Giving Folks Honest Feedback

It’s that time of the semester when students come to me in tears about their grades. They realize it’s too late; no amount of begging or remorse changes the reality of the grade. 

I loathe grading. It’s my least favorite part of my job. Yes, it’s time consuming, tedious, and repetitive, but that’s not the reason why I dislike it so much. I dislike it because I love the students so much that I’m rooting for them to succeed. I want them all to shine. I want God’s mercy and grace to flow through me, but those terrible grades seem like some kind of punishment. I know this isn’t true, but still, it feels this way. I cry out to them, “Don’t worry about this grade! You are great! You are loved! You can do it!” Handing back papers exhausts me.

One time, I handed a student her C paper with tears forming in my eyes. She tried so hard, but she missed the mark. She slowly said, “I think you are more upset about this grade than I am.” It was true.

Over the years, however, I’ve realized the importance of giving honest, clear feedback–even if it’s painful and uncomfortable. It’s not harmful to students to know the truth; sometimes I’m just too worried about protecting students’ emotions. This is ridiculous. Saving people from honest feedback, even if it’s difficult for them, doesn’t help them at all. I’m learning this.

Saving people from their mistakes, even if it means they lose scholarships, doesn’t serve them. It’s not always loving to save people from their mistakes.

I’m learning to let people cry and experience all sorts of distress because of my feedback. It’s the only way to grow. It’s the only way to learn that their inherent beauty and value have nothing to do with performance anyway. If I didn’t tell them the truth, I’d rob them of experiencing what only a bad grade can teach them.

I’m glad I gave myself this little grading pep talk before I hand back the next set of papers.


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