Updated September 10, 2022

Who Am I? When Identity is Defined by Grades

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Who Am I? When Identity is Defined by Grades essay
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I am a hard-working student, a dedicated athlete, and now a teacher candidate. During my undergrad degree, I studied kinesiology and never imagined that I would become a teacher. Growing up, school was an exciting place to learn new things and meet new people. As I got into high school and university, grades became the focal point of my learning and I began to define myself by my grades. Given the nature of my background, I am a practical and analytical thinker. During my undergrad, course content and labs all followed a specific progression, which made the content easy to follow, but allowed for my professors to engage less with the material and students. Eventually, I had developed the ability to understand how the professor tested and tailored my studying to just do well on an exam.

I had learned how to memorize information and retrieve it on an exam, but in hindsight I don’t remember a lot of what I learned. In Palmer’s (1997) article he states, “We are obsessed with manipulate externals because we think it will give us power over reality” (pp.19). I believe that schools have created a culture where personal value is heavily placed on academic achievement, that students fear failure and seek to always find the “right” answer. This idea is affirmed in Bulach, Lunenburg, and Potter’s (2011) study where they state, “there is a strong need to move away from using letter grades and punishment as motivators…” (pp.24). Going into this program, I really questioned as to whether I would be a good teacher when I would measure my abilities and identity to the grades of my students.

This first week of class and specifically Palmer’s article really challenged my identity and shifted the perception of my identity as a teacher. Palmer (1997) states, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (pp. 16). In the kinesiology faculty, it was required to follow specific protocol and technique to yield the best results and I believe that this way of thinking has conditioned me to approach everything in a similar manner. This article really inspired me to recognize that there isn’t one single way of teaching, and I will make mistakes, which I will have to learn from. In addition, “The Good Wolf” video reinforced the idea that it is a choice how we approach adversity and how that can be become reflected in our identity. If we are willing to be honest with ourselves and vulnerable with our students our identity and integrity as a teacher will become evident in the subjects we teach (Palmer, 1997, p.15).

I believe that this culture where students fear making mistakes translates into how they view life. Bulach, Lunenburg, and Potter (2011) state that “There is more to school than academics… We need to graduate students who are servant leaders as opposed to self-serving” (pp.25). Ultimately, teachers have the ability to transform that culture and influence students beyond academics. I am very passionate about teaching, helping students learn and achieve their passions. Marzano and Pickering (2010) state that “Student engagement has long been recognized as the core of effective schooling” (pp.3)

While I experienced minimal engagement during my undergrad, I am motivated to create an engaging classroom that fosters a growing mindset model towards learning. Heick (2014) suggests that “students learn from those around them is less directly didactic, and more indirect and observational.” While it is important to create an engaging classroom environment, it is also important to model these learning habits for students to follow. Personally, this idea reinforces the influence teachers can have on their students and exemplifies the importance of leading by example. Furthermore, while there are a variety of strategies to engage students, how do we encourage students to pursue knowledge, without causing them to fear making mistakes when school culture measures academic success with grades?


  1. Bulach, C.R., Lunenburg, F.C., & Potter, L. (2011). Four types of school culture: Phase one. In C.R. Bulach, F.C. Lunenburg & L. Potter, Creating a culture of high-performing schools: A comprehensive approach to school reform, dropout prevention, and bullying behavior, 2nd ed. (pp. 3-26). Lanham, ML: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
  2. Heich, T. (2014). 10 characteristics of a highly effective learning environment. Available from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/10-characteristics-of-a-highly-effective-learning-environment/
  3. Marzano, R.J. & Pickering, D.J. (2011). Chapter one: Research and Theory. In R.J. Marzano & D.J. Pickering The highly engaged classroom (pp. 3-20). Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory.
  4. Palmer, P. J. (1997). The heart of a teacher identity and integrity in teaching. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 29(6), 14-21.
  5. The Good Wolf-Motivational Video. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__cdpyF5nLk

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Do grades really define the capabilities of a student?
While grades don't show how smart someone is , they still play a huge factor in many aspects of a person's life, such as what colleges they can get into and what their GPA is. However, grades have nothing to do with how smart a person is.
Do grades reflect who you are?
Grades don't necessarily reflect your abilities . You might know the lessons covered in class, but still be unable to translate that into performance once it's up for a grade. Your mental and emotional state are powerful factors. For example, a lot of people suffer from test anxiety.
What do grades mean to you?
Ideally, grades are a measure of how broadly and deeply you have mastered the objectives in a course . Objectives are the things you are supposed to learn, and every reasonable course is built upon them.
What is your identity as a student?
Age, gender, religious or spiritual affiliation, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status are all identities.
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