The Grading Agony
But I often wonder if I grade too harshly. Am I, in my attempt to prepare my students for the next level up, demanding too much from them? Holding them to unrealistic standards? Students say I am tough and that it's nearly impossible to earn an A. And yet, I have given As in the past – but only when they are well-deserved.
This week, as I graded what is a pivotal paper in my course - a paper which, despite all other essay grades a student receives in my course, they must pass to pass the course - I agonized over my decisions. And I scrutinized my students as they workshopped their writing in class. Are they ready? Can I send them on to the next level confident that even if they struggle, they are competent at this basic level and capable of the challenge of the next? Am I grading too harshly? And as a result holding back students who really should be moving forward and at the same time, demoralizing them?
I received my answer in a an email on Friday from a former student - one who had my class last year and whom I advanced to the next level course, English 214. I can’t help myself folks, here's her email:
How's your semester going? As for me, this semester is bit more hectic than last. I'm doing lots of extra studying for my courses and working a part time job. But I wanted to let you know how things are going for me in English 214. On my first essay, I had to analyze the poem "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost and received an A! And I've continued to do well. Overall, 214 is not as difficult as I thought it would be - because of the difficult assignments you gave me last year. Those assignments prepared me for papers that I'm currently working on in 214. The only change for me in 214 is that I receive less in-class preparation than I did in your class. But with all the tools I learned in your course, I am fully equipped in the preparation of my essays. I just want to say thank you for believing in me and giving me the chance to prove I can make it through 214. I hope you have a wonderful semester and hope to hear from you soon!
On most days, I consider myself a competent, college-level teacher. If I were to grade myself on a daily basis, I would often give myself a C, and sometimes a B.
But I’m framing that student’s email. For this is gold – a student has given me that rarity of rarities: an A.