The online school where I teach has a cool tool that analyzes grade book data and recognizes students whose grades have started a downward trend. Most of the time, these grades have fallen because students had a tech issue and submitted the assignment in the wrong format or on the wrong assignment link. Putting a zero in the grade book makes it difficult for students–and parents–to ignore and forget to fix.
For years, I could not bring myself to write that zero in the grade book. It broke my heart. After all, I had no intention of leaving it a zero. Why should I traumatize a straight-A student with a zero?
Then I realized that many of my students just didn’t notice that the paper was missing and needed to be resubmitted until it was too late, and the grade was already a zero–permanently. In my desire not to hurt their feelings with a temporary bad grade, I actually put them into an even worse position by helping them overlook the issue. These days, diligent students rarely, if ever, overlook such a grade. I send a message to parents alerting them and watch the missing work roll in fairly quickly.
I also have another scary practice in class. I call out my students by name when their work is missing. Again, I pained over the decision to start doing this, wanting my kiddos to feel safe and loved, but I spent too much time managing late work because they never developed an urgency about getting it in on time. The deadlines were more of a guideline than an actual standard. Now, understanding my expectations, I very seldom hunt down missing work. My students know they will be held accountable.
In school, expectations are important, but in real life, we live in fear of having them. Holding others accountable, and being held accountable ourselves, is necessary but scary. Perhaps this is because the correction so often comes at the end of a wagging and accusing finger rather than from a heart of love with the other person’s best interest in mind. So many times, I let poor attitudes and behavior sneak into my life unnoticed, and if someone isn’t faithful to help me see it, these become ugly habits that mar my reputation, much like those ugly zeroes mar my precious students’ grade records.
I went to a conservative Christian college in the 80s, and I remember my resident assistant telling me that our dorm supervisor had once told her she had the spiritual gift of pointing out others’ faults. I somehow missed this one in my study of the gifts, but she apparently had a connection with God I didn’t have.
At first, I thought it was a joke, but as I observed her on campus, I realized how seriously our zealous supervisor took that gift. Somehow she seemed quite proud of herself when she left some young college student feeling like a failure in her spiritual life. I might add that she did not last long as I’m sure I was not the only one who noticed. She disappeared from that position rather quickly.
Recently, my husband and I had a conversation that reminded me of that lady years ago. We talked about church discipline and confronting sin and reflected that all too often, we confront sin in someone else’s life and walk away feeling so proud of ourselves for defending the truths of God’s Word, but we have very little compassion for the human being we left in our wake feeling like a failure, and in doing so, we commit the greater sin.
Todd related wisdom from one of his professors at seminary who explained to future ministers, “When you confront sin, you should do it with tears in your eyes.” ~Dr. Mike Witmer
…and THAT’s the point of confrontation and accountability, not self-focused on our doing the right thing, but others-focused on drawing that person in closer, not pushing him/her farther away. Done right, no one else will ever know we had to do it, unlike my call-them-out methods in class. But much like that same practice, pointing out the infraction should make us cringe. We should feel compassion for the person we hold accountable, remembering that one day, we may be on the receiving end of that correction.
I pray God will help me connect with people compassionately, always to edify and equip them, never to tear them down.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.