Your Trees are Blocking My View of the Forest

Dead Tree


I feel like one of the dangers of teaching is over-inflating the importance of small groups of students with respect to behavior, mastery of material, or what have you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a colleague lament that “they just don’t know any algebra” and upon further questioning the teacher admits that “they” consists of maybe 2 or 3 individuals. I fall into the same tendency–fixating on the (small amount of) negative and ignoring or glossing over the (majority of) positive.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of and focus in on those few students who are struggling–of course we need to work on improving things for these students. I’m just saying that we need to do a better job of recognizing and appreciating all of the good things our students are doing and that we are doing for our students–News Flash! It didn’t just come from nowhere; we did something good.

This is of course a long-winded way of saying that I am not doing a good job at all of the things I’m chastising you for above. I fell down the rabbit hole this afternoon. Luckily, I recognized it really quickly and I’m picking myself back up (well, I’m trying!).

My school moved to a new report card system for end of the trimester grades this year. We modified our rubrics to make them uniform across disciplines and added a space to include strengths and areas for improvement (selected primarily from a drop-down menu). There’s also room for an optional comment from the teacher and a space for students to submit their own self-reflection.

I was on the committee that worked to change the report cards and I’m really proud of how they turned out. There are some details that I don’t love, but overall it is a positive change. One thing I didn’t have strong feelings about was the student self-reflection. Some teachers were adamant that this be included on the report cards. I was fine having it in, but I didn’t particularly care if it wasn’t there.

I have to say, having gone through this system twice now (okay, okay; I’m not *actually* 100% done with my report cards from this trimester yet), I have changed my mind completely. I LOVE the student self-reflections. They are already there, up at the top of the page and I can read them (misspellings and all) before I fill out their report cards. So when a student says that they need to work on showing their work, I can say to myself–yeah, that’s true–and then include that in their “areas for improvement” knowing full well that we already agree on this. It’s also really great seeing how they write about their progress over the term and what they want to work on in the future. It’s super heart-warming.

At least, until you get to that one kid who just totally yanks your chain.

The kid who blames everything on the fact that they don’t like working in groups and the tests didn’t match what they learned in class and the whole way the class was formatted just didn’t fit with their learning style. Of course, nothing is the fault of this student–it’s all external issues.

Basically, it’s all my fault that they didn’t do well in the class.

And of course, once I read that, all of the other good things that students said, the thoughtful, reflective, growth-mindset, honest, insightful things, all that just flew out the window. All I could think about was this one kid’s annoying NON-reflection.

***Deep Breaths***

Okay. Time to step back and look at the big picture. This is one student.

One kid.

At this point I have written up 30 or so report cards. And out of 30, there was 1 student who didn’t take responsibility for their own learning. One in thirty. So, like 3% of all my kids. And that’s just so far. Odds are good that the next group of kids will make that percentage even lower.

So, while it’s no fun to have someone shift the blame onto your head, I’m going to spend the rest of my evening–and the time tomorrow finishing up my grading for the week–focusing on the 29 out of 30 students who took ownership of their learning and who are actively striving to improve as students. That’s who I’m going to think about.

Once my teeth stop this reflexive grinding motion.

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