“Sorry Ms. Witcher, but I hate science.”

This week I want to share a quick story of a student comment that I’ve been chewing on. I have a student in my 8th grade science class who I really enjoy working with. She’s funny and frank and a few days ago she said something that just kills me:

“Sorry Ms. Witcher, but I hate science.”

I followed up in the way I usually do:

“Oh, that makes me so sad! Tell me, what subject do you like?”

We went on to have a great conversation about her love for social studies and English, her favorite and least favorite books, and what she does in her free time. The next day, she brought it up again and added the detail that hit me hardest:

“Ms. Witcher, do you know why I hate science? I had this teacher in fourth grade who didn’t explain anything and then failed me in math and science.”

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This explains a lot. It’s wild to me that a student could hate a subject–but I get it. I hated math as a student…and now I teach math. It has me thinking, what changed for me? Reflecting back, I can see that I started enjoying math when I stopped being evaluated and math became purposeful. When I was finally using math as a tool for discovery–in my case that was understanding patterns in experimental data–the practice of math because purposeful. I can say the same for writing. My writing classes were my least favorite. I was always getting points off for poor comma usage (can you see it still?) and I didn’t see the purpose in studying writing. Now I find technical writing to be one of the most satisfying practices in my workflow.

This student quote and my own experiences have helped me realize the importance of moving beyond evaluative reporting in my classes. I can see that it’s more important to support my students learning with authentic narrative feedback and minimize my use of grades. 

Have you had a conversation like this? How did you respond?

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