She Gave Me a “D.”

by Chick Moorman


“I wonder what grade she will give me?”

“He never gives an athlete a break on the grades.”

“She gave me a “D.”

“He made me ineligible to play this week.”

Many students do not realize the role they play in the creation of their own grades. They disown personal responsibility and see others as the cause of the results that appear on their papers or report cards. The language examples above reveal how these students talk, how they think, and what they believe. This style of talk reflects a victim mentality that denies ownership for the outcomes that were produced. 

High school teacher Bob Brown had students like the ones who uttered the statements above. It is not easy teaching young people who disown responsibility for the choices they make in their lives. In his words, “Their regular denial of responsibility was frustrating and disheartening to me as a teacher. Many of them did not understand the cause and effect connection between their efforts and the results which followed. They simply did not attribute what happened to them to anything they had control over.”

Last semester Bob decided to meet this phenomenon head on. On the first day of the new semester he handed students a paper that had a square on the right hand side. From the left of the paper leading all the way across to the square were footprints. The visual looked like a bunch of steps leading to a box. He asked students to record the grade they wanted this semester in the box. Then he asked them what steps they could take to make sure they got to the desired destination, and he had them record those steps in the footprints that led to the box.

Bob said, “Sure enough, in the beginning they told me all the things they thought I wanted to hear. They said things like study, listen, and take notes. But later they got a lot more specific. I heard suggestions like, ‘Fess up when you don’t know something,’ ‘Call a friend if you miss an assignment,’ and ‘Speak up in class and get involved in the discussion.’"

Bob talked to his students that day and on other days throughout that semester about how taking steps in the direction of something you want is a choice, a choice that moves you ever closer to the goal. He shared with them how little steps regularly strung together are often more effective than attempting a big leap near the end. He held discussions about the relationship between cause and effect.  He helped them realize that they were ultimately the main cause in their own lives.

Many times during that semester Bob Brown used the Teacher Talk phrases, What steps could you take?, What is one step that would move you in that direction?, and What are some steps you could have taken?. Because these high school students had previously used Bob’s visual of taking steps to reach the box, these questions and subsequent conversations had more meaning for them.

Did all Bob’s students take the necessary steps to reach their desired grade? No. Did they all come away with a greater understanding that they were in charge of their own lives and that the steps they take are a choice? Probably not. Did Bob Brown help all his students to see the relationship between cause and effect? Maybe, or maybe not. But he sure did take an important step in that direction. What is your next step?

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching.They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: and


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