Grace In The Classroom

Author
Francis Su
444 words, 10K views, 10 comments

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

We are grateful to Rupali Bhuva for offering this hand-made painting for this reading.

I want to demonstrate to my students that their worthiness does NOT depend on the grades they earn in my class.  Of course, I want to give my C students the same attention that my A students get.  But if I am really honest with myself, I have to admit I like talking to A students, because they “get it”... they already speak the same language.

But what credit is it to me as a teacher, if I only affirm the students who already “get it”?   It’s easy to affirm the student who asks great questions in class, but I must be thoughtful about how can I affirm the questions from a struggling student.  Or the one who comes from a different cultural background.  Or the one whose educational system didn’t provide them with the tools they need.  How can I affirm these students?

I like to tell them the struggle is the more interesting place to be: because a healthy confusion is where the real learning begins.  Just like in life, the most meaningful lessons are learned when our afflictions and struggles are greatest.

But I want to be clear: I am not saying extending grace is a recipe for helping my students feel good about themselves.  I am saying it will help them have a right understanding about themselves.  So if my students know in their bones that I have given them a dignity that is independent of their performance, then I can have honest conversations with them about their performance.  I can judge their work justly AND graciously.  In fact, failing a student CAN be done with grace, so that the student understands their dignity has not been tarnished even though their work has been justly assessed---just as a parent can discipline her child if the child knows her love is unconditional.  Grace is precisely what makes hard conversations possible, and productive, between people.  But you have to extend the grace first.

I want the failing student to understand clearly that grades are just an assessment, not a sentence.  I try to meet with every failing student in person, and I will explicitly articulate the distinction between their grade, and their worthiness.  I will often give them this explicit word of encouragement: that while grades attempt to measure what you have learned, they do not measure your dignity as an individual.

 

Excerpted from here.