Paragraphs to Ponder—Educator’s Edition

My grades are due December 23rd. Maybe you have grades due soon too or someone close to you. From The End of Average by Todd Rose. Recommended.

“There are two related problems with relying on grades for measuring performance. The first, and most important, is they are one-dimensional. The jaggedness principle, of course, tells us that any one-dimensional ranking cannot give an accurate picture of an individual’s true ability, skill, or talent—or as psychologist Thomas R. Guskey wrote. . . ‘If someone proposed combing measures of height, weight, diet, and exercise into a single number or mark to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable. . . Yet every day, teachers combine aspects of students’ achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort, and behavior into a single grade that’s recorded on a report card and no one questions it.’

The other problem posed by grades is that they require employers to perform a complex interpretation of what a particular graduate’s diploma actually means. A transcript gives employers very little direct knowledge of a student’s skills, abilities, or master of a topic. All they have to go on is the rank of a university and the graduate’s GPA.”

Back in the day, when my colleagues and I submitted hard copies of our grades to the Registrar, she provided large candy bars as an incentive to be on time. Damn the Digital Age.

Compared to Teaching, Charles Barkley’s Job is Easy

In a round about way, this provocative Selena Robert’s piece about Tiger Woods highlights what’s unique and especially challenging about teaching well. Robert’s quotes Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and ruffle feathers. Most damning, Chamblee says Tiger extracts from the game but doesn’t give back to it.

Usually, the most popular analysts and critics—whether in sports, the arts, or politics—are extremely opinionated. People like analysts and critics who aren’t afraid to rip a failing player, actor, or elected official. In sports, Brandel Chamblee is simply following in the footsteps of Howard Cosell and Charles Barkley.

What the best teachers do 180 days a year is infinitely harder than what Chamblee and Barkley and other popular analysts and critics do. Teachers have to thoughtfully provide constructive criticism to young people with whom they work closely day-after-day. Young people whose self esteem is a work-in-progress.

Chamblee knows he’s never getting invited to Tiger’s pad to have dinner so what does he have to lose? When Sports Illustrated wrote about Michael Jordan’s gambling problem he never spoke to any of their writers again. Which of course made it even easier for them to be critical. It’s easy for analysts and critics to rip failing public figures from the safety of their websites, studios, and media stages.

Teachers, on the other hand, often have to tell students up close and personal that their work doesn’t measure up. And most challenging of all, students are sensitive in different ways and to differing degrees meaning teachers have to continuously tweak their message. The best ones challenge students to do better without crippling their confidence or harming their relationship. It requires a mix of respect, tact, diplomacy, and care that the public doesn’t understand or appreciate. I’m most successful at it when I lead with students’ strengths. Encouragement makes everyone more receptive to how they can improve.

Parents face similar challenges on a daily basis. They often have to tell their children, “Sorry, that wasn’t thorough, thoughtful, or responsible enough.” The most successful ones do it in loving and supportive ways that are educative. Their actions communicate, “I want you to become more competent and independent”  rather than “Don’t forget I’m in charge.”

Compared to the teachers at the school down the street from you, Brandel Chamblee’s and Charles Barkley’s television jobs are a piece of cake.

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