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On (Not) Making The Grade

Yesterday afternoon Maddie came out of school distinctly subdued. She had a couple papers in her hand and immediately handed me her backpack, keeping the loose papers to herself. “Do you want me to put those papers in your backpack?” I asked.

Maddie handed me one, and as she did I caught a glimpse of the other, retained paper – a math test with the score written in red. “You can have this one,” she said, handing me her vocabulary test. “But not this one,” and she waved the math test.

“Baby, is it because of the grade on the math test?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Honey, it’s ok, we all miss some sometimes.”

So Maddie handed me her math test and burst into tears.

She made an 89.

Maddie was so ashamed that she’d made an 89, and terrified I’d think less of her. I hugged her tight and said, “Baby, it’s ok. NO one is perfect, and you don’t even have to try to be. This is NOT a bad grade, ok?”

“But I’m going to have to take the same test again next Friday! I don’t get to move on!” she sobbed.

I squeezed her tighter. “Listen, the teacher’s not punishing you! She just wants to make sure you know your multiplication tables REALLY well before you move on. That’s all.”

Apparently Maddie had misunderstood what the test would be over, and didn’t study all the ground that would be covered. And to be fair, I’d made the same mistake, and only drilled her on part of the body of knowledge for which she was responsible. So the only questions she missed were ones that were outside the scope of our studies that week.

Maddie took her “low” grade hard, but wasn’t angry with the teacher – just angry with herself, and a bit defeated, like she just wasn’t good enough. I could have tried to reason with the teacher, get the grade changed, but honestly, this is probably the best lesson Maddie will learn all year: that she can make mistakes and still be smart. That she can not be perfect and still be a great student. That she can falter in something, and still be loveable.

And if she can learn that? It’s totally worth a lower grade.


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