Thursday, March 4, 2010

The view from afar

There's this science fiction movie trope where the scientist, after seeing the carnage that his creation has unleashed, cries out,"What have I done? What have I done?"

An email correspondence with a fellow teacher made me start thinking about my "What have I done?" moment. My reason for having gone assessment crazy. It happened three years ago.

I can still picture her. She had dark brown hair and brown eyes. She usually had a pony tail and was on the small side. She liked to sit on the left with a table of 3 other girls. She smiled a lot and made me laugh. She brought me some dollar store ginger cookies for Christmas. She was on the basketball team but wasn't very good. It didn't bother her. She just liked being on the team. She turned every assignment in the entire year. She took every note. She even annotated them at home like I taught. She finished the year with an A every trimester. And she didn't learn a single thing.

Two things.

One. She wasn't gaming the system. She was a product of it. We created her. We asked her to sit in her seat and do what we say and turn in stuff on time. She was simply following orders.

Two. I knew she hadn't learned anything. I knew the whole year. I felt trapped though. I gave points for notes. She took them. I gave points for neatness. She was neat. I gave group grades for labs. Her friends were all A students and her lab reports were always formatted just the way I taught. Her test grades were never great, but I always gave test correction points. I gave extra credit for going to a science museum and writing about it. She did that. All the time, I knew she never really got what was going on. If I asked her something, she'd smile and parrot back what I'd just said or flip through her notes or let her friends whisper answers to her. Or she wouldn't know. She'd listen very carefully and echo it back. I justified her grades by telling myself there was nothing I could do. Points were points. If she got 90% of them, she deserved an A.

June came, then July. She was going to start high school soon and all the time I couldn't shake the feeling that I had done a huge disservice to her. I lied to her. Her grades told her that she had learned science. My grades. My lies. I think about her often. She comes back and visits. I feel conflicted when I see her. She's doing well in high school. I don't know how I feel about that. I wish her well and want her to succeed. I don't know how have the courage to tell her she's been living a lie. So I smile and give her a big hug. I ask about her classes. Her teachers. Her family and boyfriend. We laugh over a story that begins,"Remember that time you set the ceiling on fire...." As she's walking away I stand back, look at her, and ask myself, "What have I done?"

1 comment:

  1. I've recently come across your blog, and I am (slowly) reading from the beginning :)
    I have to say this post is so poignant and hits me to the core- all I can think is "YES, that!" When you finally come to the realization that the way you are grading is doing a huge disservice to your students, there is no going back... and I completely empathize with the guilt accompanying that realization...