Perfectionism + grade driven + the need to please = learning?

I sit at the front of the class. I come to class everyday ON TIME. I have highlighters, pens, pencils, eraser ready to go. I greet you with a cheerful “Hello!” every day. I smile and nod at you all class.

I like class best when you give notes, then I know exactly what you want me to know and how you want me to say things.

Just tell me exactly what you want, I will do my best to deliver. Just tell me, OK?

I get anxious when you ask me open-ended questions, I mean what exactly DO YOU want me to say?

Just tell me OK?

I have very good grades. In fact, I spend a lot of my time worrying about my grades. I get pretty anxious before tests, I always think I will fail.

I always double-check every mark that you gave me. I usually just want to know the mark, I don’t really want to go over the test. Who cares, as long as my average is high, right?

I get frustrated when you ask questions that you did not give us the exact answer to. That last test, you even had a question where that expected us to know that ice floats. You never even taught us that! I try hard to give exactly you what you want, but sometimes I am just not sure and that shuts me down.

I would never want to answer a question if I was not 100% certain that I had the exact correct answer.

I don’t really like school, it stresses me out a lot. But I have to get top grades.

I hate when we waste time in class to do labs or group work, I would much rather just do notes and worksheets. Just tell me what to know and I will know it. Some activities are just a complete waste of my time, I mean they are not even for marks? What’s the point?

School is actually pretty boring, but I am good at it. I can usually figure out exactly what a teacher wants to get a good mark.

I am just trying my best to keep my marks high. I hate when I make mistakes, I hate it. When I do, I obsess over it forever. I don’t give my opinion on a topic and I don’t really have one. Why would I? I just want to know what you think is the right answer, that way I can just study that stuff and get a good mark on the test.

Just tell me what you want me to say for the test and I will. Just tell me OK?

Sometimes I think you don’t like me. I ask you questions and you don’t always answer them right away. I just want to know exactly what to put down. I don’t want to start something just to find out I did it wrong, what a waste of time that would be. I would just rather wait for you to tell us. How can I do well if you don’t tell me exactly what you want?

Have you met me?

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10 thoughts on “Perfectionism + grade driven + the need to please = learning?

  1. Great post. Have you read Doing School by Pope? I think you might like it – she follows 5 students who express their lived experiences in high school, and much of it is about the “grade game” you describe.

    • Hi Rob, thanks for the comment and book recommendation, sounds interesting. Unfortunately the “grade game” is still the number one game in our high schools. How to change this?

      • I wish I had that answer 🙂 There are teachers in my district who are trying to push back against the “grade game” idea by changing what they are doing with homework – doing various things to engage students in real practice (not averaged into grades). It’s a lot of work, but good work, I think. Rethinking Homework by Vatterott has been helpful.

  2. I think I was this student, at least for a while, and I have definitely taught this student. I have also had the teachers who encourages and produce this type of student. It is very prominent in university. I remember the professors who did not like my writing style and either learned to match what they wanted or avoided them because I did not know how to make them happy. I hope to avoid falling into that trap as a teacher or at least grow into a better teacher who encourages students to learn on their terms rather than regurgitate on mine.

    • Hi Kirsten, I definitely was this student too. I think a big part of our school systems fosters this students as these students are easy to work with. What worries me and what I have been reflecting on lately is students (many of them female) who never develop their own voice (or at not till later), as their need to please rules. When I encourage student’s to find/use their own voice, they are angry at me for not doing my job of spoon feeding them along. I understand their anxiety as they feel such immense pressure to do well and they are so good at playing by the rules. It is a complicated dance indeed!
      Thanks for your readership and comment,
      best,
      c

    • Hi Crystal, thanks! I wrote it part from my perspective of when I was a student and from the point of view of many of the students I see. I am glad it hit home with you!
      c

  3. Fantastic! I am forwarding this post to my team members as a must read! I too was this student, I too was this student, up until the middle of high school. Thankfully I had teachers who, having recently attended college, knew that this style of “learning” was not going to help me at the university level. We hear so many stories about students going to college unprepared, I can’t help but wonder if some of the lack of preparation is really that students truly expect to be spoon fed information. Since switching to project based learning in my class I have seen the students you highlight above (yes many female) struggle with actually being asked to create something rather than regurgitate. I’m so thankful for educators like you willing to push them to do this, when it is easier to simply give answers. My biggest challenge since “flipping” has been the constant questions from students and parents about “averages” when in fact they don’t have one…its mastery based! Now of course comes the question how do we change something so ingrained in our students? Great post to foster conversation, bravo!

    • Hi Elizabeth, Thanks for your positive and thoughtful comment. I also have to admit that I was this teacher, who was a willing participant in enabling this mind set. I did a bang up job of spoon feeding, all in the name of exam results. Now looking back it looks pretty ugly, but it seemed like the only option at the time.
      I still encounter this type of student and appreciate the anxiety it causes them to move in a new direction with their learning as they have been groomed to perfectionists who are addicted to high marks. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do well, but it is so startling at times when you see what they are willing to risk or trade in in the pursuit of marks.
      So hear you on the “what is my mark?” question, that is the daily refrain from many. Slowly, slowly, we will make baby steps towards a new focus!
      best,
      c

  4. Hi Carolyn, I have enjoyed reading your posts and I am looking forward to more. I have starred the podcast my content thing but I am struggling with the leap. Great to read about another educators musings about the process.

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