I know the sucker

This year, my school switched to giving students a half-credit for passing a semester instead of a full credit for passing the entire year. I like the chance it gives failing students to start fresh halfway through the year, rather than get so far behind and give up completely by December. With grades due tomorrow, though come the same conflicting feelings I had last year about grading.

I told myself I’d be stricter this year; no more hand-holding and grade-bending to help students achieve. No more assignments turned in months late the last day of the semester. I told myself all this, but here I am, grading last-minute slacker work instead of watching 30 Rock and trying to figure out ways to pass a handful of students who came so very close. I can stick to the grades before me, or I can bump a few numbers here and there until the student’s grade hits 70.

There seem to be two philosophies:

1. The hard-ass
A student deserves whatever grade he gets. I assign reasonable work and assess it fairly. Those who choose not to do the work are making a conscious decision and should accept its outcomes. A 69 is a failing grade, end of discussion. Maybe it’ll teach him a lesson about the consequences of his actions.

2. The practical softie
There are more important things in the world than my Literature class. Some of these things got in the way of the student’s performance during the semester. It’s callous and impractical to demand 100% commitment from a student with a dying mother, probation hearings, motherhood, miscarriages, or severe anger issues (all of which I’ve dealt with this year). Some of those things more important than my Literature class await the student in the future, but only if I make a numerical compromise to move him along. What’s the harm?

Both sides have ardent defenders. Like most teachers, I talk a lot of “hard-ass” but turn into a softie once grades are due. The process has some severe consequences. Essentially, it’s lying. For the four or five students I’ve nudged up a bit, they’re getting credit they didn’t technically earn. Also, I think it teaches a poor lesson for personal responsibility to all students. I know the kids I helped out are aware that they shouldn’t have passed. I know they’ll tell their friends. In turn, I’ll likely have more of these slackers in June, hoping I’ll exempt a few zeroes here and there until their grades are right.

My administration always says to do “what’s best for kids,” and I’m a tad conflicted on what philosophy really is best. I think about Pepe (name changed to something ridiculous for anonymity), a 17 year-old student of mine who’s still technically a freshman. He can’t write a decent paragraph to save his life, but his passion in life is automotive repair. And he’s good at it. He’s worked on my car numerous times; he’s a star student in the automotive class. See, Pepe doesn’t need me. Sure, he absolutely needs basic literacy skills, but his true genius lies elsewhere. Who am I to say, “No, you’re not going anywhere until you meet this educational benchmark”?

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One response to “I know the sucker

  1. I can’t believe I’m not alone… and please know that YOU are not alone! I agonize over the same things every 9 weeks. I don’t teach one of those under-the-microscope subject area classes, and I have a lot of “Pepes” in my classes. Thanks for writing about this little-known teaching dilemma.

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