Wandering the Path: Exploring Truth, Growth, & Grading
November 12, 2015 § 3 Comments
Inspired by my lovely wife and her observation that to her I embody the Tolkien quote “Not all who wander are lost,” my goal is for this piece to be one in a series highlighting aspects of my thinking, my strengths, and my authentic self as an attempt to connect more deeply with you all.
Question Everything…but Trust First
I have realized that everything I had been taught about the concepts of respect, love, kindness, & trust was backwards. Early and often, society has told me that all of these, especially trust, must be painstakingly earned before you give any of it away. The problem with this viewpoint is nuanced and multifaceted, but what stands out most to me is that when we apply this standard, no one really ends up trusting anyone. What I wish I had been taught instead is that when you trust freely, you will get burned, but you will make the world a better place. So I trust…
- I trust that people will teach the lessons they are taught.
- I trust that we all will make mistakes, choose selfishly, and fail at least once in an extremely embarrassing way and many times in small ways.
- I trust that the good in people will prevail because it can be nurtured with the smallest of actions.
- I trust that people want to be the best versions of their authentic selves.
So I trust my students. I trust their explanations, their efforts, and their words. Only after I establish trust, do I question anomalous happenings in their academic patterns. Even then, I am learning to ask questions in earnest instead of questioning motives. Motives tend to show themselves when confronted with a deep desire to understand. I now ask more questions than I ever have before, but these questions are reflections of my yearning to know my students, not just their assignments. I ask about their day, their jobs, their families, their hobbies, and of course their desired futures. In turn, they reveal to me a raw authenticity that my previous interactions routinely failed to produce. It is only after I give trust that my students are willing to lay themselves bare academically and prepare themselves to grow.
Growth contains achievements, but not all achievements inspire growth.
The phrase “growth mindset” is ever popular in education. Dare I say its popularity has sapped the phrase of its meaning in some edu circles. However, the concept and the practice still remains fully intact. Growth mindset is more than jargon, though not always used to its full potential. Growth mindset is a belief system, a view of the world that promotes intelligence and the brain as skills and a muscle that requires practice and exercise.
It is this core philosophy that I find reoccurring throughout my educational experiences. It is a turn away from the industrial, training model of education and turn towards a whole-student, natural approach. Teachers need to strive for that shift because when it occurs, it is transformative. In all of my skepticism and questioning (and yes, trusting), I am constantly seeing depth of strength, nuanced experiences chock full of intellect and wisdom, and yearning to grow beyond his or her limits within each of my students. None of those traits I am seeing are effectively leveraged in a one-size-fits-all, compliance-oriented, industrial education system. In order to leverage and nurture any of the beauty my students carry inside them, I must teach in a way that puts my students ahead of my content.
“We teach students, not content.”
I honestly cannot tell you where I first heard that line, but I can tell you that it has been one of the most freeing sentences ever uttered in my teaching career. The opposite was hammered into my practice as a TA in graduate school. I was praised for tallying up grammatical errors when grading student papers by my assigned mentor. He stressed the need to command and control the room. He was old school.
I did as I was told even though it made me ill and taught me to hate grading. Many teachers hate grading. That is nothing new. But my disdain for the practice has little to do with its time-consuming nature or the thankless responses to my feedback as many educators commonly lament. For me, my distaste originates from how grades and grading corrupts, even destroys, my students’ desire to learn. It reinforces the idea that the content matters more than the student. No matter how I distribute the points, my students will always be penalized early on for what they didn’t know before coming into my class. They will always have a GPA that reflects the memorization of content more than it does their growth during their course of study. And I will forever be tasked to function as a gatekeeper in such a system.
In the current system with all of its policies and procedures, being a gatekeeper of the discipline will continue to be easier than it is to be a mentor, a nurturer of people.