There are various ways in which one can think about teaching undergraduates and assigning grades including:
The Market Approaches
- Teachers are being paid for a service; good grades are one of the products entailed in the service.
- Teachers train future employees; grades filter the best from the worst.
- Teachers assess the potential intellect and character of students; grades reflect improvement on these features.
- Teachers challenge the minds of and develop character in students; grades are an arbitrary and meaningless artifact.
Universities serve elements of all these approaches (which are sometimes at odds), but I do not subscribe to any one especially. Instead, I believe that students are making a significant investment in learning, one that should serve them well in a professional capacity; grades reflect the state of their developing abilities (e.g., critical thinking, writing, speaking, and collaboration). However, college and learning are much more than simple job training. Also, I recognize that a focus on learning and performance are often contrary, that grades are contingent and perhaps suppress intrinsic motivations or otherwise prompt much student anxiety. I continue to wrestle with how to balance all of this.
Presently, I try to be as objective as possible in my assessments such that they serve as a guide for improvement and development. While I do feel a responsibility in serving students and society at large, and I am thrilled to see personal growth and improvement, assessments are on objective features of the work, rather than my subjective feelings about students or their potential. Furthermore, life often throws us unexpected turns. I wish to be compassionate and I would never presume that "school should come first" relative to all other events in people's lives, but nonetheless my focus is on classroom performance and I'm obliged to assess what happens there. However, I try to give constructive and early feedback, so people know what is going on.