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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Grades in School: An "A" for character...

Written by Annie, a mom without a blog

As I sat at my desk this week sorting through hordes of papers and registering grades for quarter, I couldn't help but think about the kids out there who will undoubtedly be in big fat trouble because their marks don't add up to their parents expectations.

I once had a kid who was in my summer Psychology class who was repeating the course. He wasn't alone, but he was the only kid there who had taken it and passed it with a "B" mark of 87%. However, in his home a B was not acceptable, so his parents made him dole out the $200 and retake the course on his own dollar.

I have had kids who get good grades, but aren't always the best people. I've also had kids in both regular and special education who have worked their tails off, been to class every day, studied hard, participated, and still gotten a "C" grade. Sometimes "A" grades aren't always in the cards.

Now, as a parent myself, I want my first grader to get good grades, and I pretty much do expect them to be "A" grades because I know she is capable. However, I don't think as adults we actually think back to when we were in that desk. When we worked our tail off and still failed a test. When we misread a single word in a sentence and wrote an entire paper on the wrong question. Or when our very best really was just average.

In this day in age, we focus on being the best, and being better, and doing things first and fast. We focus on the tests, and meeting "standards" set up by the government and we compare ourselves to other schools and kids. We do this even though not every kid in every zip code gets the same standard of teaching or has the same opportunities as the kid in the next county.

School just isn't always fair. And it isn't always what you as an adult think it is.

What we lack is the ability to realize that overall, most kids
want to do well. Most kids, with support at home and at school, put forth their best foot every day. Kids come in all shapes, sizes, and ability levels. And that should be celebrated, not compared. And honestly, we need to be spending more time on character development and on cultivating life skills and student interests instead of focusing mainly on standardized testing.

I have a student who is severely dyslexic. He is a very bright kid who tries hard and when asked questions orally, knocks them out of the park. On written work, he is a bench warmer. But the better test of what he is truly capable of came this year when a new freshman arrived in our class. The student has major anxiety issues and does not really look like many of the kids in school. His jeans are pulled up high, and he still looks much younger than he is. This kid sat alone at lunch every day for nearly a month. One day, my dyslexic, very cool, popular student, invited him to sit with him at lunch. And he has done that everyday since. When I asked the student with anxiety how lunch was going now, he simply said " It is perfect!" Finally, he was a part of something and he didn't have to feel all alone.

Now, the dyslexic kid may get B's and C's and he may pull off an A or a D every so often, but the true measure of his being is that he is a good human being. He cares about others. He tries his best and as a whole, in school, that makes him an "honor" student to me.

I want my daughter, no matter if she gets A or C grades to do her very best every day. But more importantly, I want her to enjoy school , to find things that interest her, to celebrate the successes of others, to develop character and good morals.
I want her to be a bit like Mallory from the video below. I want her to do the right thing, even if it means she sometimes fails.

Class Dismissed,


  1. Beautiful video - loved this post

  2. Very well said. Keep up the good work, you are influencing many lives.

  3. Thanks for the reminder. I know, I have two that are not academic types and one that is- I have different expectations for them.

    You're such a grown up with your grown up job and stuff- I'm so impressed!

  4. I agree that there are characteristics not found on the curriculum that are so very worthy and will prove successful later in life. What has to be frustrating to a teacher is that you have to work with whatever walks in your door (which can be a very diverse group of abilities) and be accountable in making sure that child passes standardized tests. These days the administrators and curriculum are designed as if every child is college bound and they are not. And that is OK. That should be OK.

  5. Oh Annie, I'm bawling right now from that video and I just put my makeup on!

    Very touching. Very well written. Very true. Give me character over high grades ANY DAY.

  6. There is so much more to school than good grades. This was such an awesome post. My eyes are tearing up. I strive to teach my children character like this.

  7. Thank you for restoring some of my hope in future generations. Well done to their parents. And well done to all the girls.

    Having just started back into this education world with my Oldest in first grade, I am amazed at how much has changed since I was in school. And regretfully, most is not for the better.

    Great post Annie. You keep up the good work and the good fight. I promise to as well.

