What's in a grade?
“Don’t worry about your grades, grades don’t define you.”
If you’ve been through any form of higher education, you have probably heard some version of this phrase pass through the lips of fellow students or well-meaning teachers. It’s sound advice, for the most part, but I believe that it occasionally paints the wrong picture of what a student’s relationship with grades should really be.
Personally, I don’t really like being told that grades don’t matter.
I care about my grades, I always have, and I’ve placed value over the years in the fact that I’ve consistently done well in school. I don’t think getting high marks makes me a superior student by any means, but I feel a great deal of pride in the fact that I’ve succeeded in difficult courses, met deadlines despite the busyness of life, and improved upon my skills.
I look at higher grades I have received throughout my time as a student and I feel pretty accomplished. I might not be the best at every single thing I have ever done, but I did the best I could and I see that reflected in my grades most of the time. Grades have taught me a lot about meeting expectations, both for my work and for myself, so I tend to see them more positively than most students I know.
As someone who has dealt with anxiety for most of their life, I can attest to the fact that worrying too much about something isn’t going to help anything. My life’s purpose is not to do well in school and the world won’t end if I can’t turn in the best version of an assignment for every single deadline. Grades are not something I can survive off of, such as water or oxygen or food, so they aren’t on my mind every single hour of every single day. Still, I think about my grades on a frequent occasion because, as a college student, I have to.
Whether we want to believe it or not, grades matter. Passing a class is important (and in college, not passing a class is expensive). So is remaining on track throughout your education and understanding what you need to improve upon. Grades often help determine all of those things, so effort still needs to be put in where it counts and it makes sense that they are still emphasized for these very reasons. Grades do not define you, but they are a part of your life.
In an ideal world, educational progress could be measured in another way that was less rigidly structured and caused a lot less stress and pressure among students. However, there is comfort in the fact that, in the real world, a lot of this stress and pressure can be whisked away with the help of a competent, caring teacher.
I attribute most of my success in school not to my work ethic or to my motivation to receive an A, but instead to the teachers and professors that have helped me along the way. Throughout most of my education, this actually ended being English and Communications teachers, which might have a lot to do with why I ended up majoring in media communications and wanting to be a professional writer. When a teacher takes a real interest in your work and your progress, you’re more likely to put more effort in. There is an accountability to that relationship, but also an inspiration and motivation to it as well.
As I near the end of this particular chapter of education in my life, I can’t help but think that the real value of a good grade comes not from the exact assignment you turned in, but instead from the experience of learning how small accomplishments stack up over time to become bigger ones.