I just got wrapped up in grades again. As much as I have promised myself I will care less about what grade I receive this time I go through grad school, I found myself feeling a little worked up about receiving a 4/5 instead of 4.5/5 or 4.25/5. My rational brain knows perfectly well that .5 means nothing. The teacher in me knows it is really arbitrary and will have a very tiny impact overall. I’m doing incredibly well in this course, am not seeking scholarships, and am sure I will come out with a good enough average to pursue a PhD if I do decide at some point I want to return to that.
This is ridiculous. I should not be worrying about a number. I should know better.
And yet, I am still caught up in it.
In taking some time to think about it, I realized that my issue is really about feedback. A grade as a silly arbitrary number or letter means very little. I normally look, see it, then dig in to see what comments I received. I am much more interested in what someone else thinks after reading my work. I want meaty, valuable feedback. I want to know what I could do better. I want to know what thoughts I had that are good, what else I could think about. I want the equivalent of a conversation.
When I don’t get that, I’ll fixate on a grade because it is all the feedback I have.
Why this grade instead of that one? It isn’t so much that the grade matters, it is that I feel left in the dark as to what that person is thinking. I am a driven learner and after spending so long as a student, I always want to do better. I want my instructors to have high expectations because if they don’t, I will comfortably settle into doing what, for me, is mediocre work. For my own sake, I am starting to realize that I want to be judged on my merits.
As someone who has spent years grading work, I know that isn’t how it works. At least not really. I know I am compared to my colleagues. I know I am compared to expectations for my level of work. My problem is that doing so may or may not push me and I want to be challenged. Our current education system isn’t built for that since we want to sort and rank students, this one is better than that one, this one is not as accomplished as that.
This experience really reinforces my commitment to feedback. Even if the number is based on a comparison to others, feedback gives the opportunity to explain, contextualize, to push and drive our students. Those students who is still struggling could use guidance on how to tackle material, ways to think about it, new concepts. Some need help in polishing their writing and benefit from suggestions in that direction. Some of us need intellectual challenge. I know I am doing well and I am fairly confident in my abilities. I do, however, rely on instructors to help me see things I miss, to keep me from becoming over-confident, to help me take the next step.
So yes. I got a little obsessed with a grade. I am thankful for all those instructors who have given me valuable feedback, for those who made the time to have high expectations and assume I wanted to know what they thought. I am committed to always providing that to my own students although I am going to need to work on how to make that relevant to them.
But please, for the love of all that is wonderful, don’t reduce me or my work to a number.