Friday, January 23, 2015

Year 5: Week 19 – Making The “Asian F”

I grew up experiencing the “Asian F.” The deal was that if I got an “A” on a report card it wasn’t a big deal. If I got an “A-“ that was an “Asian F” and I might was well have gotten a real “F.” The message that I got was that getting an “A” in a class was the baseline, that was suppose to be a given and getting anything but that “A” was surprising and concerning.

It wasn’t that bad in reality. My mom wasn’t really that much of a “tiger mom,” but she did have a high standard for my performance at school. It was important that I learned things in school but it was also important that I got good grades. My parents were smart enough to know that just getting good grades didn’t necessarily mean that you were learning well, but it did mean that you understood how to play the game that was school. Whether we want to admit it or not, how to work a system is a skill that’s important in life. Sometimes that “system” is a teacher’s grade book.

Did my parents overemphasize grades? I don’t think so. The emphases they put on grades translated to putting value in education. School was my job growing up and the priority in my life. School was important and the attention they put on grades was just one of many ways they expressed this to me.

Now I’m on other side working through giving students grades and writing up mini-essays on each of my students. It’s a lot of work that mostly happens on the weekends. School keeps going when I have grades to write, it’s not like I can stop lesson planning. There is always teaching to be done.

It’s an interesting process. I reflect on a student’s overall performance, balance observations with objective assessments and figure out a grade. I write comments (the mini-essay), about 100-200 words about each kid supporting the grade.

Initially I try my best to not think about the student’s reaction or the parents’ reaction. I want to focus on the salient points and not worry about my audience. At some point though in the editing process I think about how these grade and comments will be received.

Here’s where things get tough.

We are creating a written record about a student. Our words and our grade have to be relevant, meaningful and also written in a way that does not invoke defensiveness and emotional reactions. At least we try to.

I work at a progressive school, and we philosophically believe in process over product but we are still a school in 21st century America and we need to have grades. It’s frustrating when parents put too much emphasis on the grade itself, but that’s the world we live in.

I get being worried about the grade. My parents focused on this and so did I, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s frustrating as a teacher because sometimes the grade masks other more relevant concerns.

This is a tough issue. My colleagues and I are doing the best we can. Maybe the “Asian F” isn’t such a good thing from some people’s perspectives but in family it was an expression of care and maybe that’s not such a bad thing at the end of the day.

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