Eternal Conflict of the English Teacher


Dear Students,

Some of you see yourself in the grades you are given.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I cannot change that.

But, what I can do is tell you what you don’t see.

Every paper I return to you lacks the moment when I place a crisp, fresh file of recently stapled essays in front of me, and I take a deep breath, knowing that some of you will experience great joy while some of you will be disappointed. The latter is the hard part.

Every paper I return to you ignores the time I spent thinking about your progress, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your individual circumstances. You.

Every paper I return to you refuses to share with you that I thought about your sentences while brushing my teeth before bed last night and wondered about your emotional well-being as I turned out my light.

Every paper I return to you disguises the internal dialogue between my heart and my mind. Heart says: I know you want to succeed and I want to see you feel that success; am I being too harsh?; what will their parents say? Mind says: I have to be fair, just and ethical in regards to assignments’ requirements. Being a role model demands it.

Every paper I return to you does not convey the stomach-churning agony that comes with standing before you, scrawled-on stack in hand, as I reiterate to you that process is more important than the endgame. Before lunch is the worst. Appetite lost.

Every paper I return to you stays silent on this key fact: the grade I give you is not an indicator of my like or dislike of you as a person. All students are loved equally. Every paper I return to you fails to reinforce that my ultimate heartfelt goal is to help you become a stronger writer, because at the end of the day, no matter what school you attend or profession you decide to be in, writing clearly will set you apart from the rest.

Every paper I return to you forgets to remind you that perfection is an illusion and that a “bad” grade is not a reflection of who you are just as a “good” grade is not a reflection of who you are. Your character will always define you – not your English grades in high school.

Every paper I return to you hides that I know that you won’t listen to my advice above no matter how many times I say it. But, I say it anyway.

Every paper. Every. Single. One.

Placing a grade on your paper is difficult.

However, know this: holding you to excellent standards means I care.

After all, if you are not held to such standards, when will you have the opportunity to grow?

If you are not asked to leap, when will you try to jump and fly?

Next time, maybe you’ll see your grade differently.

With love,

Your English Teacher

Guest Writer: Upper School English Teacher Sarah Traphagen