How to Talk to Your Teacher About Grades

Like adults in the workplace, students aspire to do good work and, when they do, they want to be recognized for it.

Unlike employees in an office, however, students have the added pressure of being constantly reminded, by parents and teachers, that doing well in school will equate to success later in life. Understandably, this context creates a great deal of stress. If getting an A in biology will somehow result in an accomplished adulthood, who wouldn’t stress over acing a quiz?

As a teacher, I recognize that grades can create anxiety for students. I’m always careful to ensure that when I place a letter (or number) on an assignment, it accurately and fairly reflects the work that’s in front of me.

Still, despite my best efforts, students may take issue with the grades they’re given — and at times, they may be justified. Here are some steps to take before you approach your teacher about a mark that’s lower than you’d expected.

1. Read the assignment handout.

Most assignments come with instructions and grading criteria, or a rubric. Rubrics are designed to provide students with transparency about how they’ll be assessed. In most cases, embedded within these handouts are the answers to your questions.

2. Read the teacher’s comments.

Twenty minutes is the average time it takes me to comment on and grade an essay. For a class of 25 students, that equates to more than eight hours of grading for every essay I assign. I spend a lot of time providing each student with meaningful feedback on a given assessment. Keep this in mind, and read any comments your teacher offered closely. If you need clarification about something he wrote, ask.

3. Understand that effort isn’t everything.

Teachers value when students take time to receive extra help or go beyond the basic requirements to create something special. Still, trying hard will only get you so far. In the outside world, a job needs to be done well and correctly. It doesn’t matter how many hours a carpenter puts into building a house; if the foundation is shaky and the walls don’t stand, the work is incomplete. The harsh reality is that just because you worked hard doesn’t mean you’ve gotten it right. Be open to the possibility that, despite your best efforts, you still have areas in which you can improve.

4. Set up a time to meet.

If, after reading through the rubric and the teacher’s comments, you’re still concerned with the grade you’ve received, approach him after class about setting up a meeting. Grades are private, and there are few things that are more inappropriate than discussing one student’s assignment in front of others in the class.

5. Make it specific.

When you meet with your teacher, it’s important to have specific points you’d like to address. Simply saying you think the grade is “unfair” doesn’t help your teacher understand why you feel that way. Be prepared with specific issues or comments you’d like to address, and try to verbalize your thoughts in a way that keeps the discussion focused on the assignment. Statements such as, “This comment confused me because… ” or, “I didn’t understand what you meant when you wrote… ” can go a long way toward creating a productive conversation.

Your teacher wants you to do well. This is something that, at times, is lost on students, especially when assignments are passed back. If you’re upset about a grade, talk with your teacher. He is there to help.