Earning Your Grade, Expecting Grace

My 7th-grade language arts adventure ended on Friday with weeping, rejoicing, clock-watching, and writing in numerous yearbooks of my munchkins. The adventure had begun last August 18 when the principal summoned my assistance for the beginning of the school year and, like a one-month house remodeling project that keeps getting extended into a yet-to-be-determined finish date, it just kept going.

Similar to the week before our last Parent-Teacher Conferences, the last week of the school year was punctuated with comatose students who had suddenly awoken to the reality of their abysmal academic performance. More precisely, their grade! Students who have ‘A’s’ don’t need to be shaken. They’ve been in the driver’s seat all along. But there are others who have been playing video games in the backseat “Fortnite” so long they have to be reminded of which class they are traveling in.

When the fear of the repercussions of receiving a D or an F for the academic quarter suddenly hits them, they pause their game long enough to seek “grade grace”. They’ve redefined grace to be an expectation. They’ve come to believe that the last several weeks of inattention can receive a pardon from the instructor. They believe their performance, which resembles a weed patch, will suddenly be transformed into a rose garden.

Where does such a warped sense of grace come from? Does the fact that I kept warning them of the fact that Wednesday of the last school week would be the deadline for handing in any assignments count for anything? Or was Mr. Wolfe simply a grown-up version of the boy who kept crying “Wolf”?

“But, Mr. Wolfe, it was a difficult year! Hybrid, remote, in-person, quarantines…there was no consistency for the students!”

True! That’s why I, and other teachers, expected less from them. It’s why we may have lowered the bar to an easily achievable height. Sometimes, however, when less is expected “less than the less” is returned, and if a good number of students are able to do what is asked of them, put in the time and effort, is it fair to reward those who have disregarded the expectations? Would that be an example of “scholastic socialism”?

And so the sounds you may have been hearing the last couple of days may lead you to believe they are the sirens of paramedics and fire engines, but in reality, they’re just the echoes of a number of seventh-graders weeping loudly into the wind!

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