On grades and the non-graded world outside the classroom


Along with pretty much every student, everywhere, I recently found myself anxiously awaiting my grades for many of this semester’s assignments.The conversations amongst my classmates in our Facebook groups were wracked with anxiety and impatience as we immediately messaged each other as soon as a grade was posted.


Due to my own ridiculously perfectionistic tendencies and high-minded desire to beat my 3.96 cumulative GPA from my master’s degree, I was equally eager to see each grade released. No, actually…I was almost salivating. (Pavlov would be so proud!) I earned a 4.0 in fall semester and so far, so good this semester, though it’s a couple days before all grades are due.

Tuesday at noon eastern time, to be precise.

Not that I’m counting.

Anywho, my Rational Brain knows that my GPA won’t really matter once I’ve graduated, just as I have told my students throughout my career. While I do need to maintain 3.0 to graduate, grades are primarily a gauge on how well someone else believes I mastered the material. The feedback I receive on papers and assignments has far greater importance at this point as it helps me continue to improve my academic performance and prepare for writing my dissertation. And right now, pretty much all of that improvement is about the nuances of APA Style! (APA, you are my arch-nemesis! I will conquer you!! <shakes fist angrily>)


I told you to expect geeky references.

But my Lizard Brain will never ever deny how wildly rewarding it is to see an A in that final grade report! That rush from the dopamine is fantastic!

Here’s the catch though. We don’t earn grades outside the classroom. Hopefully our employers embrace an effective performance evaluation process and our supervisor is wise enough to provide ongoing feedback about our efforts. Yet this is never the same as that constant inflow of grades and feedback we receive inside the classroom.

And the stuff I deal with at work on a day to day basis – educating a campus full of students, striving to utilize the best prevention strategies for the environment we’re in, supervising my staff, managing budgets, wrestling with university politics, dealing with federal regulatory compliance issues like Title IX, even working with general counsel on the occasional lawsuit – these things are big, huge outside-the-classroom issues.

These things can, on occasion, quite literally be life or death matters.

Yes, it’s stressful. Sometimes, it’s all just huge and unmanageable. And the rest of the time, it’s just the normal pace of things in my chosen career field. And, in the grand scheme of things, it all makes any grade pale as a ghost in comparison.

Being in the classroom, for me, is not stressful or huge or unmanageable. No, not in the least. Many times, it feels like a learning-focused vacation with some really cool folks. Lack of beachwear and tropical beverages aside, it can even feel somewhat self-indulgent to pursue my dream of earning my PhD. But all in all, it’s pretty damn fun*!!

Do I still want to earn a cumulative 4.0? Sure, it would be lovely. And I’ll work my fannyfeathers off in an effort to beat my personal best.

But it’s not life or death.

UPDATE (5.17.2016): I earned my 4.0!

*I reserve the right to revise my opinion of how fun it all is once I get to the point of completing comps and my dissertation.