Years ago, my sister and I worked as state volunteer coordinators for a presidential campaign. It was a close race with lots of candidate visits, and our job was to take a list of jobs and find the volunteers to do those tasks. There were invariably more jobs than volunteers, and so we always fell short. One day I was so disappointed in the number of people we’d turned out that I slipped outside and cried. One of the top guys in the campaign found me and asked what was wrong. I told him, ending, “I guess I’ll always be a C student!”
He started laughing and told me about his college chemistry course where he never made above a 70% on a test, but ended up with an A. “The work was so hard the professor had to grade on a curve. And that’s true here too. You’ve earned an A. And because you didn’t know there was a curve and kept trying for an A anyhow, it’s an A+”
The truth is, most of life does grade on a curve. Plenty of people who smoke don’t get cancer. Fast food restaurants sell lots of unappetizing and unhealthy food. Many people will choose bad coffee over no coffee. Some parents (ahem) let their kids sleep in their next day’s clothes. Many of us sing badly with great enthusiasm. A wrong turn may take us someplace much more interesting. Constantly striving for perfection is exhausting and counterproductive; we can’t make an A in everything, so we settle for good enough where it doesn’t matter too much.
And there are plenty of places where it does matter. I want a solid A when cleaning a bathroom. Pepsi is not the same as Coke. There is no wiggle room in how one treats the waitstaff in a restaurant. You always strap your children in their carseats. And good enough is not good enough when teaching intense children.
These aren’t kids with whom one can “wing it.” Every lesson, every transition, every boundary needs to be planned out and followed religiously. Every positive behavior needs to be noticed and commented on. Expectations need to be clearly stated and adhered to. The teacher can’t raise her voice or back a kid into a corner.
As we complete preparations on our building, finish our nonprofit paperwork, gather materials, plan curriculum, and interview students and staff, we are aiming for a true A. The aesthetics and orderliness of our space will help our students feel calm and secure. We must start with an interesting and challenging curriculum ready, one with a place for each of our unique learners. All materials must be in place and the gecko settled in his new home. Our staff must be prepared to work together with a common purpose and common strategies.
This is the part I find so exciting. The right people keep showing up, class A teachers, great students, Cheetah the gecko, board members, and people who have things to give, from as far west as Boone and Ashe County. There is no need to grade on a curve when you are going for the very highest standards with kids who have very little margin for error.
With something this important, I want an A. But I continue to find and enjoy those places where C work suffices. I discovered today that one can take a linen top and pants straight out of the washer and put them on wet. It cooled me down in the hot car quite nicely and was totally dry and wrinkle-free within ten minutes. This wouldn’t be a good idea in the winter, but what a time-saver on a summer morning! My mother would be appalled. But here’s a case where I’ll take the curve and save the A for something that really matters, like kids.