Friday, October 3, 2014

Grading and the Not So Magical Book of Numbers

It's the end of term. Its the time of the year where our students' work is summed up in a book of grades and scores. This book, this grading book; it's a nice looking book. It has a slick green cover and it's encased in pure, immaculate, machine refined plastic. The inside is quite nice as well.  It's pristine and white on the inside. And the students names are printed in neat black rows with a double digit number beside it. What does this number represent you ask? Well, according to someone they show how much the student has progressed throughout the year. I say someone because this person who tells me and my fellow teachers the magical value of these numbers is someone I don't know. I imagine they are sitting in an office somewhere, one which I would imagine is larger than mine. I also know that they say my value and the value of my students are determined by them.

 It's easy to see how one might think that, yet I must disagree with this deification of the grade book numbers. They have value. I don't dispute that. But they don't show everything. They don't show the grit, and they don't show the toil. The numbers give no indication of what gathering those scores meant. The numbers don't show the commotion or the chaos that goes on inside the classroom with a class of thirty eight. They don't show you the anarchy that comes when bright students, average students and students with severe learning disabilities are all thrown together in the same room for fifty minutes at a time. The numbers don't tell you how many hours we might have spent planning an activity only to have it completely fall apart because the kids didn't listen, didn't care or were too hyped up on sugar to be able to notice.

 The numbers don't let you hear the yelling of the teachers trying desperately to keep order and the even louder cries of the students talking and playing in the midst of class. They don't show how we spent hours listening to kids try and whisper out a few words in English so we could translate them into two digits on paper and present them to you. It doesn't show you how many class periods we gave up teaching our students so we could test them...which is always more than we teachers would like. Nor does it show you how many times are classes were canceled or interrupted without warning because of a sports day rehearsal or a visit by the dentist. The numbers don't show the children's home lives. Those with fathers who ignore them. Those with mothers who go out to clubs rather then spend time with them. The cousins, brothers and sisters who all live with them together under a grandparent's roof. These numbers in our grade books, those that range from fifty to one hundred.. Yes, they speak for themselves but they don't speak for us. Student or teacher, no person can be so succinctly summed up. 

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