Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Grades Aren't Everything

It bothers me when teachers focus on what a child isn’t doing right or well, rather than what he or she is doing well.  The big red X’s on a paper, or a minus sign with the total number wrong circled, seems counter-productive to the learning process, and often damages a child’s confidence or psyche.  I prefer the smiley faces and silver stars for correct answers.  Better yet, a personal note of encouragement seems more useful when concepts are not fully understood yet by a student, but improvement and effort is obvious.

When my son was in the 5th grade, he attended a public school program for gifted and talented students.  The criteria that determined his eligibility for the program included his previous grades, as well as a teacher recommendation.  His greatest academic skills were in math.  He used his understanding of numbers and money to excel in numerous self-driven entrepreneurial endeavors.  Of course these projects included the popular lemonade and Kool-Aid stands; however, this is a kid who thinks outside the box.  He held numerous “toy sales”, similar to a yard sale but included a small table of toys and “stuff” he no longer found value in, but he knew someone else would.  When he was eight years old, he learned to make origami whales at a Boy Scout activity, then made hundreds of them and sold them door-to-door for a penny each!  One year he painted a large banner which read: “Jeffrey’s Library” and posted it across our front driveway gate.  He then gathered all his books, stacked them on a card table, and proceeded to “rent” them to neighborhood children for $25 a week.  He also kept a paper route for years.

In every case—and more—this child kept track of his earnings and calculated expenditures and dividends.  Did he understand numbers and math?  Absolutely! Why then, would his 5th grade teacher give him an “F” for his final grade in math?  I was flummoxed.  There had been somewhat of a power struggle between Jeffrey and his teacher, not due to any academic requirements, but rather with personality conflicts.  It was his opinion that the teacher talked down to the students, and he voiced his objections when she did.  Obviously my son is self-driven and I knew he could be strong-willed.  Some would say stubborn.  But I taught him to be respectful of others and encouraged him to be patient with his teacher’s methods of communication.

However, when I learned that the grade came simply because he had failed to hand in some of the assignments, he and I met with the teacher to see if something more could be done.   I knew the teacher had a strong personality but thought surely she would allow Jeffrey to hand in the missing assignments and still get a reasonable grade, even if not full credit.  She would not budge.  She said he “needed to learn responsibility”.  Perhaps taking the problem to the principal may have facilitated a change in the grade; however, this teacher already had it in with the administration and making more waves did not seem prudent.

That evening when we returned home, Jeffrey showed the report card to his dad.  Knowing the power struggle Jeffrey had had during the year with this teacher—and also knowing Jeffrey’s strengths in math—his dad simply looked at the F and drew a straight line down the right side, changing it to an A.

“Grades aren’t everything, son,” he said.  “This isn’t worth worrying too much about. Looks like an A to me.”  And that was that.
There ought to be more focus on the whole picture of things, even when it comes to academic grading systems.  I understand an academic barometer is needed to measure mastery of certain skills.  But really, a child’s confidence cannot be graded.

My son never got straight “A’s”, nor did I.  However, he now has a degree in Economics and an MBA in International Business.  I guess he understood numbers after all. 

Please visit www.stelladauracademy.org to learn about annual scholarships ranging from $500-$10,000, for youth 12-19 years of age.  Awards are NOT based on academic grades, ACT or SAT scores.  The Academy will be accepting registration beginning March 1, 2013. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chocolate is the Only Answer!

With the simultaneous launching of "Stelladaur: Finding Tir Na Nog" and the online academy for youth, The Stelladaur Academy, just around the corner (March 1, 2013), I'm brainstorming coping methods of dealing with the continual stress of meeting numerous deadlines. A10-day tropical vacation at an all-inclusive resort would be ideal.  The next thing that comes to my mind is a full-body massage. The truth is I'd settle for nice, luxurious bubble bath. But how do I justify the time? If only my Mac was waterproof!  Due to recent cold temperatures, I haven't even been on my run in days.  Since I don't drink, the only feasible solution is chocolate.

It absolutely must be the real stuff--70% or more cocoa. None of those cheap department store candy-bar type imitation confections.  Gag!  A bag of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips comes close, but doesn't quite ease the anxiety I feel.  Dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt is almost intoxicating.  I also love anything with a hint of exotic fruits like pommegranate, blueberries or mango.  And the right blend of mint can do wonders, too.

I admit I may be on the verge of "chocoholism" just thinking about the options.  But on the other hand, I've been working straight for the past nine hours with only a bowl of cereal, a banana and two granola bars to eat all day.  I could just be delirious with hunger, right?  And for some odd reason I'm craving spinach.  This is insane! I'm getting up right now and making myself (and my family) some dinner.  I think we'll have spinach omelets.  And then I'm heading to town to get some gourmet chocolate and a bottle of organic pear bubble bath!