    Right after I retouch my eye makeup :-)

  8. I love your blog, keep up the great work!

  9. Thanks for the reminder that grades aren't everything!

  10. So beautiful! Thanks for sharing that, Annie. I think we all get caught up in the letter grades and forget that character developement is so important.

  11. how true, how true... this is a major topic in my head and in my world right now. with my oldest starting to look at colleges and all the hype surrounding being in a good school district, the poor kid is convinced he won't get into college, and he is a SOLID B student. there is so much pressure to produce, with little attention to developing the whole person. his friends (and their parents) are so busy clawing their way into activities, teams and 'societies', regardless of their actual interest, simply to pad their college applications. none of us can be on our A game ever day, so why should our kids be expected to? the bad thing about me, though, is i tend to rebel against the bad behavior and the ridiculous expectations, and i worry i might be doing a disservice to my kids, by not trying to manipulate things to give them an advantage. i guess we'll see... i really hope for their sakes, that none of our kids are pumping gas in 10 years. but i really hope they're not looking down their noses and not taking the time to say a friendly hello to the gas pumpers, either.

  12. okay, i have to confess that i wrote my comment before i watched the video, because your post touched such a nerve with me (obviously). so now that i have watched the video, i have to say, i am crying, too! and just ask lee... i NEVER cry! thanks for the 'feel good', annie!

  13. Thanks for sharing the video....Just out blog hopping on tonight...really should be working... Hope you will stop by my Christmas blog and leave your favorite Christmas song...and enter a great giveaway. Also, a birthday letter to my daughter on my main blog...

  14. Annie,

    Such a wonderful post. You are so right about focusing on character over grades. I want my kids to do well in school, but more importantly I want them to be good people.

    Thanks for the video (and the good cry!). I can tell you are one amazing teacher...your students are lucky to have you. :-)

  15. Okay Annie - that was awesome. I had not watched the video until now...and wow. Gives me hope about how I hope my girls will turn out. Although after the morning I just had with them trying to get them out the door for school, I'm not so sure what will become of them. :-)

    But wow. This is the stuff that matters. So much more than grades. I wish more parents would remember that getting good grades does not secure a happy future necessarily. But being connected to other human beings does. And having the kind of character these girls exemplified united us with others and THAT makes our life way more fulfilling than any honor roll can.

    I really love this post. And character is one of the main reasons we chose to send our kids to Catholic Elementary School in the hopes that the development of character and empathy for others is given a little more attention than in maybe a public school.

    But I still think it's our job at home most of all to develop that kind of thoughtful character....and this post/video is such a great reminder to me to keep it always at the forefront of our minds.

    P.S. You made DEB CRY!!!!! That is a first! Congrats Annie - keep 'em coming!! :-)

  16. Thanks, all! I promise next time to make you laugh to tears, not cry!

  17. What a wonderful post! I know as a mom of an Aspergers kid, I LOVE when other kids include him and show how caring they can be. I will take character building over letter grades any day.

  18. Video is just amazing. great post, great inclusion of video. We don't give grades for the important things. Odd system really.

  19. It is all about balance. Honestly though I feel like great character can get you just as far as good grades.

  20. Thanks for this great post, sorry I'm so late in responding, Annie. I so admire you for teaching. There are not many other professions out there that warm the heart and deserve to be put on a pedestal as a "hero" for children as teachers.

    Thanks for what you and your colleagues do. We are only 2 months into high school and I'm amazed with my daughter's teachers and all they put into their job. She can tell the difference between the ones who love their job and those that are completely disconnected to her and her classmates.

    Anyway, its great for us to think about what you said and think about this video. These are two colleges that are small, state colleges, not in the upper echelon of NCAA sports, but I'd dream my kid in any educational/athletic situation where their teammates were quality people - not at all based on wins or losses.

    Just like we should never judge our kids on a standardized test result. Or a letter grade. Or the amount of clubs they joined.

    My aunt (a former high school counselor) suggested to my daughter that colleges would want to see her involved in a couple clubs (especially service-oriented clubs) and committed and involved in those than joining ten and barely participating.

    Thanks again for this, Annie!


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