Dear English Teachers, Please Respect Our Sacred A+


Elena Piston

English teacher in their office grading papers.

The first day of school is filled with awkward experiences. Learning names (especially when no one can pronounce yours), meeting new teachers, desperately trying to remember what you learned last year. Ultimately, you can always expect one thing to be especially uncomfortable: teachers talking about grades.

The thing about grades is that they’re unavoidable.

No matter how much a teacher says they only care about the actual education and wish they didn’t have to give grades, the American school system simply requires them. It’s no different here at CHS. At the end of the day, students will forget most of the stuff we learn in school, but what sticks with us is the transcript (and of course the process of learning how to learn, but that’s a whole different story).

In most of the classes students take, grades are pretty straightforward. There’s an assignment to do, with some sort of rubric that communicates to you how well you did. Generally, this is a pretty objective process. You wrote all the steps of your procedure out and underlined the materials? There’s 100. You forgot to simplify your answer? Take off a couple points, now you have a 95.

Everything is rather intuitive with one major exception: English class. 

Now, English grading, by definition, must be subjective. When someone writes an essay, story, or poem, different people—and thus different teachers—will react to it with varying degrees of approval. Nothing can ever be completely clear.

The need to get objective enters when letter grades and numbers get involved. I’ve been in an English class where the teacher often refuses to give A+, opting not to even include it on rubrics. Other teachers give 100s out to any work that meets their clear requirements, while some will offer full points on a revised assignment, but “first drafts can never be perfect.”

Each of these philosophies have a logic behind them that is ultimately understandable. Sure, nothing is ever really perfect, especially on the first time. There’s no way to be completely free of mistakes. Those ideas may be somewhat justifiable and while that makes sense in an imaginary world—where grades are just a “check in” for students to know how they’re doing—in the practical world, they don’t hold up.

The unwillingness of English teachers to give A+ is nothing new. Mme Caspari, a French teacher who has been at CHS for decades, has heard about the issue in her time.

“In the 1980s, some honors English teachers refused to give anyone an A+,” said Caspari. “The perspective of the teachers was that everyone has room to grow. I understand the logic behind it but it wasn’t perceived [through the same lens], especially to honors students who were so used to getting perfect grades. But that was back then.”

What many don’t realize is that some English teachers still operate under this policy and others that are similar, affecting students to this day.

A CHS sophomore who requested anonymity, so as to not influence the thoughts of her English teacher—we’ll call her Esther Todd—was met with a stark reality when she first got to CHS. 

Coming from Wydown and being in the district her whole life, Todd had never struggled in English. She had done well enough to feel prepared for Honors English and throughout her freshman year, she was writing solid comps. She was doing well in all of her classes. And yet, her English grade seemed to trail behind, to the point where she got her parents involved. 

“I’ve had pretty bad experiences in the English department and their unwillingness to give an A+,” said Todd. “English teachers love to say that nothing can be perfect and not give A+ but they don’t think about how it might make a person feel.”

Todd brings up an interesting point: perfection is important to many students. Not only are they concerned about getting good grades, but with the ability to see individual assignment grades, there is a looming possibility that one small assignment, especially a draft, could throw off a whole class.

“I constantly feel like I need [to] check on my grades and make sure they’re still the same,” said Todd.

Her account agrees with a common sentiment among students: grades are a cause for major stress, and when all of that work is for nothing, it can be extremely disappointing. It is often alarming for students who normally do well in English when their grade is unusually low.

“I don’t want to be cocky, but I almost always ace English,” said CHS sophomore Sam McDonough. “If I don’t have an A or an A+ in English and the teacher isn’t willing to give those, something must be wrong with the way I interact with the teacher, the way the teacher is teaching, or the curriculum.” 

As McDonough points out, inconsistencies in grading can create confusion and doubt in students’ abilities.

Philosophically, not giving 100 is inherently flawed. How can it be that there exists assignments where no one gets 100? Should we not be measured against our peers? We wouldn’t give an assignment to a kindergartener and expect them to do as well as anyone but their classmates, so why should we be expected to do any better than our collective knowledge can manage?

First drafts should be graded against a first draft basis. When the point of a first draft is to get the ideas on the page, it shouldn’t be graded on the standards of a finalized piece. There should always be a student who gets 100 on an English assignment, especially when nothing is as clear-cut as science and math classes. Without objective questions to get wrong, there has to be a benchmark: our peers.

In short, the English department is often a rather messy one when it comes to grades. With all the different policies, one thing is clear: 100s need to exist. They need to exist for students’ sake, even for logic’s sake. In the end, what sticks with students is their grades. No one will know what your specific teacher’s policy was when it comes to grading; all they know is the grade.

So, dear English teachers, please respect our sacred A+.