What’s the Difference Between Getting or Earning an A?
From kindergarten until my senior year of high school my parents awarded me with money for “good” grades. This meant that I only received compensation for A’s—not B’s, not C’s, not D’s, and certainly not F’s. What did this teach me? 1. that I could earning a living from school 2. success in the classroom equaled getting an A not earning an A
Do students today have the same perception of grades? Of course they do. They have heard the above formula again and again (Grades = Money). It is a routine conversation I have with my students, especially after mid-terms:
Student: “Well, because I just need to.”
“I just need to”—an answer teachers hear often. But, why do they need to? Can students earn an “A” and still not know the material? I did. At a very young age, I was conditioned to work for A’s not work for knowledge. I learned it, got the A, then forgot it. I treated school like a job.
Grades in some sense have become a form of currency for students. The higher the grade the higher the payout: A=$1,000 B=$500, C=$250, D=$125, F=Redo. This is why many students get upset when they don’t receive the grade that they think they have earned. “I did what you asked. I should get an A,” or “I did my best. Why didn’t I get an A?”
I used to make these same statements to my instructors until I received my first “D” in graduate school on an essay I had turned in analyzing the plot structure in the Odyssey. I was mortified to say the least. Jodie Liedke didn’t get D’s. I had worked on that paper for hours upon hours alongside cup after cup after cup of black coffee and oatmeal crème pies. I immediately set up a meeting with my professor. I remember going into her single-lamp-lit office confident that I would explain my case (“I worked hard on this.”), and she would change her mind. Well, she didn’t change her mind. She told me, “You can do better.” My professor gave me the opportunity to rewrite. And, after more coffee and oatmeal crème pie induced hours and a dissection of each paragraph, sentence, and word, I revised and then earned a “B.” Was I disappointment that I didn’t get an A? No, for the first time, I had earned a B. I didn’t get an A. I discovered themes, ideas, and craft techniques in the Odyssey that I had overlooked many times. I grew as a critical thinker, a writer, and a student because I was pushed.
It is important for instructors to talk to their students about grading. I understand why my students want A’s, but I make sure they understand that they need to earn it, and this may include failing first (and perhaps lots of coffee and sugary desserts). An “A” will not earn them a job—knowing the material and being able to apply those skills will set them apart from other applicants and have them on the right track to earn the big bucks.