Posts Tagged ‘grades’

Grading Time

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

It’s a difficult time: grading time at seminary. It’s not a time I enjoy.¬†Grades divide.

Grades divide students into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, that’s tongue in cheek. But there are the groups of the A-students, the B-students and so on. Or sometimes just the geeks and the rest. More often than not, the students who excel in all areas find it difficult to join the majority groups. Jealousy, envy, and admiration form a complex divide.

Grades divide students from their teachers. The one gives the grade and the other receives. I would not give my wife or son a grade, but as a teacher I have to grade my students. Sure, my three-year old is not in a graduate degree program, but there is a similarity in relationship. I love my students. Well, most of them. Teaching theology is a significant responsibility. It is always as a person teaching persons that I engage my class. That can be parental love or brotherly love. Sometimes it’s tough-love, but nonetheless, it’s love. Sometimes grades tell the unpleasant story that a student may not be equipped for the graduate program at this time.¬†Grades put everyone back in their place at the end of the semester. No matter how much you got around the table, in the end grades define your relationship.

Grades divide us from our calling. I have a standard question for students: what do you want to achieve in seminary or in my class? The answer is often associated with grades: I want to get an A. When I ask how the class was or the seminary experience as a whole, the evaluation often comes in terms of grades: I didn’t do as well as I wanted or I managed to keep a 4.0 GPA. That’s not what I mean, though. I am not at seminary to give grades but to teach. Students should not be at seminary to get grades but to learn.

Now that it’s grading time, I get numerous emails by students who want one or two or more points in their grades. Some ask to get a better grade or a specific grade. I wish I had received similar emails throughout the semester from students wanting to learn more, wanting clarity on ideas, theological constructs, doctrines, asking for a better understanding even (or especially) if their grades did not reflect their knowledge.

Now that it’s grading time, I wish I could go back and encourage students where I did not, critically engage them where I simply moved on, or question things I left open. I feel reduced in my relationship to numbers or letters. How can I preserve the relationship? How can students engage me without looking for a good grade? How can they give critical feedback without fear of retribution or positive feedback without coming across as wanting a good grade? How can we be persons in a shared journey of faith?

In the end, reviving seminary depends much on our attitude toward grades. I have to give them. Students have to get them. It’s in the manner we give and get that defines us.