Here's the situation:
I asked one of my former students - a brilliant writer and a great kid - for an old copy of an essay he wrote for my class, so I could show my current Juniors a model for how an essay should be written. He happily agrees, and sends the essay to me over email. I'm thrilled, because now I not only have a model, but I have a good one. I asked a few other kids to do the same, and they all did.
However, I notice something while going over the essay that troubles me. This isn't up to his usual par. The conclusion is clunky and overly literal. My colleague, who also worked with him on the final draft of the essay (mine was drafts #1-3), also noticed it. We both kicked ourselves for not noticing it sooner, and were annoyed at ourselves for passing it along and patting him on the back. He can do better. While the language is beautiful and smooth, evidence well-chosen and analyzed, he's not quite saying enough, at least at the end.
I decide to email him about it. It's not too late to make changes before the essay is submitted to the external scorers. His reply is a several-paragraph letter, saying he was upset to be getting the feedback so late and disappointed that I had been easy on him. He said he had a feeling in his gut that the essay wasn't good, and that he was looking to me for guidance, but when I gave it an "A" he decided to go along with it as is. He is disappointed in me.
The letter stung, probably because he was right. Sometimes, when I have a great student, I'm sure I'm guilty of the halo effect. I'm so happy that he's putting an argument together with well-crafted sentences that I move along to concentrate on the girl who doesn't have a topic yet, or the boy who struggles with subject/verb agreement. It isn't fair.
It's not the only reason. I've often looked back at papers I've graded in the past and was surprised by how easy I was then. I've done the same with my writing. The lens of time changes perceptions. I'm sure it did with this essay, a bit. I've also developed new ideas for teaching conclusions, and that surely changed how I looked at the essay.
But the reality remains that I failed this kid in a way. And I'm sad about it.
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