Some people believe that I should focus on the Teacher’s Union’s decision to change the grading policy. These people believe that I should direct my “anger” at the union for putting teachers and students in this position. Of course it may be natural to feel angry, and I understand why people want me to do this…
But the Union decision is in the past. Feeling angry about things that I cannot change (such as things in the past) may feel good in the moment, but it is not a helpful or empowering response to me. I prefer to reframe this issue as one of personal responsibility. This is future-focused and empowers each of us to express our values in a crisis. When we blame an abstract organization such as a union we may really be just letting ourselves off the hook.
I have been struggling myself with the right way to approach this and have been very uncomfortable with the fact that I have put students in a position where they must make a personal choice before they are prepared to do so. Many so-called “higher-end” students don’t see this as an opportunity to express their compassion for others. They don’t yet understand the value of doing that, even though many of them are concurrently completing research papers about the value of focusing on others and how doing so now would actually improve their own life satisfaction and emotional well-being more than a meaningless bump of a few tenths of a percentage point on their GPAs. They are unprepared, emotionally-speaking, or do not yet have the tools to contemplate the issues analytically and make this decision that I am asking them to make.
This is why I have decided to take the decision out of their hands. I made a new grading policy that gives everyone who completes the course an A. I reasoned that if everyone gets a grade bump then nobody does.
I also decided that I should limit my focus to the decisions that students make in my class only because I do not know what other teachers are telling them to do and, like I said before, students do not seem prepared to deal with all of these conflicting voices (yourself not included). Because no student asked me for a letter grade during that four day period, all of them are still eligible for a letter of rec, no matter how they approach their other classes. Perhaps they would have asked for a change eventually, but because they didn’t during this time, I can still write that letter of rec.
I will not even ask what option students have taken in their other classes. I know the counselors are advising students not to mix and match Passes with letter grades because strategically-speaking it may, theoretically, show weakness. I must admit that I can’t know for certain what the situation is in other classes, so I am letting it go.
Students should feel free to do whatever they feel is best for themselves, which, ironically, they may not even realize, is, I still believe, to do what is best for everyone. Still, when there are so many adult voices telling them something different I can hardly expect them to agree with me.
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