Grades and zebra stripes

Report card time is here.  Have you noticed the posts getting thinner and sparser?

I love teaching; standing in front of the class and seeing the students’ eyes light up, listening to them talk animatedly about what they are reading or writing, watching a semi-depressed child spring to life in drama class or one who can barely read, whoop everyone else in gym class, but I hate marking.  My mother tells me all teachers feel this way, but I find it especially odious.  (Perhaps like all parents think their children are especially cute.)  What makes the task so hard for me is that it has never been easy to see the world in black and white.  And, slapping a percentage on a report card is a very black and white task.

I recently told someone, “I see the world in zebra stripes.”

I thought I was being terribly clever.  The person I told this to didn’t quite get it, or maybe they got it but didn’t gush enough about the analogy to satisfy me.  I was trying to communicate that there are other possibilities to consider when analyzing different perspectives.  Some see the world in black and white, others see it in shades of gray, and still others see it in zebra strips–where the black lies, black as ever, next to pure white; neither colour diluted.  The first example that comes to mind to illustrate this is my view of God: a Creator so devastatingly beautiful and powerful, before whom we can only tremble, combined with the other stripe of  His/Her extravagant grace and compassion.  And then that view triggers even more zebra-stripe responses.  I have to ask myself: how do I live a just and principled life and at the same time practice a ridiculous amount of grace towards myself and others?

Talking about God is just one arena for figuring out how we understand the world and communicate that understanding.  There is also politics, ethics, child-rearing… and report cards.

The one bright spot, for me, in this whole process of attaching numbers to children is the speech I am preparing to deliver before I hand out the report cards.  I think I may take the students to the chapel, since we’ve never done that before, to lend an air of seriousness to my sermon.

I imagine I will need to admit, right up front, how I detest the whole business of marking.  Then I will need to explain why.  I will confess that some of them have gotten the wrong grades.  (Gasp!  Can I admit that?).  Quite likely, in their heart of hearts, they will know if the mark is too high or too low.  And hopefully some of them will have marks that are just right.  Regardless of how they feel about their marks this term, I want them to understand they will be assigned grades all their life, not in the form of report cards of course, but judgements that other people make of them.

To cultivate a resilience to the harmful effects of all this measurement they will need to be able to rely on their ability to evaluate themselves and listen to their intuition.  They will know if they have done their best or still have more to give.  As it is a Catholic school I might remind them that there is only One who does understand them; the One who knit them together in their mother’s womb.  And, since I am certainly not the One, they have to be wary of calibrating their worth from a pile of numbers I, or any other teacher, spin through a rubric, regardless if the result is 99% or 49%.

***

And now, for something completely different, a few pics of some changes around here:

She finally lost them!!

One of Belén’s closest friends went to see Justin Bieber live.  Belén wasn’t particularly sad about missing Justin Bieber but she felt left out of a good time.  We decided that something special was in order…

Belén opted for camping in our backyard.

Not exactly a Justin Bieber concert, but special nonetheless.

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2 thoughts on “Grades and zebra stripes

  1. I can’t believe she is already old enough to know who Bieber is??? She sure looks like Tara on that picture sitting in the lawn chair! Another great writing, Tricia!

  2. You sure know how to talk about God in a very inviting way. If everybody had a parent or teacher like you the world would be a better place.

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