Grades under pressure
If you’ve never watched the music video of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” it’s well worth four minutes of your day. The initial montage flashes images of crammed masses of people, screaming faces, and explosions. As a high school teacher, I swear if they recast the video, they could put today’s youth in that scene. A recent survey of 200,000 college freshmen notes record levels of stress and depression, and I suspect it trickles down to the high school as well.
Why do many of these students feel under pressure?
The answers vary, but for many high schoolers, it can represented by the disparaged B+.
At some point some of our high schoolers got the idea that earning a B+ would ruin their lives. It would exclude them from enrolling in the most elite schools, leading quickly to family shame, public disgrace, and a life of aimless wandering; that’s right, a slippery slope to penury. At least, one would think so by the reactions.
So teachers, ease up, right? Add a couple points here or there. After all, getting Aspen High School students into the most prestigious schools is our job, right?
No, not exactly. Our district mission does include that students will “be empowered for success.” Does making students exceptions to the rule empower them for success? Does setting up false standards that will be crushed by freshman year of college empower them for success? Does inflating averages to get them into schools where they will fail empower them for success?
I’ve never had a graduate tell me they wish class had been easier or that I had given them a higher grade. Quite the opposite: As reflected in the recent graduate’s perspective panel at A.H.S., the students tell me high school should have been harder; they wanted more preparation. Perhaps that preparation would relieve those record levels of stress at colleges. A bit of that perspective might also help console current students who are bitter over their recent B+ marks, and convince their parents to back off the pressure a little bit.
I genuinely believe that every teacher at Aspen High School cares deeply about our students. We want to see them joyfully succeed in their goals in life. Personally, I also want to see the burden of grade-focused success lifted from the shoulders of our students.
Parents: Do you hope to see your students get into and then flounder and fail at the best schools in the country? Or hope to see them happily thrive in a school that meets their needs and desires?
Students: Rest assured: a B+ will neither ruin your life, exclude you from “all the good” schools, nor lead right to poverty. So be proud, take a deep breath, and take pride in those B+s.
And parents, do this for me: Give your student a hug, look them in the eye, tell them you love them and are proud of them, and with all due respect, chill out.
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