Friday, January 28, 2011

Week 17: Making The Grade

Grades, evaluations, assessments, reports, whatever you want to call them are one of the most important parts of being a teacher and also one of the most difficult.

(I’m going to use the term reports for the purposes of this post)

I’m in the midst of writing semester reports. Teaching five different grades and almost two hundred students this quite an undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. Some school have teachers fill out charts with numbers from 1 to 3, and other school add on pre-made teacher comments like “joy to have in class.” Then there’s teachers simply give all of their students high grades so there are no complaints from parents. My school is a little different.

For the lower grades, there is chart that has specific criteria coordinating with a rating from “needs improvement” to “excellent.” At the bottom of the chart is space for a narrative so teachers can write individual comments for each student. At the higher grades, there is simply space to write a comment and a letter grade.

What do I mean by comment? I’m not talking about, “needs to pay attention in class” I’m talking about:
During this semester, Nick has built off his previous band experience and developed his musical skills. His music reading has improved and his independence as a musician has grown steadily. While he was a bit timid in band at the beginning of the year, he is now quick to try things and not afraid to make mistakes. This is an important trait in band, as often the only way to play a part correctly is to play it wrong first and then correct the mistakes after hearing feedback. Nick’s attitude is fantastic, and I look forward to continuing to work with him this year.
Or for my non-band students:
It’s a pleasure to work with Amy. She comes to every class with a positive attitude that reflects her enjoyment of music class. Amy likes to interject jokes into class discussions sometimes. These comments are never mean-spirited but they come across as rude. Amy is quick to apologize whenever I stop her. She is beginning catch himself more often before she makes these comments but this is still an area of growth for her.
I look forward to being part of Amy’s continued growth as a musician next semester as we learn how to play the recorder and explore musical notation.
Does it take a lot of time to write these comments? Oh yeah, and these are samples from students who are doing really well. The ones in which I express concerns are even more time-consuming.  It’s a lot to take on and it’s easy to get dragged down by the shear amount of writing that is required to do this but the thing is that the parents and more importantly the deserve this.

Parents put their trust in us as teachers to educate their children. If you don’t know your students well enough to relate about how they are doing in your class then you’re not doing your job. And yes, the amount of time it takes to write these has required me to work long hours in and work at home as well. This is really tough (however I also get summer break, so there's really no reason to whine).

I actually like writing these comments about my students.  I don’t like the time crunch and the pressure to get it done but I love the dialogue between teachers and parents.  I am fortunate to have the students that I have and I’m glad that my school requires these kinds of reports.  Writing these grades are an important experience, they keep my honest, hold me accountable and remind me about the crucial partnership I share with my students’ parents.

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