Red Pen

Red Pen
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

When my kid was in 6th grade, he had a Latin teacher who I’ll call Mr. B.

On parents’ night, we all piled into Mr. B’s classroom to talk about curriculum and grading.

As much as I was interested in his passion for Latin, it was Mr. B's grading system that caught my attention.

After he broke down what quizzes and tests counted for and the importance of participation, a parent raised her hand to ask a question.

“My daughter is getting high scores on the tests and quizzes but she keeps getting dinged for not having a red pen. She said you grade on whether she’s brought her red pen with her in class and I told her that must be a mistake.” 

“It’s not,” Mr. B. replied.

He explained.

He was grading students on how well they understood the material, how well they could communicate their understanding, and how well a student was prepared for learning. What tools did they have to take advantage of whatever happened in class?

He wasn’t just teaching students Latin - he was also teaching them how to be prepared.

He gave students 5 points for bringing their red pen into class (the students graded each other’s work with that pen). 

His point was that classwork wasn’t the only important part of learning, of school. That there were a lot of ways in life to move forward. Saying hello, greeting each other, having the right tools for class, participating in class, being curious and open even if the material was hard. Those things mattered and - in his class anyway - counted for as much as memorization. 

I see the seeds of that learning blooming in my adult kids when they're out in the world.

  • They talk to everyone.
  • They smile and make eye contact with strangers.
  • They work hard and have a willing attitude - even when they’re doing shitty jobs.

They’ve all gotten further because of it.

The red pen matters. And it’s really easy to do.