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More Than Teaching: Teachers, Not Just Graders

posted Feb 12, 2014, 5:49 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Feb 12, 2014, 6:49 PM by Unknown user ]

Michelle Flanagan & Madi Endicott

A common assumption is that a teacher is only as good as their students’ performance on a test. So in a world without grades, would teachers even have a job?

Yes, they would.

A lot of teachers recognize that their job is more than accomplishing curriculum, especially since they are a huge part of an important time in a kid’s life.

The everyday goal of a teacher is to prepare their students for life after high school, whether that be college, a job, or just the everyday challenges of life in the real world. They hope to “provide students with the tools to live a productive life,” according to Mrs. Cianciolo.

There is so much more that is taught in a classroom than what the state uses to assess students. In addition to the course material, students learn the importance of teamwork, essential social and communication skills, as well as problem solving skills. Teachers hope to equip their students with these skills on top of teaching them the required curriculum.

Mrs. Sunderman explained that her daily goal is to have every student feel safe, be challenged, have fun, and to go home feeling like they didn’t waste time in her class. As for the purpose of the school, she believes it  “is for kids to grow intellectually, physically, experience new things in a safe environment, be challenged everyday, and find their passion.” She believes that these aspects of education are easily overlooked.

Mr. Vennekotter said that his goal for students is to do more for them than what is in the job description. “Outside of [accomplishing curriculum] I want to make somewhat of an impact on students.”

Especially in a small school like Van Buren, the teacher-student relationship allows learning experiences that cannot be measured by a grade or any standardized test.

Teachers want their students to succeed, but, as long as teachers provide the fair opportunity for a student to do well, they feel that the grade rests entirely on the student.

Teachers hope to make their students better and stronger individuals by challenging them whether it be with a type of math problem they’ve never seen before, or encouraging them to think outside the box on a physics project.

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Teachers also hope that they not only challenge their students, but students challenge themselves. This is where grades get in the way.

Mr. Bratt explained how he sees the presence of grades affecting students. “We’ve got some students that don’t want to challenge themselves because they want to make sure they get that 4.0 GPA. I think challenging yourself is a lot more important than a GPA.”

Mr. Obenour agreed, and felt that, “We should want our kids to take as many classes as they can, but we’re dissuading them because ‘Oh, it might affect my GPA.’”

Mrs. Sunderman agreed that the pressure of grades on students creates a flaw in the system. “Four-points just want the A. So then how much do [they] miss out on of what [they’re] learning? Like passion. [They] don’t branch out and go figure this out because [they] only have so much time, and [they] have to do this and this and this and there’s not enough time to explore. It’s so regimented, and [they] are in so many things these days--sports, music-- all that takes so much time that [they] just ‘do’ school. Some students are very good at ‘doing school,’ getting the good grade, getting out, and then [they] can go do what [they] want. But is it fun learning while [they’re] here? Not really.”

She went on to explain that grades promote cheating, and that without that pressure students may be more honest in their work. However, it’s hard to determine where the stress comes from.

It would be easy to say that the stress is directly from the teacher, and a student only feels the pressure and the expectations. But that would be untrue.

Though they’re the ones giving rather than receiving grades, teachers understand the pressure of grades, having been students themselves, and notice the effect grades have on students’ lives.

Mr. Vennekotter said a student’s “wanting to do well plus lack of time adds up to a lot of stress,” and can be unhealthy.

Mr. Bratt encouraged students not to put every ounce of their self worth into grades. “It’d be much more logical to base your self esteem and worth on what you know, your ability to perform tasks, etcetera, rather than a simple number on a grade card.”

Where grades create stress they also create a key incentive to succeeding in school.

Motivation was a major concern among the educators, because they recognize that grades are often a driving force in a student’s work ethic. In a world without grades, would this driving force be lost?

Mr. Vennekotter and Mrs. Cianciolo confessed that they would enjoy not having to grade papers, but saw a potential issue with keeping students interested.

“In some way you’d want feedback to make sure they’re understanding, but you could easily do that without grades,” Mr. Vennekotter said. “There would have to be something to motivate students. Like them or leave them, grades are motivators. And it’s human nature that we need motivation.”

Mrs. Cianciolo agreed, saying, “It’s really hard to instill motivation. I mean, [without grades] it would basically have to stem from a love of learning.”

Mrs. Ohlrich, the gifted coordinator in the elementary, spoke of the rubrics she gives her students before assignments, which are detailed layouts of the work they need to complete in order to reach a certain level. She believes checklists where a student must meet one standard before they can move on to the next step could not only serve as motivation for students in a world without grades, but also be a means to assess students without the pressure.

Mr. Bratt had a different idea. “At some point we have to determine has this student gained this knowledge and these skills and make a judgement on that. In my mind it’s almost like we shouldn’t give students grades till the end of the year to give them the opportunity to grow and learn.”

Mrs. Cianciolo explained what she would do differently if there were no grades. “A couple years ago I looked into service learning where you take a project and you learn about it and then you go in the community and do that. If you can afford the time there are things like that, like volunteering. To me that’s what school should be about. We want to raise students who do that in the real world.”

Grades have a major affect on students, teachers, and the atmosphere of a school. While they can act as roadblocks, they can also provide an essential motivation factor for students, especially when it comes to staying focused throughout a class. As for teachers, grades actually help them to do a better job, because it provides the feedback on how much their students understand. Would we be better off without grades? The answer remains unclear. But for right now, it looks like they’re here to stay.

A world without grades...