Story by Katharine Florence
Illustration by Alicia Zhang
The “grades don’t define you” mantra has been projected to students throughout high school as an attempt to subdue the pressure that students undergo in the American education system. While teachers are not responsible for these pressures, they are keenly aware of them and, therefore, have a moral and professional obligation to support their students’ ambitions. However, well-meaning teachers, under the guise of being encouraging, may deliver a message that is not entirely accurate. Grades may not define students, but they still matter. Teachers need to acknowledge this concept and work with students instead of questioning them.
The stress of being admitted to a prestigious college with high scholastic standards weighs heavily on academically driven students throughout high school. According to college admissions officers, the most stressed aspect of an application is a student’s GPA. Students’ GPAs allow these officers to see that students have applied themselves and have been successful in doing so. As such, students and teachers should properly respond to the reality that a GPA means more to a student’s academic future than is currently being conveyed.
Frustration arises from teachers’ responses to this dilemma. Going to a teacher with the hope of improving a grade more often than not ends with a lecture on being satisfied with said grade rather than receiving help. Teachers need to collaborate with their students, whether that means reviewing learned content or being more open to discussion in general.
The conversation about settling for a lower grade should come after all options are exhausted, not as a first attempt at smoothing things over. Whether they’re unwilling to spend the time needed to boost a grade or are trying to comfort us, they are indirectly telling students to settle with a lesser grade. Teachers’ efforts to assuage anxiety are appreciated but disingenuous, especially since teachers witness students undergo the college application process firsthand and are therefore aware of how much weight grades have in the process.
It is important to stress how grades are still a significant part of students’ lives that can and will influence their futures. The feel-good response that teachers give merely undermine students’ academic journeys. Rather than discrediting the feelings of students and aiming to settle the matter, teachers need to acknowledge the situation they know students are in, the pressure they face and deal with it accordingly.