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YFCS May Blog: Why the Learning Experience is More Important Than Grades

student with laptop computer and papers showing thumbs up and celebrating triumph at office

The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the field of family science. In the May blog post, Associate Professor Annie Hardison-Moody reflects on the end of the semester and what’s really important — learning. 

It’s that time of the year again – final grades! You refresh MyPack Portal every few seconds, anxiously anticipating the minute that your instructor posts your grade. As Director of Graduate Programs in the YFCS Program, the end of a semester can cause students (and faculty!) a lot of stress and anxiety as you wonder how your grades will impact your GPA, as well as your current and future career prospects. I want to offer a few reflections on grades, and the end of semester evaluation process for students and faculty, to help us all take a breath and focus on what’s really important: learning.

First, I want you to remember that while grades are important, you are in a competitive, well-regarded, and rigorous graduate program. The work is hard, and you might not make an A in every course – and that’s OK! Contrary to what we may think, in competitive programs, you shouldn’t expect to make straight As — I didn’t even make straight As in my graduate programs (hello, statistics!). So let’s start by normalizing not being “perfect,” which means that you might not always get an A in every YFCS course. Graduate school is meant to stretch you – to help you engage new ideas, learn new theories, and expand your horizons. It’s challenging work.

Second, and this is a related point, each instructor is different. While we all share the same rigorous standards for teaching and learning – and use best practices in pedagogy to guide that process – our teaching strategies as faculty vary, and the assignments vary as well. We have a diverse teaching faculty — coming from different disciplines and schools of thought. So you might excel at group work that results in a final project and presentation for one class, and struggle writing a final research paper with detailed analysis in another. And that’s okay too. As faculty, we work together to ensure that you have different types of assignments and experiences throughout the program so that you are better prepared for a career that will likely ask you to work on a variety of projects, in a variety of writing styles and formats, with a variety of people and expectations. Our goal as instructors is for you to grow, to challenge yourself, and to gain new skills and knowledge that will help you as a YFCS professional.

Third, your final grades are a reflection of your work across the course. So it’s critical that you start the semester off by reading the syllabus (and then reading it again), putting key dates for assignments on your calendar, having regular communication with your professor when you have questions or need clarification, and proofreading your work. During the semester, review the grades that you have received on assignments, and reach out to faculty for clarification on your grade or guidance on how to improve. I encourage my students to take advantage of resources available to them through the Graduate School, including the writing center and professional development workshops

As faculty, we also want you to let us know when something is going on in your life that prevents you from meeting deadlines or fully participating in the course. We can connect you with resources for student basic needs or counseling support, if that’s needed, and help you with deadlines and course requirements if you have extenuating circumstances. But communication is key – we can’t help you if we don’t know what’s going on.  

Finally, the end of the semester is your turn to evaluate the course as well, and we hope that you take the course evaluation process seriously. Please complete the evaluation, but remember that like you, faculty are human beings. The course evaluation is your opportunity to share constructive feedback on the course. We value your honest feedback on what worked well (and what didn’t) – but remember to give us the same grace that we give you, and avoid commenting on faculty appearances (this happens most often to women and faculty of color), try to resist conflating your grades with our performance as faculty (see point #3 above), and reflect on whether the comments that you are making are fair and justified. There is a lot of research about bias in evaluations for women and faculty of color, so this is just a reminder to be reflective as you write these comments, and ask yourself whether your comments are constructive, fair, and grounded in facts. This is not to say that we don’t value and need your constructive and honest feedback – because we do! We read these comments and use them to improve our courses and reflect on our work as instructors. My thanks to Professor Jide Bamishigbin (@jidebam) for this Twitter thread that explores some of these helpful tips for course evaluations. 

Let’s end this – and every – semester with a continuation of the grace and kindness that, I believe, is a hallmark of our program. So be kind to yourself and be kind to your faculty members – we’ve all worked hard to make the learning experience a positive one for all of us. What matters to us is that you learned, you expanded your horizons, and you grew as a scholar and an academic.