Focus on student’s progress, not mistakes

Abigail Carlin, Journalist

A common trend in education reform is using high-stakes exams to put pressure on the modern teacher to push students towards a mastery of skill instead of a mastery of content.

From the outside looking in, this seems like a good move. Employers seek capable employees who can follow directions, read, write, do basic math and so on.

However, taking a moment to appreciate the complexities of writing, it is not just a skill. Writing requires focus, meaningful research and purpose, all of which comes from the writer.

My assignment for Thursday is to grade a stack of 30 essays from a local community college. These essays, for the most part, are rooted in narratives. Anchoring a paper in personal experience calls for a deep trust between the writer and the reader (i.e. the grader).

To be blunt, many of these essays are terrible, but how am I to rip apart an essay about a student’s personal experience with racial identity, teen pregnancy or facing extreme prejudice as the brother of a con- victed felon?

Simply put, I cannot.

As a future educator under the thumb of evaluations and student performance, I have a very hard time relinquishing control. Part of me needs to let students know they failed, but the other part of me wants to celebrate what they have accomplished.

It is difficult to surrender and allow students to make mistakes in regards to grammar or mechanics, but I have made peace with my decision.

I will not be the Grammar Nazi. I will not allow my students’ creative expression to be extinguished by a red pen.

It is my belief that, through correct instruction and planning, my students will not have to fear the passing back of essays. I am not a judge or an executioner. I am a teacher, and teachers are meant to guide, not punish.

Teachers are supposed to be shepherds, so they move with the group and allow whatever outliers to do what they wish, so long as they do not stray too far away.

Trying to dictate and control the movements of each individual sheep is not conductive to learning, as students must learn on their own. rough a more casual approach to writing, where drafting and peer editing are encouraged, hopefully students will learn to enjoy writing and relish the process.