By Mr. Lu
A student came into my classroom, and she was crying. As her friends comforted her with patience and empathy, I slunk back and observed quietly at a distance. It was readily apparent a test had gone south, and frustration and disappointment were bubbling to the forefront. Quickly, the tears dried, and now the student was revisiting the test. Along with others, she worked questions on the board, discussing and puzzling what went right and wrong. Ah, I thought, the rich irony. A test, designed to assess her learning, had sent her into a spiral of tears, but here now, she was gathering strength, gaining resolve, and learning.
When the first reporting period draws to a close, there often seems to be a stampede toward marks, a grabbing of any mark, in any way possible. The stampede is a blender full of arguments, debates, persuasion, and perhaps a casting aside of integrity and wholeness. A grade 12 student approached me, serious and pained. To get into this university, he tells me, I need this mark. What can I do to get it? Is there a bonus assignment? Can we readjust a previous mark?
During advisory, we discussed the delicate balance between marks, importance and effort. An opinion was put forth that effort and marks were not necessarily related, but maybe they should be. Frustration mounts when another puts in less effort, but achieves greater marks. Another opinion was a recognition that marks shouldn’t be important, but the structure of the system, the emphasis on getting into university, made marks so defining, and all consuming.
“Marks are not an accurate representation of who I am,” Katrina said to me. “But my marks are my personality.” Stephanie remarked how she can be consumed by percentages at times. “Marks, marks, marks flying everywhere,” she joked. And more seriously, “The interpretation of marks can be so demoralizing.” It’s true a solitary number can hardly be a summation of the complexities of a course. It would be akin to using income as the sole measurement of an adult’s success and validation.
There is a lot of educational theory about marks, assessment, and learning. School leaders like Ms. Jones and Mr. Huygens are constantly working to help us in this regard. I think most would agree marks are important and valuable, but not all encompassing and singularly decisive. We value hard work and effort. We value areas like service, athletics, spirit, and community. Like many things, it is in the wobbly in between balance where we all try to keep steady.
I think we need to fly at 30,000 feet as much as possible. On the ground, the battle for a half mark for a particular question seems so crucial, but the view from up high makes a lot of things appear small and insignificant. Getting to that height is an active act, and may mean reading a particular book, taking a walk to talk and think things through, or writing and journaling.
I like how John Lennon put it. “People say I’m lazy, dreaming my life away,” he sang. “They give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me. When I tell them I’m doing fine, watching shadows on the wall. Don’t you miss the big time? You’re no longer on the ball. I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry-go-round. I just had to let it go.” Sometimes, you just have to let it go.