A+ Forget it! A’s are a Thing of the Past!

Earlier this year, I wrote an entry about the differences between coaching and teaching. I wished that teaching could be more like coaching in some aspects. I now see that there are too many differences between the two jobs.

First off is the commitment. If students want to join a team or learn a sport, they do so because of what they get out of it. It is fun to compete on a team. It feels good to push yourself athletically. Do students get this same feeling of accomplishment out of their schoolwork? I doubt it.

A’s are a thing of the past. I used to get A’s in school and I felt great about each and every one that I got. It meant I accomplished something.

Nowadays A’s are ever elusive. An A in the Ontario curriculum means that a student has demonstrated knowledge above and beyond the content covered. It means that a student had shown independent thinking. This is sometimes described as the “Wow Factor.” The truth is most of the work I get from my students doesn’t measure up to this new standard of an A. I think I have given out less than a dozen A’s in my entire teaching career thus far. Most of those have been in the arts as well.

We have documents called Exemplars that give us examples of A work in each subject area. I like the fact that A’s aren’t subjective anymore. If a teacher gives an A they can explain exactly why the work deserves such a mark.

The thing is, I think this new system (I say new but it has been around for years, before I even started teaching) is really confusing. Parents and students alike don’t know why they don’t see A’s on report cards. I try to explain it every term but it seems like it still is a mystery to most.

And what motivates a kid who tries hard, does a good job on a paper, and gets a B? A B means that the work meets the provincial standard, in other words they did the work correctly. So a student who gets done early and has a perfect paper is often only capable of getting a B. A student who takes longer, had sloppier work, but manages to get it done correctly also gets a B.

I like this system of marking. It makes it really easy for me. I know what an A, B, C, and D paper should look like in every subject. I can easily defend my marks with the ministry documents. I am doing my job. My marks mean something across the entire province. It is standardized.

The only thing I don’t like is that these marks don’t seem to matter to the kids anymore. Most kids think A’s are impossible and don’t try as hard as they should. Some kids settle for doing as little work as possible, knowing that they will slide by. There doesn’t seem to be an incentive for working hard. I’ve noticed this in my class that past couple of years but I am not sure what to do about it.