

I embrace the psychology of grading because I am a firm believer that teenagers are motivated by feeling much more than grades. Yes, our top students may be motivated to turn that A- into an A, but for many, the gentleman ‘C’ crushes a lot more than it inspires.

That does not mean I don’t have high standards. I give zeroes, I have arguments about what they think is good and what I think is average. The difference is for me (after 20 years) is that they always get a second chance, they will always have a shot at redemption, and here’s the most important part; they will always know I believe in them. I fret over grades because that psychological balance is so critical. I am sorry teachers, but the truth is that they don’t love or hate history. They love or hate YOU. Yes, it’s that personal with kids and grades. I am not a straightforward, “they get what they earned” type of teacher/grader. It’s a currency. It reflects so much more than “that assignment that was due.” It reflects ideas, improvement, inspiration, and helping others. A second chance. A first chance. An act of bravery.

This afternoon, as I finished my comments, I looked out the large glass window that looks out onto our horizon and thought of each one of them as I participated in this exercise that is so outdated but so important to these kids. I thought of each one of them and what young men and women they were becoming, and what I wanted them to realize in themselves, not what they thought about that grade.

Oh, and I didn’t exactly sit inside all afternoon. My son and I got out for a little bit. Talk about authentic assessment.

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About Stephen Dexter, Jr.

Stephen is an international educator and administrator. A native of the United States, he lives with his wife Stephanie and children Zoe and Ian in the Singapore. With a career that spans over twenty years in public, private and international schools, he writes when he can and is on a quest to discover if "text walking" is changing the human brain.
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