The Ways 2 Teach


Confidence is a hard commodity to come by these days and, in my opinion, ranking is one of the reasons why.

I believe that the expression “you get an A for effort” is mostly used ironically. It’s a way of telling you that your work wasn’t good enough, even though you did your best. 

Grading takes different forms in different countries – letters, percentiles or numbers – but it has the same purpose and effect.

At one point, in France, we talked about how to grade. Do we start from zero and add points to reward success, or do we start from the best mark, whether it’s 20 or 100, and take away points to sanction what’s missing in the student’s production? That is such a teacher issue to have…

When I was a student, I could only see the bar that had been set. When I didn’t get the maximum mark, I thought I wasn’t good enough. Whether I was rewarded or punished, the message was always “NOT GOOD ENOUGH”. Each of these grades made a dent in the armour of my confidence. It eroded over time as I moved from class to class. Even getting a full grade wasn’t enough to repair it, it just offered a reprieve until the next test put me in the same situation. I felt measured, evaluated, compared to others and forced to meet a standard that had been set for me by someone who didn’t take into account my life, my choices, my difficulties. I was no longer learning for the sake of learning. I was just trying to fit in, not to make waves.

Sometimes the way of scoring or evaluating changes, you get a red, orange or green dot instead of a number. Is it supposed to be softer? This colour coding is so related to traffic lights that it carries a lot of meaning. Red is a prohibition that stops you from moving forward. Orange is a warning, you are in a dangerous situation. Finally, green is an incentive to keep going because people are coming up behind you. 

Students perceive assessments as an obligation to meet criteria for subjects they have not decided to do, but will do anyway so as not to be left on the side of the road. (Road… traffic light… see what I did there? )

I suppose this system is changing everyone. We are so used to being judged that we become judges ourselves. “But if this is how society works, it must be fair?” – REALLY? – We’ve even turned our screens into judging machines, voting for the best singer, chef, model, make-up artist. And if you’re not good enough, no one will turn over their chair for you. It’s all so normal.

I can hear everyone saying “rejection is part of the world, get used to it”. But when you go deep diving, you wear a wetsuit, you carry tanks to help you breathe, and you follow decompression stops to be safe. These things will keep you alive when you are under pressure and your body is demanding air to keep functioning.

Confidence IS your wetsuit AND your oxygen tank AND your decompression stops. You need it to take on the world.

I believe that school should have no other purpose than to build students’ confidence, in themselves, in their skills, to help them understand that they are good enough to follow a path that suits them. I don’t think that grading contributes to this goal. 

Students should learn to feed their curiosity, to acquire knowledge or skills, not to get a grade. 

They should be praised every time they are proactive. Let’s build a generation full of confidence.

Tom E.B.

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