Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 01 2009

“There are a lot of smart people in that organization.”

Today we had a big faculty meeting after school to discuss grading practices. Our principal believes that grades should be based more on achievement than on effort. He worries that there are a lot of students at our school who play the “game” well but don’t have a deep conceptual understanding. He basically wants teachers to track progress by standards to determine grades.

In the meeting I supported the belief saying that I didn’t think TFA would do it if there was not a lot of merit to it. I told the entire school that I’m keeping a separate gradebook of objectives and marking my students progress towards those objectives. Now I really have to do it. It’s way more binding to tell an entire school you are doing something than being required to turn it in for TFA. And I think that’s a good thing. I think it will really force me to reflect on what is effective and not effective in my instruction. And it might very well keep me my job this year even though I’m not the warm fuzzy relational teacher everyone else is.

There were certainly teachers who started teaching to make an impact in the lives of their students. They openly admitted that the actual content of their course was not the most important thing they were trying to teach their students. They are trying to teach them to persevere, to try hard, to love learning, to be interested in a subject, to be good collaborators. The more that I exist in the world the more I see how important all of these soft skills are. I’m certainly not an instant happy success at life because I excel at standardized testing. I don’t really feel that tracking students progress on objectives is contrary to the objective of forming great relationships with my students. Frankly I’m hoping that it will help me by giving me more accurate things to say about our progress and making my role less subjective. The more objective my treatment of students is the less conflict I can envision. They seem unlikely to think that I’m a bad teacher if I tell them what they need to know, give them multiple opportunities to demonstrate that knowledge, and help them a lot along the way. At least that is the hope. Fifth period seemed excited today that they were higher up in the rankings than 4th period.

What we should grade upon is such an interesting question. Clearly life is not about being able to do well on a test. I have plenty of jobless brilliant friends who are not happy despite absolutely stellar test scores. The mission statement of our school really says nothing about making sure our students are academic all-stars. It’s about relationships. Making everyone a good person. I’m not really sure how rigorous academics fits into our mission statement.
In the end all we decided about was to give comments on behavior in one paragraph and academic achievement in another.

And there were definitely some teachers who probably weren’t so sure about that, just because they don’t agree where we are heading.

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    Learning more about life than math…

    Las Vegas Valley
    High School

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