Balancing two worlds

An interesting situation has developed this year…I seem to be living in two worlds with regard to grading and assessment in schools.

World number 1 – my professional domain

I have the honor and privilege of working in the business of education. I am blessed to work with teachers to grow their instructional practices, provide professional development on a number of important issues facing educators, and have been given the space and support to promote healthy grading practices. Learning always seems to be this chaotic process no matter whether it is for adults or kids, but I get to be a part of that wonderful experience for both.

I work within my district as well as with other districts to change how we look at assessment and grading. We discuss the purpose of grading and work to make it meaningful, accurate, and non-threatening for students. It is a huge shift in paradigm for most, but really important for kids and how they view school.

World number 2 – my parental domain

I have two children, one in elementary school and the other in junior high. Let’s just put this out there…it is virtually impossible to walk the fine line between parent and teacher when we consider our children’s education. I do my best to find that line, yet there always seems to be a gray area. At times I feel like I know too much with my background, but I refuse to discontinue my pursuit of better practices to grow and cultivate student learning.

Here’s the juxtaposition…my children are being graded for compliance, and it seems to be across the board with regard to content areas. Points are lost for missing signatures…deducted for lack of color on a math assignment where all problems are completed…gained for binder organization…the list goes on. They are developing a fear of bad grades and missing and/or late assignments (even a small one) for the repercussion that follows. They feel the high stakes of testing and assessment when reassessment is not an option. Anxiety has crept into their educational experience. As a parent, I work diligently every evening┬áto refocus my kids back to the importance of learning. However, it is becoming more and more difficult to reinforce the natural progression of learning when a school culture is grade and compliance focused.

I have nothing against their teachers. They are wonderful people who truly care about the students in their classrooms. This is how they were instructed and how they are expected to teach kids lessons of responsibility, effort, and accountability. Don’t get me wrong, these are important lessons for all students…I simply disagree with including them in a letter grade. I worry that students’ academic achievement is not accurately communicated and no one knows how much of the grade is behavior, growth, or proficiency levels with the standards.

Moving forward I feel I need to ask some questions to best help my children. Are there any standards that are below proficient and need additional practice? Are there behavioral concerns that I can help to improve at home? Is my child growing and improving throughout the year? I also want to let the teachers know how thankful I am for their care and the positive relationships they have developed with my kids.

How can I separate my roles as a parent and educator? The truth is, I can’t. Together they are who I am as a person and deeply intertwined. I will continue to reflect and attempt to walk that fine line. I will search for ways to ensure my kids focus on learning while respecting the values and culture of their school. Living in two worlds is an interesting and challenging situation. I hope in the future the two will merge and become one.

6 Replies to “Balancing two worlds”

  1. This is exactly the dilemma I’ve been wrestling with for the last two years. My wife and I “unschooled” our two kids until our youngest turned 9, which we believe is an appropriate age to begin formal schooling. They were free to explore and grow as their curiosities directed with encouragement and constructive criticism from Dad and (mostly) Mom. They entered school at or beyond the achievement levels of their peers in every area and were happy and inquisitive.

    Now, even though they both attend a wonderful project-based charter school, their anxiety over complying with the requirements of the rubrics frequently overshadows and in some cases inhibits their learning. It feels a little weird, but I often find myself arguing with my kids to stop doing their schoolwork and focus on music, sleep reading or play when I know they are no longer learning anything.

  2. Wonderfully written Garnet and so important and so difficult. It takes me back to when my children (now 35 and 31) were in K-12 and the struggles I had to provide support for my children when they received “bad grades” in schools in the same district in which I worked. Unfortunately now I am starting to see similar things with my seven year-old grand twins, e.g. bonus points on tests that make it appear that achievement is better than it is so the child doesn’t get the support they need on aspects that they don’t understand.

  3. Garnet, thank you for the well written article! Even though I am not a professional educator I have the perspective of a parent whose son is a sophomore in college. I have expressed the same concerns you have throughout my son education in D202. He too had amazing, caring, intelligent teachers throughout his years. Even at the high school level there were assessments based on coloring, getting signatures, etc. Thank you for working towards improving the system in a positive way!

  4. Garnet, you have pulled the words right out of the nebula of thoughts in my head, perfectly formed and organized, and even colored. I despair of balancing my role as mom and as professional educator, because I do not want to be THAT mom. But the more I learn and grow as an educator who uses standards to communicate student growth and achievement, the more I feel my children are receiving a less than JUST education, particularly the middle school child. I want to ask his teachers to please just tell me what skills my son has developed, what he knows, and where his areas of weakness are… But those questions are not being answered by his grades. Instead, I know about the behaviors that are linked to academic success, and a whole lot about his lack of compliance in details (like stapling his paper in the right place) that do not seem connected to big ideas and concepts, yet none of those things tell me what he knows. Any hints for upcoming parent conferences would be most appreciated!

  5. I’m with you! Being an educator (who focuses on best practices and standards-based grading) is my calling and passion. I cannot separate it from my personal life…it IS my life! My husband knew this when we married; my son and daughter have known this their whole life (17 and 20 years respectively).

  6. This post is what I’m anxious about maneuvering next year when my oldest starts kindergarten. I like how you brought it back, in the end, that what you can ask is, “What standards are they successful with? What standards have not been met that they need more practice with? Etc.” This helps keep the focus on the learning, even if it’s been out of focus a bit on things like binder organization (binders?!), math coloring pages, or missing signatures. I think making it clear to the teacher that you do value things like organization and responsibility for singing your work, but that what we really want to know from a report card is what the kids are learning.

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