Part 1: Students Who Deserve Their Reward
Well, it is that time of year again: Graduation time. We have probably all participated in at least one graduation as a student. Elementary school, high school, college, or boy scouts, we have been there for it. We remember what it feels like. Well, I recently had the experience of my first graduation from the other side. And let me tell you, graduation looks somewhat different as a teacher.
This was my first year as a high school math teacher, and I thought it would be worth sharing some of my thoughts about graduation from this perspective that not everyone gets to experience. The sights, sounds, and emotions of graduation day were varied for me, but it is first and foremost about the students, isn’t it? Let me introduce you to some of the students I saw on graduation day.
Meet Jennifer. She was one of my students. The laws in my state have changed in recent years, and this is the first group of graduates who have been required to complete four math credits rather than three. Therein lies the problem, for Jennifer is not a “math person.” Neither are her parents. She never would have been in a fourth math class if it had been up to her, but now she has to complete one in order to graduate. She is not alone in her opinion that it is rather unfair.
Not only does Jennifer have to complete four years of math, but the truth is, she has hardly ever really and truly completed one. She has three math credits, but how she earned them remains a mystery to me. She made it through with extra credit points, take home tests, “creative grading,” and who knows what else. The truth is, she has not learned nearly as much math as you would expect.
And now she is in my class. And to her great chagrin, she realizes before too long that she won’t be able to slide through my class in the way that she has previously done. She quickly finds herself failing badly. She is behind, and she doesn’t know if she will be able to catch up. All of her pleas for extra credit points and easier assignments seem to go unheeded. What is she going to do?
Well, with many tears of disappointment as quizzes and tests yield grades that are not nearly as high as she has hoped and desired, she buckles down for a long, hard, final semester of high school math. She comes before school for extra help. She stays late after school when she can. She skips lunch on the last day of class to come in early and get a head start on her exam. And after all of that, she still is just barely shy of passing.
Grades are due tomorrow morning. There is not much time left. There is one more opportunity, and only one. Jennifer arranges with me to come in before school the next day (seniors have already finished their last official day of school, so she is really going above and beyond now). She is going to take one more test to try to bring her grade up. She studies with me before school. While I am teaching my first period class, she takes her test in the hall. When she is done, she watches with great anxiety while I grade it. Will it be enough? Will she have passed?
And there she is, walking across the stage to receive her diploma and shake hands with the principal. She deserves it. She has put in the time and the effort. She has learned more math than she thought she as capable of. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t supposed to be. I can be proud of a student like that. I wish they were all willing to work so hard. This is what graduation is supposed to be, a celebration of well-earned rewards. Way to go, Jennifer.
Check back again soon to meet some more of my students and see more of graduation through the eyes of a teacher.