Monday, November 1, 2010

A for Anything

Today was the last day of the first quarter, and I had one of those classic student-teacher moments. This particular student has a 71 in my class, and she approached me to find out what she could do to bring it up to an A. I advised her to enjoy her day off tomorrow and come back on Wednesday ready to work hard and turn everything in; after all, there are three more quarters.

Oh, how we are wed to those letters, though. Everyone wants an A; everyone is thrilled to get one. But what do they really represent? When I look back at all the reading and writing my students and I have done together over the last eight weeks there is simply no way to capture their progress accurately in a single letter. And yet we still do. It's as if nothing matters but the numbers game at the end, and even at sixth grade, the kids know it, too.

When I was in graduate school one of my professors was a well-known Shakespeare scholar. I took both his course on the tragedies and histories and the one on the comedies. At mid-term he told the same joke both times:

An attractive young woman is failing one of her college classes. She comes to the professor during office hours and purposefully shuts the door. "I'll do anything to pass," she tells him provocatively.

"Anything?" he asks her with some doubt.

"Anything," she assures him with a wink.

"Then study, damn it!"

At the time? I thought the joke was sort of funny. Now? I totally get it.

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