Sometimes I wish I could just focus my energy on teaching and not have to bother with grades. Assessing is fine, but in my opinion, it is an entirely different creature. Assessment shows me what my students still need to learn or master, and it kindly points a finger in the direction we should go.  Grades, however, seem a  more like an autopsy of instruction, and they don’t feel nearly as beneficial in my day-to-day life.

I use snapshots of student work all the time to help me decide the most appropriate next step to take. But, full-on, nit-picking of 150+ essays after they are published is a 40 hour work week on my own “free” time, and it always seems like those moments could be better spent planning new and interesting things for class, reading a professional book to become a better teacher, or… anything else, really.

This attitude is probably what often causes me to procrastinate the task– my lack of buy-in.

Call me crazy if you will, but I love, love, love lesson planning and curriculum design so much that I can (and do) spend hours on them.  Teaching is an applied art, and planning for what happens in class allows me to deliberately aim for the most beautiful lessons possible.

Strangely enough, part of that beauty emerges from something that is technically considered a method of assessing.

I attempt to teach in a workshop-style environment.  After the mini-lesson comes small group or independent work time for students, and I circulate and touch base or confer with as many of them as possible.  These brief conversations that help me nudge them in the right direction or that allow me to take the temperature of their level of understanding are the main staple of my building-relationships-with-students process.

You see, I am socially awkward.  I despise chit-chat.  Participating in getting-to-know you, icebreaker activities is painful for me.  (You can imagine how much fun it’s been to change buildings four times in three years.) 

These conferring conversations are neutral ground.  They are the Switzerland of small-talk. The student and I both have a focus, and we know what is expected in the exchange. If personal relationships happen to be established through them, with insights and interests revealing themselves as a by-product– Great!  If not, we still get the job accomplished, and… maybe next time.  I promise I will plan for there to be a next time.

I care about my students, and I really do want to know them and know about them.  I am, however, the opposite of in-your-face, invade-your-space.  I would like to believe that attitude meets the needs of at least some of the kids who walk through my door.

One of the best compliments I’ve received this year happened when a fairly quiet and somewhat withdrawn student introduced me to his friend and explained, “She takes good care of her emo kids.” He trusts me. That matters. He didn’t use to. And that, to me, is the most beautiful outcome of all my planning.  We built a relationship on the neutral ground of assessment.

Weird, huh?