The Grade Disappointment

Ah. The dreaded Logs and Exponentials test. The one test that each year without fail makes the lowest test average. Not just because the material is difficult, but for the first time students need to study hard and, unfortunately, most don’t.

Grading this test is always hard for me; failing grades back to back … to back. Sure, you can clearly see your top students excelling and see which students put in the time and effort to study. But for what feels like most of students, all you see is your own disappointment.

That afternoon after grading those tests, I came home completely distraught. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to pass back their tests the following day. What was I going to say? What was I going to do to help them bring up their grade? Did students who clearly didn’t study deserve a second chance? It consumed my every thought. It was more than disappointment, it was personal.

So, I sought out the advice of my fellow teachers and asked them how do you not take it personally when your students fail? I was looking for a magical potion to carry my worries away and every teacher I turned to gave me the same answer. I do. I couldn’t believe it.

Teachers spend an insurmountable amount of time and energy on each of their students to help them learn and succeed. I make myself available to my students each morning. On this test, I provided them with not one or two but three test reviews. I even told them exactly what was on the test, down to the very questions. And yet, only a handful of them went back to study. How could they do that to me?

How could one student write “please explain” on several questions when I could have explained at any point throughout the unit if she had just asked.

How could another student write “IDK” on nearly every question when I told him exactly which questions to study.

How could my class not be their number one priority?

And that’s what I failed to realize before. I spend at least 6 hours each day with my students at the center of my mind thinking of activities and resources to help them learn and succeed. But them? They spend very few hours thinking about my class outside of the 90 minutes every other day when they are actually in my classroom. They’re thinking about their other classes, video games, sports, friends, their lives. But, when they are the center of our world, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we are not. And as a result, we end up with mixed emotions and meager explanations.

Maybe I didn’t explain this concept well enough. Let me talk to their old math teacher and find out how they did last year. Maybe there was something more I could have done.

The next day I was ready to give their tests back. I had a pep talk all planned out for them. I was going to give them encouragement that they could bring their grades up and I was ready to help them get there. I was nervous. What if they would all gang up on me and tell me I was an awful teacher? What if they would tell me that the test was unfair and I didn’t teach them something correctly? What if they were right?

Instead, their response was even more shocking.

While you all are working today, I’m going to hand back your tests.

“Oh no.” *dreadful looks*

Before I give them back to you, I want you all to know that this test is notoriously the hardest test of the year. This is the first time this class is difficult and you need to study harder than you did before.

*head nods all around*

However, it was also very obvious if you did not study at all for this test.

*accusatory glances are their friends*
*shrugs of acknowledgement from students who scored poorly*

But I want you to know that I am here for you and you can do test corrections as always.

*Mischievous looks at each other as if my test correction policy was brand new, even though it’s the same one I’ve had all year.*

I know you all can do this and this material is difficult, but I am here for you to help you succeed.

I couldn’t believe it! The students that didn’t do well knew they didn’t do what they needed to do. Even “IDK” and “please explain” who caused me so much grief humbly asked me about the test corrections policy and if there was anything else they could do.

All of the grief that this situation brought me was for nothing. And it made a lot of sense after the fact: these students are my whole world, and I am just a piece of their world. Their failures are my failures, but my disappointment isn’t necessarily theirs. And I have to be ok with that.

So did my spiel of encouragement prove to be effective? All I can say for now is that later in the week, I overheard everyone asking their friends if they studied for their first trigonometry quiz. I was not disappointed to hear many yes’s, and this time, grading their quizzes wasn’t so painful.

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