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  • Writer's pictureRobert Ahdoot

On grades

As summer begins to unfold, the topic on the minds of most students and teachers is grades. It's straightforward from the students' (and parents') perspective. Students do homework assignments, take some quizzes and tests, take the final, and their overall average is directly determined. From the teacher perspective, a much more general question pervades: "Is the content and assessment of this course appropriate, fair, and transparent?"

Transparency is the ultimate key, not only in the classroom, but also within every leadership situation. Leaders empower their teams by saying, "As you know, the expectations we have here are x, y, and z. Thus, in a certain amount of time, you all will be asked to fully demonstrate x, y, and z." It's our obligation to not throw in surprise expectations.

This year, as with every year, I strove to be as transparent as air. My style is such that at the end of the day, the students' grades are entirely about their relationship with and understanding of the coursework. The grade is not about me and it never has been. I simply communicate and deliver the expectations, then work tirelessly to assist the students in demonstrating those exact same expectations back, in the form of assessments, in and out of school. Indeed as an educator, I have a personal style. Yet styles are to teaching as colors are to cars. The color is merely a style, but what truly matters is whether the car runs well, is reliable, and does what it promises to do.

This year, I overwhelmingly got positive feedback for how class was conducted. It's my seventh year as a teacher and I feel like it's always improving. This year, I received some resistance as well. Not from students, but from parents. I listen intently and make sure I understand each of their concerns. And to each of their grievances, I ask myself, "Was the class appropriate, fair, and transparent?" To which the answer is yes, as reflected back to me by administration.

I've come to realize that anxiety-based grievances about grades are overwhelmingly much more about the anxiety and less about the grades. I know because I've been there. I grew up in a very grade-centric environment, in which my grades overshadowed other care values like deeper learning, work-life balance, and self-confidence. So I remember the draining feeling of discussing each and every angle of how and why my grade was calculated as it was. That feeling was FEAR. Fear of disappointing my family, fear of not succeeding in life, fear of being nadequate, fear of the unknown that lies ahead. Pervasive fear is a true roadblock to achieving greatness. C's in Algebra 2 are not. Fittingly, when parents or students have anxiety-driven grievances about their grades, I accept that this may be my karma. By gently communicating back to them that they have nothing to fear, I heal myself.

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