Nervous. Surprisingly more nervous than I expected to be, but standing on a path with no return, I read with shaky voice and short breath, the letter below to introduce Project 180 to my kids yesterday.
Welcome to Honors English 10. I am beyond excited to begin and share this journey with you. And while I am not certain about all that we will encounter and experience along our way–or even where we will land at our journey’s end, I am certain that it will be unlike anything we have experienced in the past.
As you entered the room today, I handed you a wooden letter A. It is my gift to you. It is your grade for the year. No, I did not misspeak, I am giving you an A…for the entire year. It is yours to keep. I will not take it back. Promise. Cross my heart.
But, my young adventurers, take heed. For, after all, what I handed you is just what it appears to be: a wooden letter A. It is nothing. Oh, don’t worry. I am not going back on my promise. I will type the A into your transcript at the end of each semester, but even that is merely a digital character, a mark on a screen. It, too, in reality, is nothing. So, before you sit back and relax with your gift and chalk me up as your “best teacher ever,” consider the following.
In truth, I gave you nothing, but I did that, young traveler, to give you everything. When I handed that A to you as you came aboard today, I really gave you ownership. I gave you the keys to your learning. I gave you choice; I gave you freedom. I gave you responsibility. And that is the essence. In the end, young friend, you are responsible for your learning. I cannot give it to you. In this arrangement that we find ourselves, I am responsible for providing opportunity and support, and I can and will give that freely and abundantly, but I am not responsible for your learning. You are. This reflects, then, the terms of our agreement for our journey.
So, we set out. 180 days from now we will set anchor in some unknown harbor. But before we set sail, pick up your A. Look at it. Feel it. Right now it is an empty gesture, a simple symbol. It won’t mean anything until you give it meaning. Months from now, as we look back on the calm and storm of our journey, and you hold this symbol in your hand, what will it mean then? I can’t wait to hear about your discovery. Thanks for letting me join you. I am honored.
Fortunately, my nerves got better with each delivery, but the first one was a doozy, as I had no idea how a new batch of learners would respond to such a radical departure from tradition. The initial response each period was suspicious silence, as I went on to explain that it was not a joke, that I was serious, that I was–hand on heart–giving them an A for the year. Still, desiring to know more, I asked each to react to the A on a note card, beseeching them to be honest. In addition, I asked them to share on the other side of the card what they wanted me to know and understand about them as learners. In general, the most common response communicated the relief they felt from the pressure of grades. I selected a range of specific responses from each class to share with you.
“I think it is a great way to make people realize how important learning really is”
“The A sounds like a great idea for students who want to learn; sadly, there will be those students who take advantage of it.”
“Because of the A, I feel like I have more freedom to learn the way I need to and not the way the school wants me to.”
“I really have no idea how I feel about this A. It seems cool, but my initial reaction is ‘What is this?’ I was always taught that nothing is free, so it worries me.”
“I love this idea! I think it’s very bold and I hope it works for you and me. I really hope, however, it does not at any point give me an excuse to slack, so I am going to have to work hard at that.”
“I think that this is a little daring, but either way, you’ll have kids that goof off and kids that work no matter what.”
“I love it. I appreciate you giving us a chance to learn calmly without stressing about grades. I will most likely do a better job on the work because I won’t be scared to make mistakes.”
“I am excited because it’s a new innovative approach to learning, and I want to see where it goes.”
“I am split on the decision. It ‘ll help my test stress, but I am worried I won’t push myself hard enough , and next year I will be unprepared.”
“My reaction at first was kind of like ‘Yes! don’t have to do anything,’ but it’s kinda like being able to control your own learning.”
“Shocked. Surprised. A little suspicious.”
“I was relieved, but it made me want to work harder because I haven’t really earned it yet.”
“Where’s my A+? Also, my dad’s going to be confused.”
In general, this represents my kids’ reactions to their A’s. At the moment, I am feeling good about it, but we have a long way to go, and I have a lot “proving” to do. I expected my inbox to be full of parent emails this morning, but so far no calls to have me fired. My next anxious moment will be at open house next week when I meet parents in person. I just hope they are able to place their faith in me. I just hope they are willing to give me a chance.
So, day one’s done. A’s delivered and generally accepted. I told the kids yesterday that they did not need to keep their wooden A’s, that they could leave them on their desks if they did not want them. Three students left A’s behind. And that’s fine. No harm. No foul. After all, they’re just silly symbols, empty gestures–nothing.
Happy Thursday, all.