January 4, 2015

Is it Good Enough?

Note: the student pictured here is not the one in the story below.  It was the same year, however, and it represents a fun memory to balance out the unpleasantness below.

Is it good enough?

A student asked me that question a few years ago, and every so often, the memory rears its ugly head and needles me.   

7th grader: (Tossing paper like trash onto my desk; teenage attitude on full, proud display) Is this good enough?

Me:  (exasperated) Is this good enough…I don’t think I understand the question.  Good enough for what?

7th grader: (exasperated, in return) You know…is it good enough?

Me:  (fury building, held back by a crumbling dam of responsible adult professionalism) Well I don't know.  Is it your very best effort? (pause) Your silence tells me it is not.  The question, in fact, tells me it is not.  I know it is not your very best effort, because if it were, you wouldn't bother to ask the question.  Whether it was “good enough” or not wouldn’t matter if you knew you had handed me the best work you were capable of at the moment. There wouldn’t be any more you could do to improve it…so I’m not sure what you’re looking for me to say here.

7th grader: What grade would you give me?

Me: I won’t be giving you a grade.  I will record the grade you earn, and I’m going to do that one time only for this assignment.  If you want me to grade it as it is, I will do that, but I won’t allow a re-do if you aren’t happy with the grade.  What I am willing to do is give you another day on the assignment if you want to work on it more.  I will not deduct any points for it being late as long as I receive it tomorrow. 

7th grader: (grabs paper off desk, begrudgingly and returns to seat)

To my memory, he turned it back in at the end of the same period having changed nothing.  I think it was a C- in the end.  Good enough?  I don’t know.  I wasn’t even curious at the time, but when I think of it now, I sometimes wonder if he was satisfied.

It’s a difficult memory for me.  I know I could have handled it differently better.  At the time, I recall my righteous indignation; now I can’t help but see the hypocrisy.  Was every lesson I ever taught planned and delivered to the very best of my ability?  Of course not.  It’s simply inhuman to deliver our very best each moment of each day.  It’s exhausting to even think about it!  I guess it wasn’t the so much the fact that it wasn’t his best work, but 1) He had the gall to throw it in my face and 2) I had been putting in some of my very best work for weeks and failing to inspire a large majority of students to do the same at any point.  I was frustrated and sad and burned out and it was time to go; it felt like this kid was telling me all that between the lines.