Let's Start Failing


Milton students often complain about the competitive climate around our academics, and, generally, their grievances are justified.  Discussion of SAT scores and the recent biology test results pervades the Stu, but why are we constantly comparing? In truth, our score comparisons stem not from a desire to improve but instead from a yearning to know where we stand relative to our peers. We want to feel more accomplished academically than even our closest friends and less self-conscious by putting others down. If someone scores better than we do? Well, there’s nothing we can do.

At Milton, many teachers don’t show students how to improve. They teach students to be complacent. In my Modern World History class from freshman year, my teacher told our class that we shouldn’t complain about getting C’s. A C means average, and average is good. I think my mother would have begged to differ. Instead of giving us ways in which we could improve our essays, our teacher essentially told us to deal with defeat. Unfortunately, this sentiment continued. Instead of receiving feedback on assignments that could be used to improve later work, the comments felt isolated to their respective pieces. That sense of isolation hinders the growth of students here. Assignments can feel like stand-alones where you get one shot to either ace it or fail it. When there’s only one major assignment per unit, there’s no way for students to grow in their understanding but hope that they understand enough to pass the test.

Additionally, the feedback we receive is contradictory to the grades on the assignments. Many times on English essays our teachers will write glowing reviews and offer little methods of improvement other than obvious megablunders. This initial look through leaves us feeling good about ourselves, but then we turn backpage and realize that our “amazing cultural analysis” is worth only an 81. The conflict in feedback versus grades stops students from learning from their mistakes by leaving confusion in what needs to change.

Constructive feedback needs to be incorporated more into Milton’s grading and teaching. Students want to earn better grades on assignments but its hard when they don’t have any usable feedback to work with. I understand that Milton is a stressful environment and the idea of criticizing students seems like it would only hurt students even more, but students need that criticism. If students are turning in assignments and not receiving the grades they want but also aren’t receiving feedback to improve themselves, they start becoming complacent or start searching for other solutions. Some students here will be resigned to the fact that they’re a “B- student” or feel like they’ll never be good at English. Others will either overcompensate for their failures and work so intensely that their mental health will suffer or they’ll start searching for courses with easier or “hack” teachers so that they can receive the grades they want with little amount of work.  The idea that “hack” teachers and courses exist brings up the question of the fairness of grades at Milton if some teachers are easier than others.

The unbalance in teaching styles can seem like a benefit for some students. Getting an easy A from a teacher is better to some people who receive a B in a class with a traditionally difficult teacher, but once students leave the hack class their future Milton career suffers especially in upper level science and English courses, where teachers have set standards for where their students should be academically. There is a preconceived notion that students should know how to write a efficient lab report or a detailed critical essay. How can students meet those high standards if the hack teachers who taught them did not explain how to meet the standards? There needs to be a balance in teaching styles and the elimination of hack teachers/courses, so that everyone can be on a level playing field in classes.

Let’s let students improve at Milton. Instead of telling students to be happy with their grades, tell them how they can do better next time so that they can be even happier. Whether we like it or not, grades and academics are an important part of student’s lives. We need them to get into college and to satisfy our parents and our own expectations of ourselves. Milton needs to stop hindering our growth in favor of sugar-coating the hard truths of our failures. Let students fail, so that we can better ourselves and be the successful students we know we can be.

Mark Pang