Making the Grade

Making the Grade
If you ask any teacher what they dislike the most about their job, I can practically guarantee you that the majority would say, “grading.” We’d rather be planning, or teaching, of course, rather than being strapped down to a gradebook, print, electronic, or otherwise.
In math and science or on multiple-choice tests, grading isn’t so bad. There’s always an answer key to act as the ultimate judge of right and wrong. But for people who teach in the humanities, like myself, it’s harder to decide who makes the grade. There is no black and white, only gray.
That’s why in Creative Writing, Drama, and Art, I’ve done three things to make grading easier:
1. I’m up front with my expectations, be it a rubric or checklist or a “Hey! Here’s the skill I’m looking for! If you show me you can do it, you get an ‘A!’”
2. I always offer second chances. Paint may not be forgiving, but I am.
3. I grade each student on personal growth. I start off looking where my students are, set small, measurable goals, and celebrate when they surpass them.
Then comes the tough part. Entering the grades into my online gradebook, PowerTeacher. Since I started teaching 10 years ago, the way we report grades has changed dramatically. I used to fill in bubbles with pencil on a dot matrix sheet at the end of the quarter. I had to write and send letters to parents when a student was slipping. Now, I easily glide through entering scores online and parents can view them right away. (The problem is I seldom sit down in front of a computer. An app would be nice!)
I’ve turned intense end-of-trimester grade entry into a positive experience by listening to music in the background and rewarding myself with a snack when I finish. I’ve also changed my attitude about the grading process by thinking about it as spending a few one-on-one moments with each student. I examine progress and choose comments reflecting that on progress reports. This is my chance to offer up a little prayer for each one of them, particularly focusing on some of the struggles I know they’re facing.
So, as the trimester wraps up for my Catholic school and college educator friends, I wish you the best of luck in getting through this daunting task. Crank up the Christmas tunes, have a cupcake waiting in the kitchen and remember that you’re offering each of your students a few minutes of your time.   

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.