The Unfairness of "A"

As I sit here, waiting on my essay to be returned from the online writing lab before submitting my final project, I'm struck by the unfairness of my grade in my higher-ed course. Oh, I've got an A coming, but that grade is solely due to the fact that I have a great deal of a precious resource at my disposal:  time.

It's why I decided to return to grad school, actually--because I have the time. Thus, my papers and discussion posts and comments and replies are all spiffy nifty sharp and on-topic. I have fun with my assignments. I relish the reading. And, as I discovered of an online course, time = A. Time = better work, better learning, more creativity, stronger connections to the material.

My classmates, who are desperately submitting things at all hours of the night, do what they have to do simply to get it done. They meet the goals, sometimes barely under the wire, sometimes late. I can imagine they have to skim the multiple chapters from the multiple texts we've had to read each week. I came to the conclusion that my A isn't fair.

Is it fair that we will all be assessed with the same criteria, when we don't have the same amount of time at our disposal?

For that matter, is it fair that we assess our students on the same criteria, given that they are coming at any given assignment with a host of individual needs? Now, I'm not talking about the kid who doesn't have a job (although I don't know too many high schoolers without one) or the kid who has all the latest gizmo gadgets.

I'm talking about that one kid, who, if he didn't have to go to school all day and work part-time so as not to be a financial drain on his family, would be submitting creative, powerful work. Or those who lack other resources, such as family support or access to a computer. This student is submitting the bare minimum to get by. What about him?

Is it fair to assess him by the same criteria, if he doesn't have the same resources?

We could argue of my classmates that they should know what they're getting into. These classmates are full-time teachers, and how they'll ever get the time to complete our huge final project, I'll never know. It has taken me upwards of thirty hours or so, on top of the regular classwork. 

Putting myself in their shoes, I see my work as ostentatious overkill and hyper-organized. I color-coded a fifteen page template, not because I was required to, but because it looked more visually pleasing to me. (I went right-brained nuts with it is what I did.) It's feverishly detailed, but compared to those individuals who are straining simply to input the required information, I'm either setting a bar or I'm showing off. Either way, it's got to be frustrating and annoying to look at.

How does that student feel who knows that if he had the time and/or resources, he'd be doing higher-level work?

"They just need time-management," some may say. "We give them enough time to complete their work."

Do we?

Do you have thirty some-odd hours free over the course of two weeks, plus your eight-ten hour days at school, plus your regular reading and outside work to do the project you've assigned to your students?

I know we want students to be creative. I know we want them to experience success. So, how can we allot them the resources they need to level the playing field?  Or, how can we better address the inequity of resources with the assignment criteria?

I admire those who put forth effort in the midst of their maelstrom.

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation!



  1. Wow. What a powerful post. I'm one of those "last minute because I have so much" people, but I also know I procrastinate a lot (by reading blogs when I should be studying;)!), but I hadn't really taken the time to think about it from a teacher's viewpoint. I'll have to keep this in mind as I start teaching in January. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Lisianna! It hit me, too, when I was completing the reflection part of this humongous project! : )

  3. I guess I am a little different. When I did my Masters class in Spain we all had very very little time. It was a probably the busiest time of my life. However, some of us made a time for studying, whereas others chose to spend out time doing other things... So, most people have chances to devote more time to their studies. They can choose to do this, or they can choose to spend their time procrastinating. Yes, some people are parents, with other jobs, etc. But when we choose to study, we choose to make the time to study.

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  5. You make a valid point, Carissa! I guess it is a choice, but I guess I "feel" different about my work for the class when I have time than when I don't. Does that make sense? I mean, I also took some grad courses when I was a full-time teacher. I also got As and Bs. However, my online coursework was less in-depth. Would it be more fair to offer a separate course for those who work and those who don't? Perhaps the working course could be extended so that the required amount of information, though the same, is offered in smaller chunks (say 12 weeks) whereas the non-working group would finish the same amount of coursework in less time (4 weeks). hmmm.