Whatever else they might do, grades punish students who can’t, won’t, or for whatever reason, don’t comply with teachers’ instructions.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

From 2014 to 2018, I worked with men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison to develop and teach a GED prep class. Together, we wrote curriculum, co-taught lessons, and examined students’ work. Unlike my high school English classes, which the law requires students 16 and under to attend, our GED students showed up voluntarily, but still, we had a hard time getting students to complete and turn in their classwork and homework. At school, I spend a lot of time talking with students about points — how to earn them, why they lost them — because I rely heavily on…

Writing this series of essays has taken me longer than anything else I’ve ever written because every time I sit down to write, I can hear all the rebuttals to my overarching thesis — that grades are stupid and dangerous, and teachers can and should abolish them. Grades encourage accountability and give students feedback on their progress. They communicate that feedback to parents and administrators. They help college admissions officers decide who to accept. In some cases, they help judges decide whether or not a kid in trouble has learned their lesson and returned to the straight and narrow. They…

A chart from the CA LAO report, “Improving California’s Prison Inmate Classification System” that describes the differences in security measures across housing levels I-IV.
A chart from the CA LAO report, “Improving California’s Prison Inmate Classification System” that describes the differences in security measures across housing levels I-IV.
from “Improving California’s Prison Inmate Classification System” (2019)

In California, where I live, a person convicted of a crime and sentenced to time in state prison gets housed according to a points system that sorts people into four “security levels,” with gradually more restrictive limits on their movement, autonomy, and access to human connection. Annually, each person incarcerated in the California state prison system can expect to have a state agent assess their number of points, according to a standard rubric, and generate a report that dictates the security level of their housing for the next year. …

“You only learn from the experiences you learn from.” — Myles Horton on the purpose and value of education

Growing up, my bedroom was two doors down from my brother Conor’s. Because of a traumatic brain injury during his infancy, Conor has disabilities; for one, he has seizures pretty frequently.

At the time, being an Irish dancer was a really important part of my identity. Taking four classes a week, it wasn’t uncommon for our dance shoes to cut up and blister our heels pretty badly. When that happened, we’d beg our teachers for permission to change into gym shoes…

I’m the baby.

I’m the fourth of five kids in my family, the only girl. When at nine-weeks old, the third of us, my brother Conor, contracted meningitis, enduring traumatic brain injuries that caused significant cognitive and physical disabilities, my parents decided to have another baby who would meet all the developmental milestones at all the right times. That’s me, and that’s an important thing to know about me. I was raised to excel and to look after my brother. …

But sometimes it’s not. But sometimes it is.

There’s already hella boring ed-reformer think-pieces out there about “rigor,” so I hesitate to even get in on that conversation. I’d much rather be talking to the people who are talking about critical, culturally sustaining pedagogy — centering the conversation around a reverence for students’ humanity rather than for difficult curriculum in some sterile abstract.

But I must.

Is rigor rigor if the students don’t assent to learning? Like, if I expect that students independently read Shakespeare and then independently write a literary analysis essay on it, is that rigor, periodt.? Even…

Yesterday during lunch, I was able to make it to my school’s Faculty Council meeting, which is, from what I can tell, a place for teachers to discuss school leadership issues. My favorite. (Not sarcasm.)

On the table was a suggestion that we adopt a school-wide policy regarding cell phone use during class. More to the point, the suggestion was that we adopt a policy prohibiting cell phone use during class.

Frankly, it’s not a good idea. Not nuanced enough. Not nearly enough.

One major problem with banning cell phone use is enforcement. Often, the instinct is to confiscate the…

Wanna know why there are so many white women teachers and not nearly enough people of color teachers?

Well, there are a lot of reasons, but one of the Qweens is telling us about some shit that is definitely one significant factor. We’ll call this Qween “X.”

X, a brilliant artist and history teaching Black woman, is teaching at a big, public high school in a part of the Bay Area known for being so progressive omg.

For this, her first year teaching, her woke white department head (WWDH) assigned her US history because even though that’s the class said…

One of my most formative learning spaces was the University YMCA on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. No gym or pool, it’s focused on student leadership for social, environmental, interfaith, and global justice; I initially got involved my first year at Illinois when I became a volunteer tutor for a nearby middle school.

I ended up getting paired with a kid with an “emotional/behavioral disorder” — had no idea what that meant, impact-on-the-kid-wise. He and I developed a quirky, stand-offish commitment to working together, and so we did for all four years I was there. …

Something different from the last time I taught in high school six years ago is that the kids are savvier with technology. It makes sense since their lives have been more saturated with it than the kids I taught back then. And schools have gotten better at leveraging technologies toward student learning.

An example: My kids are constantly checking their grades. The data management system our district uses has an app, and they are on it.

Thought experiment: Kids check their grades like adults check their bank accounts. When their grades are high, it’s like they’ve got money saved up…

Ellen Dahlke

On teachers learning.

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