If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Gain 4 Pounds in 3 Days, and Finish Report Cards at the Same Time

The last few days were spent trying to find a balance between enjoying the holiday weekend and writing narrative reports--know around here as comments--on 66 of my students (22 more are due on Friday).

My wife and I took advantage of the long weekend to drive down to South Carolina to visit a friend from my wife's PhD program and her family. We left DC at about 5:00 on Friday with a couple more friends in the back seat. The traffic wasn't too bad (high gas prices have their upside), and we made it into Greenville at around 2:00 AM. The rest of the weekend was spent eating, and finding things to keep us busy until we got to eat again. Our friend is Indian, and apparently it is part of Indian culture to feed your guests until they explode. Fortunately, her mom is an unbelievably good cook, and every stomach stretching bite was delicious. It was also a great education. Despite my above-average familiarity with the American and British restaurant versions of Indian food, almost every dish was new to me. Eating all kinds of different foods is one of may favorite things about traveling. While this wasn't quite as exciting as actually going to India, it was a pretty good subsititue.

When I could escape from the weekend activities, it was comment-writing time. In independent schools, comments serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, they are intended to give feeback to the student on his strengths and weaknesses. They are more descriptive than a simple grade, and therefore ideally more constructive. On the other hand, they are a customer relations tool for communicating with parents. A well-thought-out comment shows parents that you know their child well, and that all the money they spent so that their son or daughter could have small classes and lots of individual attention was worth it. A bonus from the teacher's perspective is that writing comments also give you a chance to stop and think about your own work, and whether you have been getting through to these kids at all over the course of the year.

As important as I know they are, writing comments is one of my least favorite aspects of teaching. They almost always come at the times of year when both you and the students are worn out and are getting really excited about a break. And finding 50 different ways to say either 'keep up the good work,' or 'Johnny would be doing OK in this class if he ever did his homework,' is a mind-numbing chore.

On the other hand, one of our friends who was traveling with us this weekend was telling me about her high school back in Michigan. The way they did report cards was to generate a list of ten possible comments, things like 1: participates in class, 2:does not complete assignments, etc.. The teacher would then just enter the appropriate numbers for the particular student, and be done. It is an efficient system, and would have saved me many hours of work this weekend (hours I could have spent getting a cultural education in Bollywood movies), but I can't help feeling like it robs the students, not only of a thoughtful comment itself, but of the feeling that their teachers are really thinking about them. There is a lot to be gained from knowing that your teachers are really seeing you as an individual.

More on grades, comments and other means of assement on another ocasion, but now it's faculty meeting time.

Does your school do anything especially good or bad when it comes to grades and comments?

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