Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bring on your 'A' Game

Years ago, when I was a substitute teacher, some of the students claimed that grades don’t mean anything in the real world. They settled for just getting by. Although these kids might be right in many ways, they are also missing out on challenging themselves to do better.

Like my old Michigan History teacher Mr. Harrison Caswell used to say, “If you want to get better at tennis, you play with a pro, someone who is better than you.” He didn’t play tennis. As a young man, he was on the New York Giants football team. He was also a veteran of World War Two, having seen action in the South Pacific. What he meant was, if you want to be a better player, hang out with people that challenge you. If you want to be a finer person, associate with exceptional individuals. Don’t let mediocre beliefs and people drag you down. If you want to improve, follow the leader that will guide you to the goals you aspire to. (Of course if you are self-confident and ready, you may be the one reaching down to help someone up the ladder of life. You may be the one that people look up to as a mentor and leader.)

Now, back to the students: It is true that years from now your employer might not care if you got an ‘A’ in algebra or a ‘C’ grade. Then again, some bosses and college recruiters want to see how hard you worked. The higher your grades, they see that you accepted the challenge to do better.

One day, a ten-year-old quoted an older sibling. “Grades don’t mean anything when you’re grown up.” The other students began to nod their heads and murmur.

I said, “You’re right. When you’re your own man, it will be in the past. All this classwork will be a memory.” Then I wrote the word PALACE on the board. I asked the kids to read it out loud. They did. “What does it mean?” I asked.

“It’s a castle!” said a girl.

“Yes, and we all want to live in our own castle when we’re grown up.”

Then I erased the first ‘A’ from the word. It now read PLACE. Scanning the room I looked at each of them. “That ‘A’ is the difference between your PALACE and just a place.” I hope they will remember that.

Grades are not for the teacher. They are for pupils. Although, just letters, they’re a gauge that helps us to determine where students need to improve. How hard individuals work for that grade and the habits they establish when they're younger help them to form the people they hope to be, where they want to go, what they will become.

‘A’ will get you the palace. ‘B’ will get you a building. ‘C’ earns you a condo. ‘D’ you may get a dump but ‘E’ will get you evicted. No matter what the grade on your report card you can always do better next year. It’s up to you.

Best wishes and Christ’s blessings to all the returning students.

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