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Guest opinion: I’m passing all my students because of the pandemic

A high school teacher calls for ‘a little more radical compassion’ as he and his colleagues begin preparing final grades for the unorthodox 2019-20 school year.

SHARE Guest opinion: I’m passing all my students because of the pandemic

Heather Cragun, a kindergarten teacher, waves to Hooper Elementary students as teachers parade around town to wave to students outside of their homes in Hooper, Weber County, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As a local high school teacher, I wanted to share a few thoughts as I have processed the moment in which we find ourselves. After a series of conversations with my students and their parents over the past few weeks, I have learned that I will never be able to understand what they are actually going through. It’s a challenge sometimes removing my ethnocentric and privileged perspective from the equation, and as much as my pride wants kids to just buckle down and do a few assignments, I understand that some students can’t. 

They literally cannot. 

Spotty Wi-Fi, work responsibilities, babysitting, sharing computers, financial ruin, mental health issues and pregnancy are a short list of the problems and challenges my current students are dealing with. I imagine a student logging on to Canvas six weeks late and seeing that each teacher has assigned four or five assignments per week for the past five to seven weeks. That’s more than 200 assignments. If I were in their position, I think I’d shut my computer and go back to watching Netflix.

I have decided that I am going to pass every single student I have for fourth quarter. Honestly, I want to follow the example of the San Francisco School Board and give my students all A’s. If I give them an “incomplete,” that’s just going to convert into an F over time and further hinder their academic progress. It’s impossible for me to fairly evaluate my students at this time, and the COVID-19 pandemic should not unfairly put any of our students at a disadvantage. 

At this point, what is the difference between having done nothing and having done just a few assignments? Very little, I would argue. I can’t fully understand what my students are going through.

I have come to see school as more of a sacred place than I ever have before. It’s a time set apart where students can, if just for a moment, escape their reality and dive into a new space of learning, connection, challenge, friendship and mentorship — all of which have been robbed from them at the moment. My heart aches for my students and their struggles at this time. I am honored to work alongside outstanding teachers and to navigate this process with such amazing colleagues and school leaders, who inspire me to be better every day.

May we all grade with a little more radical compassion. 

Ryan Wells is a Spanish teacher at Taylorsville High School.