D is not for Disaster

My 7-year old has just started year 3, and as she attends a British school, her schoolwork is now graded. When I was her age, in contrast, I had barely begun my first year of school in Sweden and I was 13 or 14 before I even got my first grades. That may have been a bit late some will argue, but what’s the point of giving grades to 7-year old kids who would rather play than memorise times tables?

Meanwhile, my 11-year old is in her last year of primary school, and there’s a huge focus on exams and getting into her preferred secondary school. I’m anything but a chilled-out person in normal circumstances so this autumn I’m having to make a gargantuan effort to stay calm in the face of the secondary school frenzy that’s descended upon us.

There is more to life than exams and grades I tell my children, but they don’t seem to believe me.shutterstock_316684445

“Did you ever get a C in school?” my 11-year old asked me a while back.

“Of course, and I got the odd D as well,” I replied.

She looked at me aghast, “You got a D? What happened?”

Nothing, other than that I realised I probably wasn’t meant to be an engineer or electrician as the D was the outcome of my 14-year old self’s inability to strip a wire without breaking it. My tech teacher even gave me two metres of wire to strip as homework, yet I never managed to get the hang of it.

There have been other Ds as well, in Maths in particular, and I never got more than a C in P.E. and Music. But, so what? I still sing in the shower. The only C I feel remotely bad about is the one I got in a class on modern fiction when studying at an American college. I come from a family of book publishers and reading is practically in my blood. Even so, I never got more than a B in any literature class; for while I loved reading stories and poems, I found it excruciatingly boring and somewhat meaningless having to analyse them. It just spoiled the fun of reading.

My point is, neither your school grades nor your university grades will have much bearing on your life in the longer term. No one has paid any attention to my grades since I was in graduate school twenty years ago and in order to write this blog, I had to dig out my old transcripts to find out what my grades were. I’d completely forgotten.

Know this: A C-grade doesn’t mean you’re stupid, and a D-grade isn’t a disaster.

Grades are not a true representation of someone’s abilities and rather than asking students to work harder for the sake of school ratings, the focus ought to be on the teaching side.  An excellent teacher who appreciates that not everyone learns the same way and who reflects that understanding in their teaching methodology, is key to students doing well.

I know this first-hand because for much of my middle school years I had a young, arrogant maths teacher who disparaged any child who didn’t get it the first time. I did poorly as a result, and at the time I thought it meant I was stupid. When I moved on to high school, however, my maths grades went from Ds to Bs in one term, and it was all down to the teaching. My new maths teacher believed I could do maths and she took her time to explain anything I didn’t understand. As a result, I started to believe in myself.

So, let’s not get too caught up in grade-mania, because it’s not worth the stress, worry, sleepless nights, expensive tutoring, and exhausted, tearful children.

On a side note, I had completely forgotten that I got two As in Beginning Badminton and Intermediate Badminton while studying for my undergraduate degree in politics. Those A-grades more than make up for my C in statistics and B- in economic analysis II. Perhaps I got my career choice all wrong…





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