Written by: Deborah Jin (Grade 12)
Photos by: Deborah Jin (Grade 12)
What do teachers really think about this phrase?
For most students at West Point Grey Academy, marks have always been a big deal. From participation marks to tests, every number that goes into our gradebook matters to us. This is because university acceptance rates are gradually declining as more and more students apply. Compared to previous generations, more employers are now hiring those with at least a bachelor’s degree. According to The Washington Post, instead of a high school diploma, a post-secondary degree has become “the minimum credential required to get even the most basic, entry-level job.” With this knowledge in mind, alongside family expectations and peer pressure, students have become stressed about their marks, not even three months into the school year. Many students have heard the phrase, “marks don’t matter,” from teachers, in response to their school stress; but what exactly does that mean? I spoke to a few WPGA teachers with differing experience – Mr. Barnum, Ms. Meneilly, and Mr. Ito – to learn what their views on marks are.
Mr. Ito has been a math teacher for over 20 years, teaching grades 10-12. He emphasizes the learning aspect rather than marks and tells his students not to think too much about a “good” or “bad” score. “They dwell on the failure, rather than see how much success that they’ve had,” he remarks. Even when a student is excelling in his class and gets a few wrong answers on an assessment, they still ignore the questions they got correct. Similarly, Mr. Barnum, who has taught all of the sciences for the past 12 years at WPGA, has noticed that students have gotten upset over marks of 86 or 90, despite them being ‘A’ grades. According to his view, the number is less important than the comprehension that is missing “that led to the 8/10 or the 7/10 or the 2/10.” Likewise, Ms. Meneilly, who has been an English and Social Studies teacher for 20 years, spends much of her time working on detailed commentary of her students’ work. She tries her best to tell them not to “flip right to the back page” where the mark is located, instead she encourages students to read through her feedback.
It can be noted that over the years there has been a shift in students’ opinions on the importance of marks. Mr. Barnum affirms that students have placed a greater weight on mark over the years: “In this school, it happens. You probably know the term of an ‘Asian fail.’ Is it an 89? Maybe it creeps up.” Many Asian students have high standards set for them or by themselves, and thus, the stereotype of an ‘Asian fail’ was born and is often joked about among the students. Mr. Ito thinks that students at WPGA have always been worried about marks. According to his view, marks matter most during post-secondary applications, but also when there is an inconsistency in how students are doing. He mentions factors such as “whether they had a good day or not a good day, or whether the concepts were harder or easier” on an assignment. Ms. Meneilly remarks that students may also have an anxious response to the work that is given, making it difficult for them to put in the time to see her for feedback or to ask questions. “Communication is often flawed,” she adds. “I think that’s the nature of human interaction.”
Focusing too much on marks can cause a deterioration in mental health, as well. According to Mr. Barnum, many students believe that seeing a number on a piece of paper, or on a screen, can cause their dreams to be lost. “Even if it’s not true, the perception of having a dream ripped away is nearly as impactful as the real thing,” he says. Ms. Meneilly adds that students eventually become obsessed with their marks and not with the work that they’re producing, which can create anxiety, nervousness, and weakens the actual learning process. She states that “there’s a spiritual quality to [one’s] self-development” and how the importance of the learning experience is diminished through attaching numbers to students’ work; it points the education system in the wrong direction. Mr. Ito mentions that in our society, numbers are everywhere. He compares marks to metrics used by social media that show how many people like your posts or view them. “Everything’s being rated these days, and I think that just feeds into marks,” he says, emphasizing its negative effects. While these ratings contribute to how students may view their school marks, they can also affect other aspects of their lives: “You’re kind of rating yourself a little bit…[students] can measure their own personal wellbeing based on marks.”
The importance of marks has become a complicated topic, but we’ve gained a much deeper understanding of how teachers view marks in contrast to us students. Our thoughts on marks might stay the same or shift, but we should know that our teachers understand what we are going through. Placing too much of a focus on marks not only reduces our intention to fully understand a subject, but it also creeps into how we view ourselves as people. This negatively impacts the way we carry ourselves through life, because we are basing our value on numbers. While we try our best to practice skills of efficient studying, understanding concepts, and asking more questions, perhaps we can also learn the skill of worrying less and place a little more attention on the learning process.