A New Grading Scale

By Diane Stark

For ten years, I was an elementary school teacher. I taught kindergarten for a year, second grade for two years, and the rest of my career was spent teaching children with special needs. My last year in the classroom was the 2007 school year, and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer for the last 12 years.

Although I’ve now been home for longer than I was in the classroom, I find myself still thinking and acting like a teacher. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Kids generally like me, and I make connections with them easily. My previous teaching experience definitely helps out when I teach Sunday School at my church. It even helps when I write certain types of stories.

Because of my prior teaching experience, I feel comfortable correcting other people’s children, but only when absolutely necessary. Like on my son’s last field trip when I was responsible for a dozen fifth grade boys. If I hadn’t been a teacher, they might have eaten me alive before the bus ride back to school.

But thinking and acting like a teacher has one major drawback. Despite being out of the classroom for more than a decade, I still rate things by assigning them a letter grade. Movies, food at restaurants, even lattés.

But rating those things isn’t an issue. The problem is my habit of assigning each day a letter grade. I don’t decide the grade based on how much fun I had or how much time I spent with my family or friends. I don’t assign a day a good grade because my husband took me out for a delicious dinner or because my favorite TV show was on that day.

Nope. The letter grade is assigned based on one thing only. How much I accomplished that day.

Years ago, I made a list of 20-something tasks I want to do each day. Many of them are health related. Things like exercising, drinking water, eating fruits and veggies, applying sunscreen, and limiting screen time for myself and my kids.

Other tasks on the list are household chores like laundry, making beds, washing dishes, and just generally warding off chaos in my house.

Still other tasks are related to my current job as a freelance writer. Any magazine writing deadlines go on the list, as well as devoting time to the novel I’m attempting to write.

At the end of each day, I go through my list and check off the things I did. Then I give myself a letter grade based on how much I got done.

I’ve been keeping this list for years. And I’ve never gotten an A. Not even once.

Because the only way to get an A is to check off every single item on the list. To get an A, I’d have to live a near-perfect day.

But every day, I miss my work out or I forget to do my skin care routine or I just have to drink a Diet Coke instead of water.

Every day, I get busy and miss something.

And missing even one thing automatically drops me to a B. Many days, I skip more than one task, and the grade is even worse.

When I was a teacher, I never graded my students as hard as I grade myself every single day.

My son, Nathan, is in fifth grade and every week, he takes one of those math timed tests at school. He has to do 100 problems in five minutes. He needs to get a perfect score to pass the test and move on to the next one in the series. He’s missed just one problem more times than I can count. So many times, he’s said, “Mom, I wish that getting all but one right was enough to pass.”

And I’ve agreed with him. 99% is almost perfect. But it’s not good enough to pass his math tests.

Or my own daily test with my To Do List.

But it should be.

That conversation with my son made me realize that for years now, I’ve been beating myself up for not being perfect. I would never expect perfection from anyone else, but I’d been demanding it of myself.

Worse still, I didn’t feel like I deserved to do anything fun until my entire To Do List was completed, which never, ever happened.

I’d created an impossible situation for myself. Something had to change.

So recently, I made a new daily To Do List. It has far less tasks on it, and a few of the items are even fun.

For several years, I’ve wanted to spend more time reading, but I was never able to squeeze it into my schedule. So I added it to my new list. 30 minutes of reading – for pleasure – each day. It’s on the list. That means I get to – and I have to – do it each day.

Another new task on my To Do List is getting enough sleep. For years, I’ve stayed up too late in hopes of getting more tasks completed, but I’ve realized that doing that is self-defeating. It just sets me up for failure the following day. From now on, I’m going to bed at a reasonable hour so I can be the best me in the morning.

I’ve also relaxed my definition of the word “exercise.” Now, if I walk through the entire store while grocery shopping, I count those minutes as part of my work out. Ditto for chasing my dog around the house or playing soccer or hide-and-seek with my son. I still try to fit in an actual work out, but if I don’t, I don’t beat myself up because I was still active that day.

The teacher in me won’t let me give up the letter grades completely. But I’ve definitely loosened up the grading scale. My new list is about progress, not perfection.

And yesterday, I even gave myself an A.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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One Response to “A New Grading Scale”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    I can so relate to this. Rarely do give myself an A, but always an E for effort.

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